Metro staff recommends new light rail station at Aviation/96th Street to connect to future LAX people mover

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One of the ongoing projects that we’ve been following closely is the Airport Metro Connector, which seeks to connect the terminals at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) with the growing Metro Rail network. This is obviously a project of great interest given that LAX is the third busiest airport in the United States and many other airports in the U.S. and abroad are connected to local rail systems. 

A new Metro staff report released today (above) recommends that one alternative for the project be studied more intensively: building a new rail station near Aviation Boulevard and 96th Street to serve trains along the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Lines. The station would also be the “gateway” transfer point to an Automated People Mover that would take people to the airport terminals. The people mover would be built by LAX. 

Metro will evaluate the light rail part of this alternative — i.e., the new rail station — in the project’s upcoming environmental clearance document. The planners at LAX would study the Automated People Mover. 

The new Metro Rail station would be about .4 miles north of the future Aviation/Century station that will also serve both the Crenshaw/LAX and Green Lines. The idea, according to the Metro staff report, is that the 96th Street Station would be the gateway for passengers headed to LAX while the Aviation/Century station would connect riders to the many businesses along the Century Boulevard corridor.

A new analysis by Metro staff also found that this alternative would deliver about the same number of riders to LAX as running a light rail line directly to the airport terminals. The analysis also found that the recommended alternative would get people to the terminals in about the same amount of time, cost far less to build and could be built sooner, with a completion date perhaps as early as 2022, depending on when LAWA builds the people mover.

The preferred alternative was developed in close cooperation with planners and officials at Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the city of Los Angeles agency that oversees the airport.

Over the past several years, LAWA has been finalizing details on its current modernization plan, which includes the people mover, a new ground transportation hub (known as the Intermodal Transportation Facility or ITF) and a consolidated rental car facility. LAWA’s current plans are to build the people mover just north of 96th Street en route to the Crenshaw/LAX corridor. Here is the link to the latest LAWA presentation on their ground transportation program. 

The people mover would also include a station at the ITF to be built by LAWA on the northwest corner of 98th Street and Airport Boulevard. That facility would serve as a pick-up and drop-off point for airport passengers and, according to LAX, would allow passengers to check in for flights and check their baggage. LAX is studying whether to build two or four people mover stations to serve the airport terminals. 

The public policy question hovering over the Airport Metro project over the past few years has been how to best connect the existing Green Line and future Crenshaw/LAX Line to the airport?

Other cities have also wrestled with trying to determine whether it’s best to build a rail line directly into airports or instead build a special airport train that connects airport terminals with the local transit system. The latter approach is the one used at Phoenix Sky Harbor, Miami International, JFK in New York and Oakland International Airport. 

LAX poses particular challenges with seven terminals spread out along a horseshoe shaped road with runways and tarmacs on all sides of the horseshoe. That means that running light rail into the airport requires lengthy and expensive train tunnels as well as a limited number of stations and longer trips for riders not bound for the airport. The Metro Board of Directors formally eliminated those options from further consideration in January. 

Some other interesting factoids from the new Metro staff report:

•A Metro Rail-people mover connection resulted in about the same ridership as having a light rail line run directly into the airport terminals, according to Metro’s ridership forecasts. In the future, it’s expected that about 57 percent of airport bound passengers would arrive by private car, 33 percent by shuttles, taxis and limos, eight percent by the Flyaway bus and one to two percent via transit buses and trains. Keep in mind that about 66.6 million passengers used LAX in 2013, meaning even small percentages can add up to a lot of people. 

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Metro staff is recommending further study of the A2 alternative.

•Building rail into the terminal area could be three times as expensive with a cost of $4.9 billion to $5.2 billion compared to connecting the people mover to light rail at 96th and Aviation (alternative A2).

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•The chart below shows the average walk times involved in using Metro Rail and the people mover to reach airport terminals — assuming LAX builds two people mover stations to serve the terminals.

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•Here’s the operating plan for the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Green Line with a station at 96th/Aviation along with the future Aviation/Century station that is being built as part of the Crenshaw/LAX Line project:

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•Building a light-rail spur line from the Crenshaw/LAX Line and Green Line into the airport could have had serious operational impacts for Metro Rail. The big problem: it would have involved longer and less frequent trips for many Metro Rail passengers not headed to airport or near-airport destinations.

