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Metrolink plans rush-hour express trains to downtown [Updated]

March 11, 2011 |  4:03 pm

Southern California’s commuter rail service soon will launch its first rush-hour express trains to downtown Los Angeles, cutting the longest travel times by about half an hour each way.

The pilot program, coming as gas prices soar, could make Metrolink trains a more attractive alternative to driving to work, particularly for residents of far-flung suburbs.

"It’ll change the dynamics," said Bart Reed, executive director of the Transit Coalition, a grass-roots public transportation advocacy group. "There’s a whole group that don’t ride [trains] because they can go quicker by driving."

The express trains will run mornings and evenings from the Antelope Valley and San Bernardino to downtown’s Union Station beginning in May. In traffic, both commutes take about two hours by car, according to Google Maps.

The San Bernardino express will take an hour, compared with the current 90 minutes for trains that make about a dozen stops. The express will stop only in Rancho Cucamonga and Covina.

The new service from Palmdale will take about 88 minutes compared with the two-hour current Metrolink run, and make stops in Santa Clarita and Burbank rather than all of the line’s 11 stations.

[For the record at 1:53 p.m. March 14: An earlier version of this post stated that Metrolink commuter trains would run between Lancaster and Union Station. They will run between Palmdale and downtown.]

The express trains will be on top of the current schedule and will continue for a six-month evaluation period. If successful, express service could be added to other outlying areas, officials said.

Billboards promoting the service will begin appearing next month at freeway choke points in the Antelope Valley and along the 10 Freeway, a main artery connecting Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.

Getting express trains to Palmdale and Lancaster has been talked about for "many, many years," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, who represents the area.

He predicted the time savings of an hour or more a day could fundamentally change attitudes about commuting options. Many of his constituents battle a daily bottleneck of automobiles and big rigs near the 5 and 14 freeways, north of the San Fernando Valley.

With gas prices pushing $4 a gallon, Reed said the economic appeal of the new service could entice people out of their cars. By his estimate, a downtown worker driving solo from the Lancaster area could save hundreds of dollars a month at current gas prices.

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-- Rich Connell     

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