Orange Line Bridges: Are they strong enough for light rail?

Rendering of Lassen Street Orange Line bridge leading to the Chatsworth Amtrak/Metrolink Station.

A couple of Source readers commented on our blog post last week about new busway bridges now being built on Metro’s Orange Line Extension Project. Readers wanted to know whether the new bridges over the L.A. River, the Santa Susana Wash and Lassen Street were being built strong enough to carry future light rail cars.

It’s a fair question. Due to the line’s very strong ridership — which exceeded ridership estimates from Day One in late October 2005 — there’s been talk of some day converting the busway to light rail. (By the way, the Orange Line’s sixth anniversary is just around the corner on Oct. 29).

Ridership on the line has hovered in the low- to mid-20,000 range on average weekdays this year. However, in September boardings reached 26,883, near the record of 27,596 set in September of 2008. The cause is most likely the return of the school year.  The 14-mile busway between North Hollywood and Canoga Park serves several local schools and community colleges.

I posed this question to Hitesh Patel, head of construction for Metro’s Orange Line Extension Project. He reports that the new Orange Line Extension bridges have been designed and constructed to be capable of handling the weight of a light rail vehicle for any potential conversion of the line to light rail in the future. The existing Orange Line bridges, including the bridge in the Sepulveda Recreation Area were also engineered to handle the weight of light rail cars.

Call it good engineering.

But before anyone gets too excited about the prospect, it’s important to note that Metro does not have any imminent plans to convert the Valley’s busway to a light rail line. There is no money in Measure R for a project of this kind, although money is identified for other key Valley transportation improvements, including the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project. See the full list here.

So, for the foreseeable future, the Orange line and four-mile extension to Chatsworth will be on rubber tires, not steel wheels. The bridges won’t be an issue.

29 replies

  1. @Dan Wentzel I disagree with you, I think SFV should be split from LA and split from Metro. I don’t want any light-rail from Metro here in the SFV.

    I know the city of LA and Metro don’t care what I think but this is how I feel.

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  2. To all those suggesting a better connection between the Red and Orange Lines should be excited to hear that Metro is funding a connector between the two lines

    Just go to P.26 of the Metro 2012 Budget where Item 103 on the Capital Projects list allocates $700,000 dollars this year for a connector between the two lines. The full cost of the project is expected to cost $17 million dollars so where still a while away before its completed.

    http://www.metro.net/about_us/finance/images/Adopted_Fiscal_Year_2012_Budget.pdf

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  3. A world class city (SFV is part and will always be part of Los Angeles) deserves world class public transportation. Bus=OK, Light Rail=Better Subway=Best

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  4. @Lincoln
    Not exactly. It is possible to run third rail HRT at grade as long as the row has protected gates that only open when the train is coming. Here is an example of third rail HRT running at-grade in suburban Chicago:

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  5. @RR: When you say “Light Rail=Better; Subway=Best” do you mean you prefer heavy rail vehicles or you prefer below-grade rail? I ask because light rail can be run as a subway, not just heavy rail.

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  6. Connor Gilliland, the ridership on the Orange Line is nothing to sneeze at, and has exceeded it’s expectation, but it’s not at a level that merits Heavy Rail technology.

    Light Rail technology will do just fine with two railcars, and if need be, you can easily add a third railcar to the train, or perhaps even a fourth one, like what’s proposed for the Blue Line during NFL stadium games at Farmers Field.

    Higher than that, and THEN you start thinking about Heavy Rail.

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  7. @JDRCRASHER
    I don’t dispute the fact that LRT would be sufficient with capacity. I was merely suggesting HRT as a means of having one single line that connects the whole valley as part of the red line so there would be no need to transfer. My main point was to point out that there is a misconception that HRT cannot be run with level crossings because it can.

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