•In order to reach the furthest airport terminal, Metro staff estimates that it would take 32.2 minutes from the Crenshaw/Expo station on the Crenshaw/LAX Line, 31.4 minutes from the Green Line’s Redondo Beach station and 50.7 minutes from the Green Line’s Norwalk station. 

•As the report says, if LAWA decides not to support Metro’s staff recommended alternative, Metro then would work with LAWA staff on a transfer to the people mover at the Aviation/Century station. 

•Also from the study and worth noting: Metro and LAWA have yet to discuss “funding assignments” for the project between the two agencies. LAWA still must make final decisions on the airport’s Ground Transportation Program, which includes the people mover.

The Metro Board is scheduled to consider the Metro staff recommendation at their Planning Committee meeting at 2:30 p.m. on June 18 and Construction Committee meeting at 10:15 a.m. on June 19. Both meetings will be held in the Board Room at Metro Headquarters adjacent to Union Station and, as always, are open to the public. The full Board of Directors are scheduled to take up the issue at their meeting at 9:30 a.m. on June 26 at Metro HQ. 

42 replies

  1. Why isn’t the people mover connecting with the already planned for and under construction Aviation/Century Station? That seems more logical and less costly than building a brand new station.

    • The people mover route, as currently planned by LAX, would go north of Aviation/Century.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. seems like they could save a lot of money by not building a new station and instead readjusting the people mover route to go the aviation/century station

  3. ” In the future, it’s expected that about…one to two percent via transit buses and trains”

    And this is the city that expects to host the 2024 Summer Olympic games; a venue that will draw millions from all over the world, many of whom do not drive and prefer to get around by transit.

    Genius.

  4. I’ll concede the matter of a connection to a peoplemover being preferable to bringing trolley tracks straight to the terminals. But what difference could that possibly make, given the much bigger problem that neither the LAX/Crenshaw line, nor the “Magenta Line” (for lack of a better term) sharing most of its alignment with the Green Line, actually GOES DOWNTOWN? Assuming what’s shown in the diagram actually gets built, and further assuming that the Connector gets built, folds the Pasadena end of Gold into Blue, and folds Expo into East LA Gold, a trip between LAX and Downtown would be either:
    PM LAX/Crenshaw Gold
    or
    PM Magenta Blue
    either way with a potential transfer to Red or Purple at 7th/Metro.

    A trip from LAX to Union Station would be (assuming that the post-regional-connector Blue passes through Union Station, but the post-regional-connector Gold doesn’t) either:
    PM LAX/Crenshaw Gold Blue
    or
    PM Magenta Blue

    Now, I’ll admit that Boston, with its direct connection between the terminal circulator at Logan and the MBTA Blue Line doesn’t really hit the ideal of “single seat to downtown” unless you’re going to Aquarium, State, Gov’t Center, or Bowdoin, and requires 2 transfers to get between the airport and the biggest of the three intercity rail stations by rail, and I’ll also admit that the Washington DC Metro doesn’t do much better where Reagan Airport is involved, and doesn’t reach Dulles at all, but that’s no reason why we can’t do better here.

    Overall, the “Magenta Line” would be more generally useful for airport transportation than the “LAX/Crenshaw” line, but even that would fall short of the goal of rendering the Flyaway Bus obsolete.

  5. this idea sounds good but it actually getting done in a timely manner that’s a different story. Metro needs to find funding to get L.A connected to LAX soon. the airport connector project under current funds wont get done until 2028 but the crenshaw line will be done in 2019. that’s 9 years of more waiting to finally connect to LAX. its really sad that we are the second largest city in the country with over 5 million people and we cant connect to the airport. in order for los angeles to really be a world class mega city we have to be able to move like a mega city. almost every major city in the country has connections by rail to the airport. just like the purple line taking 22 years to extend to UCLA not good. i am grateful for everything that metro does and i know their trying hard but we have got to find ways to accelerate vital projects.

