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Ace Cain


Extending double-tracking and upgrading the Santa Clarita train station platform in Saugus are among the proposed infrastructure improvements to the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line approved by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority on July 25.

The improvements include adding 1.6 miles of new track to double-track the stretch from the end of the Bouquet Junction bend northeast to Golden Oak Road, and widening Santa Clarita Station’s platform to accommodate the new two-track line.

Once through the environmental impact gauntlet and the final design and funding are in place, the proposed projects would cost an estimated $173.5 million and require two and a half years to 10 years complete, according to Metro officials.

The improvements would speed up Metrolink rail service and continue building passenger ridership on the 76.6-mile Antelope Valley Line, or AVL, which connects Lancaster in North Los Angeles County with Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles.

The AVL is a 76.6-mile Class 4 rail corridor route owned by Metro and used by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, or SCRRA, running Metrolink commuter rail service between Union Station and Lancaster as well as Union Pacific Railroad for Class 1 freight service. Union Pacific trains transport goods between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach and distribution centers in the Antelope Valley.

The AVL has three stops in the Santa Clarita Valley — the Jan Heidt Station in Newhall; the Santa Clarita Station in Saugus; and the Via Princessa Station in Canyon Country.

Jan Heidt Newhall Metrolink Station stop

Jan Heidt Newhall Metrolink Station stop.

Right now, up to 30 Metrolink commuter trains and 12 Union Pacific freight trains per day traverse the corridor. The average passenger rail travel time between Lancaster and Union Station with 11 station stops is approximately two hours and 15 minutes.

To shorten the commute to 1 hour and 40 minutes, Metrolink currently operates two weekday roundtrip express trains from Union Station to Palmdale, with passenger stops only at the Burbank Downtown, Sylmar/San Fernando, Santa Clarita and Palmdale stations. The Antelope Valley Transit Authority also runs five round trips with bus service between Santa Clarita and Lancaster.

Metro’s long-term goals for the AVL are two-way service every 30 minutes throughout the day from any SCV station, cutting commute time between downtown Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley to an hour, and adding late-evening service.

Double-tracking, or extending railroad track sidings, would allow more train traffic to move faster along the line.

The proposed SCV improvements have been integrated into Metrolink’s 10-year Strategic Plan to significantly improve rail travel in Southern California.

Metrolink regional 10-year strategic plan

Metro officials say adding the 1.6 miles of new track in Saugus between the Bouquet Junction bend and Golden Oak Road off Soledad Canyon Road, as well as the Santa Clarita Station platform improvements, can be made on the existing railroad right-of-way without displacing any businesses or residents along the route.

Let’s take a closer look.

* * * * *

The AVL Study and Scenario 3 in the SCV
According to Metro, the Antelope Valley Line carries the Metrolink commuter rail system’s third-highest ridership, which put the AVL in the black for the first time in 2018, after years of subsidies.

AVL passengers reduce the equivalent of one lane of traffic from local freeways during peak driving hours and eliminate about 1 million weekday automobile trips per year.

Metro officials view the AVL as a model for the current Metrolink regional rail system and a key to unlocking regional mobility, as outlined in the State Rail Plan and Metrolink’s SCORE program, which it uses to prioritize projects.

Metrolink train on the Antelope Valley Line.

Seeking to build on that progress, the Metro Board commissioned the WSP consulting firm to conduct the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Study to identify infrastructure improvements that would make service faster, more frequent and more energy-efficient.

The completed study outlined six “service scenarios,” which identified possible short-, medium- and long-term improvements in the 65.2-mile segment between the Burbank Downtown Station and the Lancaster Station.

The Board also commissioned the Mott McDonald consulting firm to produce the separate but related Los Angeles-Glendale-Burbank Study covering the remaining 11.4 miles between Burbank Downtown and Union Station.

Metro Board Directors Kathryn Barger, Ara Najarian, Paul Krekorian and Hilda L. Solis moved to adopt the AVL Study’s first three suggested scenarios and related improvement projects. The full Metro board approved the directors’ Antelope Valley Line Motion at its July 25 meeting.

