Why Metrolink matters as the agency celebrates its first 25 years

This morning at Union Station. Photo: Metrolink.

And some good historical pics, including a few (the black and white ones) from opening day back in October of 1992:

The press release is below but a few quick words from yours truly on the importance of Metrolink to our region…

One of the big challenges in a region of our size is the number of long-distance commuters — or what the Census Bureau calls “extreme commuting,” i.e. those who travel 90 minutes or more to work.

Giving those commuters a transit option is critical to get some vehicles off the road. And that’s the purpose of Metrolink — to tie together the five counties (Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura with a stop in northern San Diego County) that together have a population of more than 18.6 million people traveling every which way at all times of the day.

Metrolink may not go everywhere and it has considerable challenges: sharing tracks with freight railroads, stretches of single track and street level crossings, to name three. Nonetheless, in an environment in which funding is always difficult and the car is the king/queen, Metrolink has managed to build a solid ridership, adapt to technology and upgrade its system.

Metro, as the primary funder of Metrolink (because L.A. County is the largest of the five counties it mostly serves), is working with Metrolink on some important studies. One is looking at ways to speed up the Antelope Valley Line. Another is looking at ways to possibly improve the number of trains between Union Station and Glendale and Burbank — a busy corridor.

So congrats on 25 years and here’s to many more years ahead. Please feel free to comment on anything Metrolink-related as I know many readers know a lot about Metrolink and/or use it often.

Some fun facts from the Metrolink website:

Metrolink is the nation’s 3rd largest commuter rail system with 409 unduplicated route miles. See our station map »

2.8 million train miles per year and 400 million passenger miles per year.

39,838 average weekday boardings, according to the latest estimates.

Metrolink has a very low tax subsidy of $0.35 per passenger mile.

60% of Metrolink riders travel across county lines.

81% of weekday trips are work-related.

82% of Metrolink riders own an automotive but choose Metrolink.

Metrolink’s service:

Reduces 8.7 million car trips annually.

Reduces 110,338 metric tons of greenhouse gasses (GHG) emission.

Reduces traffic volume by 30% on parallel freeways.

The average construction cost per mile of Metrolink track is $8 million compared to $30 million per mile for freeway lanes.

And here’s a nice booklet Metrolink put together:

(pdf here)

And, finally, the press release from Metrolink:

LOS ANGELES – The Metrolink regional rail system today marked a quarter century of transforming Southern California in a unique ceremony where riders joined regional officials in focusing on the future of mobility in Southern California.

“With roadways congested and at capacity, the future of mobility lies in public transportation,” said Metrolink Board Chair Andrew Kotyuk, a San Jacinto Councilman. Kotyuk noted that for many Southern California residents, Metrolink is the only stress-free alternative to slogging through traffic.

Metrolink, which covers a 538-mile swath through six counties, acts as a relief valve taking pressure off Southland freeways. Each weekday Metrolink riders travel more than 1.3 million miles, enough to journey to the moon at least five times. Metrolink service removes 8.7 million car trips annually. And that’s good for traffic and air quality.

In the past 25 years an additional 2.7 million tons of additional carbon dioxide would have been emitted if it wasn’t for Metrolink taking cars off the road.

“For 25 years, Metrolink has eased our commutes, connected our communities, and helped bring Southern Californians closer together,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Chair of the Metro Board. “Now, it’s time for us to build on the progress of the last generation – with a new era of bold investment that will bring a wealth of new transportation options to our region.”

At the ceremony dignitaries lauded Metrolink for its national leadership role in advancing safety and green technology.

It was the first commuter rail agency in the United States to install and operate Positive train control (PTC) during regular service on all hosted lines. This GPS-based safety technology, introduced in 2015, can stop a train and prevent train-to-train collisions and derailments caused by speeding and unauthorized train movement.

Metrolink also was the first major commuter rail agency in the nation to purchase new Tier 4 clean air operating locomotives that produce less emissions, generate more horsepower and are safer than older diesel models. Tier 4 locomotives will reduce PM and NOx emissions by up to 85 percent over standard diesel engines. When all 40 of these Tier 4 locomotives are in service it will be equivalent to reducing the annual emissions of 31,320 vehicles.

And Metrolink helps drive the economy. Its staff dispatches nearly 50 million pounds of freight each year on Metrolink owned track used by BNSF and Union Pacific.

Passenger fares and fees paid by the railroads cover 44 percent of Metrolink operating costs, the highest of any Southland public transit agency.

But Metrolink is more than statistics, more than just powerful locomotives and steel track. Metrolink Chair Kotyuk pointed out that for 25 years Metrolink has knitted together dozens of far-flung communities in the sprawling Southern California region from Lancaster and Ventura to Irvine, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Riverside, San Bernardino and Oceanside.

The diverse riders that take Metrolink to work, school or to explore Southern California, are a family who bond over long distances. The average Metrolink commuter travels 36 miles one way and crosses county lines.

They share a common frustration with driving in traffic and are thankful for the Metrolink alternative.

“When I look out the window to the right and see the 10 Freeway, I’m so glad not to be one of those stuck in traffic,” said Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, a sentiment expressed by a fellow Metrolink rider, Steve Dooner, who recently started taking Metrolink from Moorpark to work in Burbank after tiring of stop-and-go traffic driving the I-5.

“I now come home relaxed,” Dooner said with a smile.



9 replies

  1. Steve – I recently learned that Metrolink board meetings aren’t recorded or made available to the public after the fact. Isn’t that required in our state? Why doesn’t Metrolink record their board meetings?

    • I can’t speak for agencies other than Metro. Some agencies record meetings and post them online, others don’t. I do not believe any agency is under any obligation to do so, although many agencies (including Metro) do to make clear what happened and to promote government transparency. And, of course, out of recognition that not everyone can make meetings that take place during weekday business hours.

      This page on the Digital Media Law website has a pretty good explainer. According to the site, agencies are not obligated to record meetings but are obligated to provide minutes of meetings. http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/california/open-meetings-laws-california.

      Hope that helps,

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  2. Metrolink could be such a greater asset to the region if it was allowed to be. Especially within Los Angeles County where it provides the only rail transit service to the San Fernando Valley apart from the Red Line at North Hollywood. A recent study to double track the line that runs between Van Nuys and Chatsworth was effectively shelved by NIMBYs.


    Then there is the a proposed study of using cheaper, more-nimble Diesel Multiple Unit cars on the San Bernardino Line, perhaps other lines, to offer more frequent service, and right-sizing Metrolink fares versus Metro fares. But that study too was shelved:


    So the march of competing and un-coordinated public transportation in the Los Angeles area continues.

  3. Metrolink is such a low hanging fruit for transit improvement. If we double-tracked the entire thing (which would allow for dramatically more service and quicker travel times), we’d immediately have Chicago-like commuter service. I’m curious if anyone has studied how much that would cost?

    • Our Metrolink system is still better than some of the places where commuter rail is non-existent. For Metrolink to have a larger and expansive network is to demand the counties for more money to improve our rail systems.

      • Correct, improving Metrolink would cost money. But it would be money very well spent. I’m not even suggesting expanding the reach of Metrolink, just double-tracking existing routes and adding some grade separations. The holy grail would be electrification though.

    • ML has been doing a decent job double tracking where possible. However, there are a lot of stretches of track that are constrained by narrow right-of-way (san bernardino line), nearby residents who actively protest double tracking projects in their neighborhood (raymer to bernson), and freight railroad operators that own the railroad (union pacific).