  6. And, why not ELIMINATE the Century/Aviation station altogether? First of all, the 96th/Aviation Station would be only 0.4 walkable miles north of Century Blvd. Secondly, Century Blvd. is not all that pedestrian-friendly to justify a station, plus there is no room for passenger drop-off. Wouldn’t that be more cost-effective?!

  7. Yeah, I remember hearing about the low ridership estimates when the Blue Line opened. Fast forward 20 years later, we’re now kicking ourselves in the butt because the platforms were too small, the rail cars are too short, the station design wasn’t built with gates in mind, additional tracks can’t be laid, and the mess of at grade rail is causing with all too frequent car collisions with the trains.

    This new Crenshaw Line will become like the Blue Line all over again. Too small with no room for increased ridership in the future.

  8. The 1-2% transit market share is because the planners are forced to use conservative assumptions, which tend to underestimate patronage. For example, BART currently has about a 5% market share at SFO (2.25m rail boardings for 44.5m airline boardings). A 5% target is what LA could aspire to when there are more downtown hotels and a single transfer between the Crenshaw/LAX line and the Purple Line.

    A 1-2% market share could have a disproportionate effect on traffic, because many of the travelers would otherwise take a cab or hire car alone. Many groups (such as families or Olympic teams) already “carpool” or hire special coaches.

  9. Steve,

    It would be very helpful if you could post a link to the LAWA AA document that explains why they cannot build the people mover out to the planned Aviation/Century station.

    Also, at what point does Metro change the name of the Aviation/LAX stop?

    • Hi Dr. M,

      I’m not sure it is in a document but please see the LAWA May presentation that shows the route they want to take. LAWA had earlier looked at people mover routes along 98th Street but that didn’t work out.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  10. So if they expect everyone coming in by car to get dropped off at the ITF and all the rental car shuttles will be eliminated in favor of the CONRAC, what is the purpose of the horseshoe going to be? Or am I missing the point of the ITF?

  11. Quick correction: LAX has 8 terminals on the horseshoe (Terminals 1–7 plus TBIT).

    The configuration of separate, independent terminals around a horseshoe is not that unique, and is somewhat similar to JFK. The main difference is that at JFK, the people mover gets you to a train that actually goes somewhere – the A train travels the length of Manhattan (admittedly after a long ride), and the LIRR in Jamaica gets you very quickly into Midtown. The Green and Crenshaw lines don’t serve the key business and tourist destinations of L.A., which is probably the reason for the paltry airport ridership forecasts.

    What’s really disappointing is LAWA’s approach towards airport modernization. What I’d like to see is a long-term vision, something like what’s being done in Heathrow, where over the course of 30 years they’re reconfiguring the airport for more efficient operations. Instead what we see at LAX is a patchwork of local solutions that just serve to turn a big mess into a bigger mess. The idea of the ITF is especially baffling: why would I want to drop someone off at a train station when I can drive them all the way to the terminal? LAX had a master plan about 5 years ago, but apparently that’s been scrapped.

    A side note about the conceptual operations map: once the people mover is built, the Aviation/Imperial station will no longer serve LAX, so the station name as it appears on the map will not be appropriate.

  12. This plan is idiotic. It adds an extra station unnecessarily. This will add extra minutes for commuters using the Crenshaw Line as well as the Green Line spur. And for no good reason.

    The “People Mover” should be configured to connect at Century/Aviation. Heading eastbound, it could turn south along Bellanca, then turn east just north of Century, to go directly to the ConRAC. The transfer at Century/Aviation station would be simple.

    I have not read one good reason why this has been ruled out.

    Metro, given your recent history of being sued for removing alternatives without giving them a fair consideration — I really think you should head back to the drawing board.

  13. From the staff report:

    “…following the release of [LAWA’s] October 2013 Technical Refinement Study, LAWA informed [Metro] staff that the preferred alignment for the APM is now being considered just north of 96th Street. Metro staff was informed that the change in alignment was necessary to allow for future roadway improvements along both 96th and 98th Streets, including extending both roadways across Aviation Boulevard to connect with the future ConRAC site.”

    So this is all to allow LAWA to get 96th Street and 98th Street to cross Aviation? I don’t see how that justifies mucking up the Crenshaw Line!

