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Metrolink Often Late From L.A. to County : Transit: Meeting schedules is a problem for sixth consecutive month. Officials blame the trouble partly on Southern Pacific.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the sixth month in a row, Metrolink trains to Ventura County were late more often than on any other line in the rail carrier’s five-county system, a report released Friday shows.

The report by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority found that during July, a third of the trains returning from Los Angeles to Ventura County were at least five minutes late.

Trains from Ventura County into Los Angeles had a much better performance rate, arriving late only 6% of the time.

By comparison, trains to and from San Bernardino, Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties were late on 4% to 12% of all trips.

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Metrolink officials said they are working to increase on-time performance in Ventura County.

If Friday’s 2 p.m. westbound train is any indication, there is plenty of room for improvement.

“I don’t care if it’s a little late, but this is crazy,” Melaniey Char, 15, said, fanning herself with her hand as she and a handful of passengers wilted in a patch of shade.

“If it doesn’t come soon I’m going to die of heat.”

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By the time the train finally pulled into the Simi Valley station, it was 26 minutes late.

The main culprit, according to Metrolink Executive Director Richard Stanger, is Southern Pacific Transportation Co., the railroad company that owns most of the track that Metrolink trains use in Ventura County.

Metrolink owns the track and operates its own dispatching system for most of its service area.

But when Metrolink trains first started running to Ventura County nearly two years ago, Southern Pacific decided to keep ownership of the track and dispatching rights.

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The freight service agreed to share the single track with Metrolink, promising not to run freight trains during peak passenger hours.

But, according to Metrolink, Southern Pacific has reneged on the deal, giving freight traffic the right-of-way while commuters wait.

Even when a dispatcher grants a Metrolink train the right-of-way, it may not be able to pass.

Some Southern Pacific trains are as long as 7,000 feet, exceeding by thousands of feet the turnoffs where trains wait to allow other trains to pass. Metrolink trains average about 500 feet.

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Dispatching problems with Southern Pacific during July accounted for more than half of the Metrolink delays that were longer than five minutes, according to the Metrolink report.

Mike Furtney, a spokesman for Southern Pacific, said the company does not want to comment on the matter.

“We are having ongoing negotiations and discussions with Metrolink,” Furtney said. “It’s a situation where they have their agenda and we have our agenda. We don’t think it’s something that should be negotiated in the media.”

To penalize Southern Pacific, Metrolink has levied fines totaling $3,000 on the company. Fines range from $200 for a 10- to 15-minute delay to $1,000 for a delay of more than 30 minutes. And Metrolink is seeking to take over Ventura County dispatching operations from Southern Pacific.

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“Every time a train is late, we call Southern Pacific,” Stanger said. “We are in constant touch with them about the problem. However, this approach is clearly not working.”

The next step, Stanger said, will be a discussion at the Sept. 9 meeting of the Ventura County Transportation Commission. The commission will mediate a discussion between representatives from Southern Pacific and Metrolink.

Meanwhile, passenger Ned Imboden, 50, said he will continue taking the train.

“It’s frustrating to have to wait all the time,” said Imboden, a Simi Valley resident who works for an engineering company in Los Angeles. “But it still beats driving.”

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