“Our city of Santa Clarita will dramatically benefit from the action taken today,” said Santa Clarita Mayor Marsha McLean, who attended the Metro board meeting to urge the motion’s passage, after the board’s unanimous 11-0 vote (two voting board members were absent — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia).

Related: Metro Backs Antelope Valley Line Study Recommendations

“Residents who regularly utilize Metrolink trains for their daily commute or recreational trips could soon have access to bi-directional service with trains running every half hour between Union Station and our city,” McLean said.

According to the approved motion, Scenario 1-3 short-term improvements would require $41.8 million in capital improvements and $4 million more in annual costs, and mid-term improvements would require approximately $175 million in capital costs, mainly for double-tracking identified in the AVL Study.

“To get these projects through environmental clearance and shovel-ready, the staff has estimated that $12.75 million is required,” the motion reads. “Shovel-ready is an important benchmark to position these projects for grant funding opportunities.”

Metrolink Antelope Valley Line improvements, with Scenario 1-3 projects highlighted in yellow. No. 6 is the Canyon-Santa Clarita Siding Extension and station platform upgrade.

Metrolink Antelope Valley Line improvements, with Scenario 1-3 projects highlighted in yellow. Circle No. 6 is the Canyon-Santa Clarita Siding Extension and station platform upgrade.

Barger, also an LA County Supervisor whose 5th District includes the Santa Clarita Valley, and a member of the North County Transportation Coalition, or NCTC, has provided funding for the environmental report and final design for Scenario 3 improvements, said Jeanet Owens, senior executive officer for Metro Regional Rail, in an email.

“The construction costs of Scenarios 2 and 3 are not yet funded,” Owens said. “The preliminary total construction cost of Scenario 3 (would be) approximately $175.3 million. We are working closely with (the NCTC) and all stakeholders to apply for state, local and federal grants to fund the construction. Looking at the glass half-full, if we were able to secure $175.3 million, we could begin construction within eight months after final design.”

Metrolink Antelope Valley Line proposed Scenarios 1-3 - four capital projects

“The study discusses the possibility of implementing Scenarios 1-3 over the course of between five and 10 years – with late-night trains and the Balboa Siding capital project being a five-year target and Scenario 3 projects being between years 5 and 10,” said David Perry, Transportation Deputy in Barger’s office.

“The intent of the Supervisor’s motion was to best position all of the Scenario 1-3 projects, so it funds all the projects to shovel-ready at the same time,” Perry said.

“That way if we are able to identify construction funds for all Scenario 3 projects, we would be able to significantly expedite them,” he said. “Theoretically, if we locked in all of the construction money in the coming months, these projects could all be completed within five years.”

Along with fast-tracking Scenarios 1-3, the Metro Board voted July 25 to prioritize the $41.8 million Balboa Tunnel Siding Project south of the SCV, which would also help make hourly commuter rail service between North LA County and Union Station possible sooner than later. This improvement was recommended in the Union Station to Burbank study.

Scenario 3 would also earmark $27.3 million for improvements to the Lancaster Metrolink Station, including new double-tracking, new storage track and platform upgrades, and $57.3 million for the Brighton-McGinley stretch out of Burbank to connect double-track segments at both ends.

The approved motion additionally calls for “the implementation of a diesel, electric, battery electric or hybrid multiple-unit train pilot program on the Antelope Valley Line” and Metro’s pursuit of grant funding focused on reducing pollution from trains, all “in support of the integrated service goals laid out in the State Rail Plan.”

“The approved Board Motion directs Metro staff to report back in October with a status report (detailing what would be necessary) to bring the capital projects included in Scenarios 1 through 3 to a ‘shovel-ready level,'” said Brian Balderrama, LA Metro’s senior director, program management/regional rail, in an email.

“‘Shovel-ready’ means the environmental study and final design will be completed,” he said, adding that the October status report should include project development plans, funding options, cash flow considerations and associated operating costs.

* * * * *

Santa Clarita Metrolink Station platform

The Santa Clarita Metrolink Station platform.

Canyon Siding Extension Project
While the AVL Study’s first two scenarios involve projects on the corridor north and south of Santa Clarita, Scenario 3’s estimated $48.8 million Canyon Siding Extension double-tracking project and the Santa Clarita Station platform expansion are within the city limits.