    In fact, I don’t see how the issue of extending streets is even [i]related[/i] to where to put the “People Mover” and the Crenshaw Line!!! Why can’t they extend 96th and 98th Streets *AND* move the People Mover south toward Century? The report shows this would still be the cheaper alternative.

  14. James Lampert, and Ron – the Crenshaw line actually does serve some much more populated areas than downtown. And perhaps more importantly, on some time scale there are plans to extend it further north into West Hollywood and Hollywood. If that ever happens, it will be just as useful as a direct connection to downtown.

    Also, a direct rail connection from LAX to downtown just doesn’t make much sense, given the location of those two places in the city. FlyAway can continue to serve that market, while the rail lines do the more important job of connecting the city’s transportation network.

  15. Metro’s done a good job with what appears to be a sort of lousy set of options defined by LAWA. I haven’t really seen a great explanation for why the people mover can’t go up 98th instead of 96th, or why the people mover can’t go around the horseshoe. But I think Metro is basically correct in not diverting trains to go into the main terminals at LAX.

  16. This plan adds an extra station unnecessarily. This will add extra minutes for commuters using the Crenshaw Line as well as the Green Line spur. And for no good reason.

    The “People Mover” should be configured to connect at Century/Aviation. Heading eastbound, it could turn south along Bellanca, then turn east just north of Century, to go directly to the ConRAC. The transfer at Century/Aviation station would be simple.

    I have not read one good reason why this has been ruled out.

  17. Once again, LAWA and private cars win and transit riders lose. LAWA has yet to give a STRONG argument why the people mover cannot traverse 98th Street and connect to the ALREADY under construction Century/Aviation Station, which was debated and studied for YEARS. LAWA obviously couldn’t care less about Metro or transit riders in general, or the city for that matter. They would like to keep the LAX area in perpetual congestion, encouraging more and more people to drive to the airport.

    • I don’t see this as a loss for transit riders. If headed southbound on Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Aviation/96th station is a tad closer. If traveling northbound on Crenshaw/LAX or Green Lines, the new stop is a tad farther. Perhaps some may not like having two stations, but at least this plan still serves busy Century Boulevard and preserves a light rail/people mover connection.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  18. The Legard (ALT A2) notes the Expo Line to Redondo Beach. Is there a plan to connect the Crenshaw/LAX and the Expo lines via a spur too? Am I reading correctly that the Green Line will have two lines from Norwalk? One going to LAX and the other going to Redondo Beach.

  19. I wonder how much they would have SAVED if they would have built the Blue Line going to LAX? You know, just like every major airport/city lite rail did before them?

    Thanks for watching the expenses guys!

  20. I understand that cooperating with LAWA seems to be preferred at the moment, but the way that LAWA has been mismanaging and misdirecting the People Mover project at every step is simply astounding, and this latest proposal from the Metro board appears to endorse LAWA’s idiotic planning.

    It’s simply mind-boggling how LAWA refuses to keep a loop option for the people mover on the table. The current proposal of a single line or a forked line will require travelers to spend additional time crossing the airport on overhead bridges, which is exactly the sort of nonsense that the people mover project was supposed to address in the first place. Transferring flights between different terminals at LAX is more difficult than most international airports in the world, and LAWA’s management is blind to the facts.

    Never mind how LAWA is allergic to connecting the people mover to the planned station, because they are afraid of construction traffic along 98th St. Instead, they want Metro to go over-budget and add another station to comply with their retarded alignment choice.

    Perhaps the Mayor’s office can put some pressure on LAWA see the light?

  21. Has anyone at Metro or LAWA considered that the place they are deciding to put CONRAC still has a neighborhood filled with apartment complexes, a local charter school, homes, and businesses?

  22. Ron,

    “why would I want to drop someone off at a train station when I can drive them all the way to the terminal? LAX had a master plan about 5 years ago, but apparently that’s been scrapped.”

    The counter point to this argument is: what if I’m a tourist from another country who cannot speak English, has never driven a car and knows no one here in LA and I’m just visiting here for sightseeing.

    1. Can’t use a taxi because the person can’t speak English
    2. Can’t rent a car because the person doesn’t know how to drive
    3. The only option for this person is mass transit to get around LA

    And no, you cannot brush this off. Tourism is a major industry here in LA which brings in billions of dollars in revenue every year. And no, you cannot expect everyone who comes visit LA to speak English, knows how to drive, or expect them to have friends or family here.

