Construction on the Metro Gold Line extension to Claremont is set to break ground in October on a route that runs parallel to the existing Metrolink San Bernardino line. Officials worried about cannibalizing ridership are considering permanently closing down the Claremont Metrolink station once the Gold Line connects there.
Metrolink is a heavy rail service intended for longer trips; it runs through six counties from San Diego to to Ventura.
The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates local service through the county, including the Gold Line light rail, which has been siphoning riders from Metrolink in the San Gabriel Valley.
The Metrolink San Bernardino line connecting downtown L.A. with San Bernardino has lost about 8 percent of ridership overall. It has also lost about a quarter of riders at the Covina station, which is just four miles away from the Gold Line station in Azusa. The upcoming expansion of the Gold Line will bring them literally on top of each other, with several stations overlapping.
It's not a big mystery why Metrolink riders might want to switch to the Gold Line: Metro light rail has a base fare of $1.75 to go anywhere in the system while a ride from Covina to downtown L.A. would cost $7.75 each way on Metrolink. While the larger, heavier trains of Metrolink should be faster than Metro Gold Line, the system has been plagued by breakdowns and delays in recent years.
Officials have been trying to figure out ways to make the two services less competitive and more complementary. Metro provides a large part of the funding for Metrolink service in L.A. County.
This week the Metro board is set to discuss studying an option to permanently close the existing Metrolink station at Claremont once the Gold Line connects there. Current plans would necessitate tearing down the Metrolink station to make way for the Gold Line tracks and station, and then rebuilding it.
L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis, a Metro board member, proposed the study. Not rebuilding the Metrolink station in Claremont is on the table both because the stop will be served by the Gold Line and because the Montclair Metrolink station is less than two miles away for riders who prefer to take Metrolink.
The city of Claremont would need to agree. But it could reduce construction costs and speed up Metrolink service. Officials have also discussed studying making Metrolink more of an express service with fewer stops.
The Gold Line extension of 12 miles from Azusa to Claremont is the first major rail project to be undertaken with funds from Measure M, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by L.A. County voters last November. It is budgeted at $1.4 billion.