The siding project would extend existing double track by another 8,448 feet (1.6 miles) in Saugus, from where the double track now ends just northeast of the Bouquet Junction bend to the at-grade crossing at Golden Oak Road and Soledad Canyon Road.

The new track would parallel the existing one, following the railroad right-of-way south of Soledad Canyon Road behind businesses, the Saugus Speedway and skirting the Whittaker-Bermite site.

“The proposed improvements are assumed to be contained within the railroad right-of-way and illustrate the adjacent ownership,” Balderrama said, referring to diagrams from the preliminary plans.

Proposed Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Canyon-Santa Clarita double-tracking and platform expansion, part of Scenario 3 of the AVL Line Study approved by the Metro Board July 25.

Proposed Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Canyon-Santa Clarita double-tracking and platform expansion, part of Scenario 3 of the AVL Line Study approved by the Metro Board July 25. The purple lines represent the railroad right-of-way, and the orange line represents the new track. These images show the new track’s projected path (from left) from the Bouquet Junction bend heading northeast behind the Saugus Speedway.

Proposed Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Canyon-Santa Clarita double-tracking and platform expansion, part of Scenario 3 of the AVL Line Study approved by the Metro Board July 25.

Proposed Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Canyon-Santa Clarita double-tracking and platform expansion, part of Scenario 3 of the AVL Line Study approved by the Metro Board July 25. The purple lines represent the railroad right-of-way, and the orange line represents the new track. These images show the new track’s projected path running (from left) through the Santa Clarita Station northeast to the at-grade crossing at Golden Oak Road.

First Things First: EIR, Design
“All the proposed AVL improvements including the Canyon Siding Extension project will require an environmental study that will identify any environmental impacts including right-of-way,” Brian Balderrama, LA Metro senior director of program management for regional rail, said in an email.

Balderrama added that Metro plans to reach out to surrounding communities as well as those people and business directly adjacent to the project, before and after final approval, “to continue project collaboration, awareness and gain their support.”

But first, staff must complete those environmental reports and designs for the proposed capital projects.

“A scope of work was added that included the attached Canyon Siding Extension project concept drawings for more project detail,” Balderrama said. “Funding opportunities and cash flow considerations for the 10-year Strategic Plan will be included in the staff report to the Metro Board’s October meeting.”

* * * * *

Scenarios 4-6: A Look Down the Line
While not approved July 25, Scenarios 4-6 remain on Metro’s back burner.

“Scenarios 4 through 6 can still be considered especially as we go through the environmental study,” Owens said, adding that a timeframe for those options has not yet been determined.

Scenario 4’s proposed improvements include most of Scenario 3’s projects, plus more double-tracking and platform upgrade at the Lancaster station (eight train sets, estimated to cost roughly $30.1 million); a new 13,200-foot siding in Acton ($40.2 million); 5,808 feet of new double track between Honby (Canyon Country) and the Via Princessa Station ($26.4 million); connecting sidings at each end and converting to double-track at Hood-Saugus ($48.8 million); and 8,976 feet of new double track at Roxford in Sylmar ($42.7 million).

The Metrolink Via Princessa Station in Canyon Country is the northernmost of the three Metrolink stations in the city of Santa Clarita.

The Metrolink Via Princessa Station in Canyon Country is the northernmost of the three Metrolink stations in the city of Santa Clarita.

Scenario 5 would also call for more double-tracking and platform upgrade at the Lancaster station as in Scenario 4. Also proposed: new double track and two platform tracks at the Palmdale North station (to be integrated with high-speed rail, $127.3 million); extending existing siding at Ravena South by 13,200 feet (new double track, $56.3 million); the aforementioned 1.6-mile Canyon Santa Clarita Extension ($48.8 million) and Balboa-tunnel extension ($41.8 million); 13,200 feet of new double track in the Sheldon Street-Van Nuys Boulevard area ($67 million); and the Brighton-McGinley double-track connection (from Scenarios 3 and 4, $57.4 million).

Scenario 6’s proposed improvements are outside the SCV.

“This AVL Study is the initial study only and can be changed as we go into environmental study and design, especially as we learn more information,” Owens said.

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