The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

On Expo and Gold Line extensions, train cars could be in short supply

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Los Angeles Metro has been working to expand rail service on two lines — the Expo and the Gold Lines. Each line has its own construction authority, and both say the projects are right on schedule. But they're worried that when they're ready to open, Metro won’t have enough rail cars ready to run on them. 

The Expo Line Construction Authority says construction on Phase Two — from Culver City to Santa Monica - should be complete by the summer of 2015.   The Gold Line Construction Authority said the building of its Foothill Extension — from Pasadena to Azusa — should be done a few months later. But Metro must provide the trains, and the agency has fallen behind on acquiring new rail cars. 

Metro is in this bind because of a deal gone bad with AnsaldoBreda, the Italian contractor originally hired to make its rail cars.  That deal fell through in October of 2009, and the agency spent two more years settling on and signing a deal with a new contractor — Kinki Sharyo of Japan. Metro spokesman Marc Littman said Kinki Sharyo is essentially playing catch-up, setting a very aggressive schedule to make sure rail cars begin to arrive in the middle of 2015.

"They have a great reputation for being on time," Littman said "They're doing everything they can to get us the cars as quickly as they can." 

Littman said Metro expects to have 24 new rail cars by the end of 2015, with four more arriving each month after that.  He adds that once construction on the Expo and Gold Line extensions is complete, Metro must spend months testing each for safety and training operators before opening them to passengers.   Metro expects to open phase two of the Expo line in January of 2016 and the Gold Line's Foothill Extension two months later.   

Still, Metro is considering options for dealing with a potential railcar shortfall when the two new extensions open.  

"One of things that we could do is shift all of our maintenance work to night so that we can squeeze more capacity out of our existing fleet during the day," Littman said.  "It's possible we might have to run shorter trains, or we might have to truncate service."

That's what concerns Gold Line Construction Authority CEO Habib Balian. He's worried that a railcar shortage will also force Metro to run fewer trains. 

"Our expectations and our forecasts always assumed six minute headways:  every six minutes a train would come," Balian said. "Right now, from what I’ve seen, it looks like they’re only going to have service every twelve minutes." That, Balian said, would be a tough blow to ridership as the extension opens.    

Samantha Brinker, CEO of the Expo Line Construction Authority said the current Expo Line is already carrying more passengers than it expected to by this time, so a rail car shortage for the second phase would be a setback.

“If these projects are done on time and there are no trains there, the public is going to go nuts,” Brinker told the blog of Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Metro is concerned enough about the potential railcar shortage to send a few board members to Kinki Sharyo's headquarters in Japan to discuss the possibility of speeding up production.

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