A new study on expanding passenger train lines into the east San Gabriel Valley and the Inland Empire says two is better than one.

When the L Line, formerly known as the Gold Line, is built out to Pomona by 2025, it will mark the first time the light-rail train will overlap with Metrolink’s Los Angeles-to-San Bernardino commuter line, not counting Union Station in downtown L.A. If extra money is found to fund the L Line’s extension to Claremont and Montclair, however, that would make three “transfer stations” for passengers to change between the electric trolley line and Metrolink’s locomotive-driven commuter rail.

Back in January 2018, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board wondered: Is this progress or a duplication of service?

Some questioned whether Metro should fund the light-rail line’s extension from Azusa to Montclair. A task force was formed to answer the question: Will the Metro L Line siphon away passengers from the pricier Metrolink?

Report finds synergy

The preliminary report from the Metro Regional Rail Task Force says no. In fact, the study says, the two services will have a synergistic effect, bumping up daily ridership on both lines.

Here’s what the task force study found:

• Ridership on the L Line system in 2028 is expected to increase by 20,000 additional weekday boardings between Union Station and Pomona. The Pomona Station alone will see 6,600 boardings.

• At Montclair, the line could see an addition of 28,100 daily boardings, as passengers board new lines and new connections in Los Angeles County. Also, many commuters from the growing Inland Empire are expected to hop on the L Line to get to work in L.A. County without driving the congested 10 and 210 freeways.

• With the L Line at the Montclair TransCenter, the Metrolink service would not lose passengers, but gain them. The study says it would go from about 400 boardings to more than 1,200 boardings in 2028.

“That is a pretty significant jump, just at the Montclair Station,” said Richard Carney, principal project manager and transportation civil engineer at Mott MacDonald, an international consulting firm, on Tuesday, July 28.

In total, Metrolink would see 5,700 more boardings that year in 2028, the study said. Should Metrolink expand the number of daily trains on its most-used L.A.-to-San Bernardino line by 24, it would experience an increase of 5,400 daily boardings, the study said.

In Montclair, the Metro task force recommended aligning the L Line and Metrolink side-by-side by placing them closer together to improve passenger connectivity. Also recommended is extending an existing underground passage from the parking area to reach the L Line platform. The changes add between $2 million and $5 million to the cost of the station.

Carney planned to submit the final report to Metro on Friday, July 31, he said. The final report is expected to be released to the public in three weeks.

Reaction to report

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis pushed for the study and was asked about the findings.

“Our daily commuters and local communities come out ahead in knowing that the Metro Gold Line and the Metrolink San Bernardino Line can co-exist without any significant reductions in ridership on the San Bernardino Line,” said Solis, who serves on the boards of both Metro and Metrolink, in an emailed response.

The report was presented to the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority’s Joint Powers Authority Board on July 16. The JPA is made up of mayors and council members from the cities along the route.

Montclair City Councilman Bill Ruh, a JPA board member and supporter of the L Line to Claremont and Montclair, was not surprised by the study’s findings.

“Why couldn’t they co-exist? Lines co-exist in other parts of the country,” Ruh said on Tuesday, echoing the report’s findings that the two passenger train lines serve different places and different markets.

“If I want to go to Cal State LA, I’ve got to take Metrolink. To Pasadena? I take (L) Line,” he said. “We didn’t eliminate a freeway because of duplication of service.”

Costs, caveats and coronavirus

The study’s authors point out that computer models used to predict ridership focused on the two train systems, not the individual stations. How extension of the L Line will affect Pomona, Claremont and Montclair depends on whether commuters can get to the stations easily, the availability of parking (which will be reduced as of new plans released in June), bus lines, micro-transit services such as Lyft and Uber and the ease of ticket transfers, Carney said.

A closer look at each station may produce different numbers, said Jeanet Owens, senior executive officer for regional rail at Metro.

For example, Metrolink ridership dropped by about 30% in Covina when the then-Gold Line opened to nearby Azusa in 2016 and passengers switched to Metro, Owens said. A written comment from the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority reminded the task force of that phenomenon, she said.

Owens said the study looked at the two rail lines “systemwide” with less focus on ridership at the future stations in Pomona, Claremont and Montclair.

The SBCTA declined to comment for this article.

Rising costs are a relatively new factor not accounted for in the study but construction of the 9.1-mile line to Pomona is not affected. Building the L Line 12.3 miles from Azusa to Montclair was originally projected at $1.4 billion, but the cost jumped to $2.1 billion last year.

The Construction Authority split the project, building it with existing dollars only to Pomona, with new stations in Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne and Pomona. The authority needs to raise another $450 million to get to Claremont, a project that involves moving the Metrolink tracks and station. Another $97.4 million is needed to go to Montclair, of which the SBCTA has acquired about $80 million.

On Wednesday, July 29, construction crews with Kiewit-Parsons worked on laying light-rail track and testing electrical and communications equipment. Street closures to accommodate the work began in early July in San Dimas.

Some say the study will help the Construction Authority find the nearly half million dollars needed to reach Claremont and Montclair.

“This study encourages us to shore up on the necessary funding required to extend the Gold Line (L Line) from Pomona to Montclair,” Solis said in an email.

Meanwhile, there are other factors at play.

SBCTA has indicated the Gold Line may be too expensive to operate in Montclair. It is looking at a number of alternatives, including a zero-emission train along the Metrolink tracks to Rancho Cucamonga and possibly farther west, and a tunnel taking passengers in modified Teslas from the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink Station to Ontario International Airport.

Also, the coronvirus pandemic has sharply reduced passenger boardings on all trains, both Metro and Metrolink, as more commuters work from home. The study’s computer modeling was done in May, June and July 2019 — pre-pandemic, Owens said.

Still, with the dates of completion of the L Line five years out for Pomona, and eight years away for Montclair, the agencies are continuing to plan for multiple mass transit projects in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties that will reduce traffic and smog by getting people out of single-passenger cars.

“The study confirmed what all previous environmental studies have shown, which is the lines will benefit each other,” said Lisa Levy Buch, chief communications officer for the Foothill Gold Line Construction Authority.

Source: Daily Bulletin