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. Before they convert the Orange Line to rail they should:

    1. Redo the Orange/Red pedestrian connection
    2. Build an escalator (that works) from the Red Line Universal stop to City Walk
    3. Extend the busway to Burbank.


  2. 3. Extend the busway to Burbank.

    Going to agree completely with that. The space is there with minimal costs from the NoHo Red Line Station along the Chandler Bike Path to the Downtown Burbank Metrolink Station / Downtown Burbank.

    Rough route:


  3. Again, with the election coming up, ask your candidates running to represent the San Fernando Valley in the state legislature to commit to repealing the Robbins bill that prohibits light rail in this corridor.


  4. Being a former Valley resident, I can see how a light rail line would work where the current Orange Line bus is being served.

    But as stated, there is not enough funding, or even if there were, operational and maintenance costs would skyrocket, jeopardizing the other projects that are in the works.

    We really need to figure out a better way of making more money available in these tough times. We cannot count on lawmakers in Congress for more federal grants. We need to start looking elsewhere for revenue.


  5. The problem with converting the Orange Busway to Light Rail is that you create a completely separated LRT system not connected to the rest of LA Metro’s LRT lines and you need to build a place to maintain the LRT cars. With busway, you just drive the buses to the garage using existing surface streets and freeways.
    What needs to be looked at is can these bridges handle subway trains so that someday the Red Line can use the Orange Busway right-of-way to be extended without having to be completely in tunnel or trench.
    The Red Line can run on the surface if it has bridges or underpasses to cross streets that would have to remain open.


  6. I can foresee the Orange Line one day becoming a true Orange Line in the route spectrum of the Metro Rail system. May not be anytime soon, but it’s inevitable.

    The question of a facility would be relatively temporary as the system expands. A logical link would be to the existing Gold Line through the SGV (which would by then become the Blue Line after the Regional Connector is done).

    As for the NIMBYs…by then, most of them would be extinct…just sayin’:)


  7. But as for the short-term, how ’bout knocking down a wall, digging a diagonal hole and having another Red Line entrance on the west side of Lankershim? Transfering from Red to Orange without having to cross the street is a must. It’s also much safer for pedestrians and motorists alike.


  8. @ Erik G
    It’s true that a new facility would be needed, but I’m sure finding a place to put it would not be very difficult given the sprawling land use patterns in most of the valley, especially by the Canoga avenue alignment. Not only that, any new rail facility could probably be shared with a future Van Nuys corridor – Sepulveda Pass line just as long as they have track switches to the orange line tracks.

    In terms handling HRT “subway” trains. I agree and think it could be done with level RR crossings the way that the CTA does it in Chicago in the at-grade sections. This could be done when crossing less significant streets between main arterials.


  9. @Eric G. – not really – the third-rail power transmission system used by the Red Line is not appropriate anywhere people have access to the rails (that is, anywhere but a subway) – only Overhead Catenary is safe above ground.


  10. I am fine with the Orange Line staying as BRT because of the cost, and I would like to see lines 741, 734, 761 incorporated into an Orange Line “System.”

    I would love to see full grade separation of the orange line, you cannot call it “a subway on wheels” when it stops at almost every light!