There are still some ifs and whens to be worked out, but commuting by rail to Los Angeles from Ventura County will soon become a more attractive option.
Spurred by the Ventura County Transportation Commission's promise of several million dollars, the Ventura City Council is about to start looking for a site for a Ventura station that would connect the city to the Metrolink line that now runs to L.A. through Oxnard, Camarillo, Moorpark and Simi Valley.
The present system also will become more efficient by this time next year, when officials add a third train to the line leaving Oxnard during the morning rush hour, said Ginger Gherardi, executive director of the transportation commission. Now, west county commuters have to be up very early if they want to catch the train to work; the last morning train leaves Oxnard at 6:15 a.m.
It's still not clear whether the extra train will leave later than the 6:15 departure, or between the 5:28 and 6:15 trains. And the timetable for adding the train depends on how fast a second track and center platform can be completed at the Camarillo station.
City engineer Rick Raives said Thursday that city staffers are preparing a survey of the pros and cons of half a dozen sites that could house a Ventura station. They include the existing Amtrak site at Figueroa Street, the historic Saticoy train station and a location on the east side of town.
Council members will consider the staff's report at an Aug. 2 meeting. If they vote in favor of a preliminary site, officials could begin feasibility studies, Raives said.
The Metrolink system operates on an $80 million budget, 52% of which comes from ticket sales. The Southern California Regional Rail Authority, which runs Metrolink, also receives funds under the state Transportation Development Act.
Other good news for train riders came Thursday from the California Transportation Commission, which announced a $2.5-million project to add 75 spaces to the 200-space parking lot at the Oxnard station shared by Amtrak and Metrolink passengers. The expansion could begin within six months.
Metrolink also will replace its ticket vending machines throughout Ventura County, as well as the rest of the five-county service area. The new ticket machines will allow riders to buy tickets several days in advance and to buy Amtrak and Metrolink tickets at the same time. The new machines, which will cost a total of $1.6 million, are expected to be in place by next summer.
The state also announced Thursday that it is spending about $11.5 million to add 30 cars to the Metrolink system by 2001. The new cars would be attached to the most crowded trains.
Ridership in Ventura County is expected to continue growing at a steady pace, Metrolink spokesman Peter Hidalgo said. Slightly fewer than 4,000 commuters ride Metrolink along the Ventura County line each day. By 2003, Hidalgo said, daily ridership is projected to reach at least 4,500.