Metro Outlines Plans for Faster Train Service with Link Union Station

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has been working on a plan to overhaul Downtown’s Union Station for more than five years, and recently hit a milestone: the release of a draft environmental impact report.

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The Link Union Station project is intended to transform the 80-year-old station into a modern transit hub, with greater connectivity and more rider capacity. The principal component would be the addition of up to 10 “run-through” tracks. Whereas Metrolink and Amtrak trains that come to Union Station terminate there and now have to turn around, the proposed run-through system would allow trains to pass through the station, extend to new tracks over the 101 Freeway, and continue on to a destination.

Currently 172 Metrolink and Amtrak trains arrive at Union Station each day, according to Jeanet Owens, Metro’s senior executive officer for program management and regional rail. She said that adding run-through tracks would allow Amtrak to, for instance, take passengers from San Luis Obispo to San Diego.

“It would operate like a light-rail system,” she said.

The tracks would allow Union Station to accommodate up to 258 trains per day, a 63% increase, according to Owens. It would require raising the station’s rail yard, immediately to the south of the Alameda Street station, to allow the tracks to pass over the 101 Freeway.

Metro is seeking feedback on the draft EIR and public comments will be accepted through March 4. The plan is accessible at metro.net/projects/link-us.

Metro estimates that Link Union Station would cost $2.5 billion; approximately $950 million in funding has been secured. The timeline is still being determined.

Link Union Station is part of the wider Union Station Master Plan, which calls for increased development around the station. Metro approved the master plan in 2014.

One benefit of the plan would be increased capacity, according to Metro —ridership could double to 200,000 passengers per day by 2040. Owens said that with the 2028 Olympics and other major events coming to Los Angeles, expanding capacity is essential.

A chief benefit of run-through tracks is that they would reduce the time trains have to wait at the station, Owens said.

“With this, trains can idle for five minutes or less. With the current system, they idle for 20-40 minutes,” she said.

The Link Union Station project would include the construction of a large, elevated concourse that would extend over the rail yard. The round, donut-shaped concourse would have waiting areas, terraces and shops for passengers. Renderings show a large glass structure overlooking trains and the recently renovated Patsaouras Plaza.

The project’s greatest benefit to the public would be shorter and more efficient rides, according to Professor James Moore, director of the University of Southern California’s Transportation Engineering Program and an expert on mass transit. He noted that it could also boost demand, if rides become more seamless.

Michael Manville, a professor at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs and an expert on transportation and land use matters, said that given Union Station’s age, this project is needed if Metro intends to make the facility the hub of a growing and more connected system linking both local lines and regional light rail.

“With run-through tracks, the basic logic is right in the name,” Manville said. “It allows for some vehicles like express routes to pass through without having to stop or turn around.”

Metro said the concourse and platforms would be added in a manner that does not disrupt existing Metro routes and regional transit systems.

The Link Union Station project would be implemented in two phases, according to Owens. The first would involve adding new communication and signals to the rail lines. The second phase would require raising the rail yard for the new tracks.

Construction would happen overnight between 10:30 p.m. and 4:30 a.m., and Metro expects that Union Station would remain operational at all times during the expansion.

nicholas@downtownnews.com