  23. Steve –

    Respectfully, it’s a loss for transit due to several critical reasons you ignored in your response.

    1) It will require the expenditure of considerable funds to add the 96th Street station. These are funds that can now no longer be used for more urgent priorities elsewhere in the Metro network. You of all people should be aware of the difficult choices Metro has to continually make given the disparity between the need/aspirations for transit and the available funding

    2) It essentially rubber stamps LAWA’s “vision” for the APM which prioritizes non-disturbance of lightly traveled 96th and 98th streets and doesn’t even consider a vastly more convenient loop configuration in the CTA. LAWA has provided NOTHING in the way of cost/benefit analysis to justify these choices, preferring instead to simply say other options are unfeasible – are we and Metro simply supposed to take their word for it? Given LAWA’s historical intransigience on this issue, as well as their apparent lack of transit planning expertise, any scenario in which a transit agency is tacitly accepting LAWA’s planning guidance is likely to result in a sub-optimal outcome for transit riders.

  24. Almost forgot problem #3, which is so obvious that it’s almost disingenuous for Steve to not have addressed it. As Metro’s own documents above clearly illustrate, only a small fraction of riders on the Crenshaw/Green line LRT sections passing through 96th or Century are actually traveling to LAX. Most of them are headed elsewhere on those lines. So you are inconveniencing 98% of your customers by needlessly adding to their commute and are providing no net benefit for the other 2%, simply to placate the flawed planning process and approach of LAWA.

    Steve – I know it’s your job to defend and explain Metro decisions, but I don’t see how you can spin this as a positive, or even neutral, outcome.

  25. “Metro staff is recommending further study of the A2 alternative.”

    I strongly urge Metro to study building spur for the Expro and Crenshaw/LAX lines ASAP since the building of the Crenshaw just started. The spur would allow for the one stop rail line from Downtown LA to LAX.

    Would the study of the plan and the EIR delay the opening of the Crenshaw Line?

  26. This is completely bizarre! What kind of voodoo transit planning says that people don’t mind switching trains and that only single digit percentages would ride rail to get to the airport? Do these planners actually take transit? The FlyAway is great, but it often means very long waits for the bus. If you go to any city with a rail connection, you get on and *presto* you are on your way. It is VERY appealing.

  27. why cant we just bring metro rail into the airport in the beginning? in new york the A train is part of metro rail and it goes directly to JFK washington dc the yellow and blue goes directly to the airport BART in san fransisco directly to the airport just about every major city in the U.S the metro system itself goes directly to the airport even systems much older than ours so why is it that we have to coordinate with world airports for a people movers system and not have it be part of metro rail it doesn’t make sence.

  28. I have read the whole LAWA document. The ITF is completely pointless, as designed:

    1. It is not useful for passenger drop-off – they will go to the horseshoe instead.
    2. It is not useful for Metro Rail riders – they transfer at the Aviation station instead.
    3. It is not useful for rental car users – they will go to the conRAC instead
    4. It is not useful for transit bus passengers – it is best to route busses to the Aviation station instead where they can also connect to the Green/Crenshaw lines
    5. It is not useful for Flyaway passengers – they will apparently get dropped off in the horseshoe

    So what is the ITF for again? Taxis?

    The only way the ITF is useful is if it is moved west to Aviation, connecting with the Green/Crenshaw lines. This way, at least you get passengers from #2 and #4 above and you can make it a “Union Station West”. Otherwise it is totally 100% useless.

  29. LAX Frequent Flyer – I’m sorry, but I think you missed my point. I’m all for connecting mass transit to the airport, and personally I’ve taken the Green Line to and from LAX many times, and would love to see a better connection (for me it’s currently a 3-transfer trip, city bus to Blue Line to Green Line to G bus). My comment was a specific complaint about the ITF, which the post says “would serve as a pick-up and drop-off point for airport passengers”. I just don’t see how this can work: as long as there is car access to the terminals, it makes no sense to provide a separate car access point that’s only a 5-minute drive away (but takes 20 minutes to get to the terminal by people mover plus a long walk).

  30. Mike B, thanks for putting it a little more eloquently than I could.

    With regards to the current transfers to LAX: Are you familiar with induced demand? The current problem is that it is very, very difficult to get to LAX by public transportation that’s not the (LAWA-run) LAX Flyaway. If the Crenshaw Line project succeeds in making it easier to connect to the airport (which it won’t without LAWA’s cooperation), I think anyone could predict an uptick in LAX connections.

    The problem again boils down to mismanagement by LA World Airports. The only office in the city that can put enough pressure on LAWA to change this is the mayor’s office, and we should all be lobbying Garcetti to fix this ridiculous impasse.

    LAWA is actively doing everything they can to discourage alternate modes of transportation to the airport, as they have done for years. Metro’s original suggested proposal for the APM and ITF was everything we should come to expect from such an expensive project: a secure check-in facility at the ITF (with integrated CONRAC), connected to a direct-to-terminal people mover loop, and a rail connection right there at the ITF.

    Instead, LAWA wants to build the ITF separate from the CONRAC, disconnect it from the Metro system (or force Metro to spend more money building another connection), and create the world’s most expensive people mover to nowhere.

    It’s almost like LAWA doesn’t want the people mover to continue past the planning stage.

  31. Alternatively, Metro and LAWA should just make one huge station that merges 96th/Aviation and Aviation/Century into one large LAX station.

    Why do you need to build two stations that’s less than 1/3rd of a mile apart? Besides, the need for LAX for longer length trains is going to be needed anyway. Building one big and long station that stretches between 96th and Century will more cheaper than building two separate stations that’s so close together.

  32. chad,

    “in new york the A train is part of metro rail and it goes directly to JFK”

    No it does not. The A train stops at Howard Beach Station and you need to transfer to the AirTrain to continue onto JFK. Same with the E train at Jamaica Station, get off there to transfer to the AirTrain. Do not make comments that can be easily refuted by a simple Google search.

    http://www.panynj.gov/airports/jfk-public-transportation.html

    Furthermore, if one were to say there is an airport in the world that does not have a direct connection and requires a transfer, yet it manages to handle more passengers than LAX and successful, I raise you Tokyo Haneda airport – served by the Tokyo Monorail. One would need to transfer at Hamamatsucho Station from the JR Yamanote Line and transfer to the Tokyo Monorail to get to Tokyo Haneda. And Tokyo Haneda is the world’s fourth busiest airport in the world, beating LAX (we’re the sixth largest), and majority of the passengers who use Tokyo Haneda get there by mass transit.

  33. Even at O’Hare, with a single train from the CBD to the airport terminal, the maximum ridership on the Blue Line subway is 5% of all airport passengers. About 50% of all LAX passengers are dropped off or picked up by private vehicles, and the average vehicle occupany of a private vehicle going to LAX is 3. While Flyaway and Metro Rail have their place for solo travelers, most people traveling in groups, families, etc. will get dropped off by other people, and that is not going to change.

  34. I agree. If the stations are going to be so close together, you might as well just combine the two into one large station. If you’re going to build rail to LAX, might as well future proof it so that having a long rail station at one of US’s most busiest airports will allow future room for expansion and added rail length trains.

    Build with expandibility in mind. That’s one thing you guys should have learned from the Blue Line mess we have today.

  35. Looks like Metro has the money to cover the cost of the station. LAWA has to pay the cost to build the Ground transportation hub. However, if Metro can work with LAWA to secure funds from the State and Feds Metro should help LAWA to secure the needed funds.

    “The $200-million station at 96th Street and Aviation Boulevard would connect to the Green Line, the Crenshaw Line and a so-called “people-mover,” which would likely resemble San Francisco International Airport’s circulator train.”

    “Measure R, the half-cent sales tax county voters approved in 2008, secured $330 million for the airport connector. But it is yet to be determined who will pay for the remainder of the project, which Metro staff said will cost more than $1.5 billion regardless of which option is chosen”

    “Los Angeles World Airports staff have indicated they would prefer that Metro rail connect directly to a planned ground transportation hub at Airport Boulevard and 96th Street. That would cost about $3.1 billion: $1.7 billion for the rail link, and $1.4 billion for the circulator train.”