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Metro is Getting Serious About Bringing Light Rail to the Valley

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The San Fernando Valley has recently pivoted on its "no thanks" attitude toward rail and now seems pretty onboard with the idea of converting the Orange Line busway into a light rail line. It was against state law to build light rail in the Valley until just last year, but now the law's been changed and the Orange Line is packed, so Metro is seriously studying the conversion possibility, says the LA Times, citing a new Metro staff report. The Orange Line was built with the idea that it could one day accommodate a train, and it has some of the infrastructure that a rail line would need (parking, bridges girthy enough for a train), which could shave off a quarter of the conversion expenses.

Even though it will be 25 percent cheaper than it would be if the Orange Line weren't so prepared, a conversion of the 18-mile line to light rail might cost anywhere from $1.2 billon to $1.7 billion, says Metro's study. (That price includes not only laying the rail, but also buying the trains to run on it.) Making the switch would be relatively fast, though, and could be finished in anywhere from two to three years.

The pricetag might have some wincing, but the Orange Line, which runs from NoHo to Chatsworth, is expected to hit capacity in the mornings and evenings soon, and probably keep growing as the Valley's population and demand for transit does too. Making the switch to rail is one, efficient way that issue could be dealt with, as trains can hold far more people than buses can. Rail would also shave 15 minutes off the full trip, which runs a bit under an hour on the bus.

However, the report also looked into buying more buses—bigger ones—and separating the bus from the street at the most congested intersections along the Orange Line's path (that could mean elevated bridges or perhaps troughs or tunnels). That less exciting fix would cost between $230 million and $350 million. The report also explored a plan to extend the Orange Line to Glendale and Burbank, which would include new onramps on the 134 Freeway so buses could use the carpool lane; that could increase boardings on the already crowded line by as much as 30,000 riders.

The rail floodgates opened last July, when the state legislature overturned a law that had long banned above-ground rail in the Valley. Since then, some Valley representatives have taken up the cause to bring rail to the San Fernando Valley. Unfortunately, there's still no plan for how to fund any of this, and the project wasn't included in the 2008 Measure R transit tax, which is funding much of the system's expansion right now. Metro's Board of Directors is supposed to look over the Orange Line report later this month, so we'll certainly be hearing about this incredible plan.
· Report: Converting Metro's Orange Line to rail could cost $1.7 billion [LAT]
· The Notoriously Suburban Valley is Demanding Rail Transit [Curbed LA]
· It's Now Legal to Build Light Rail in the San Fernando Valley [Curbed LA]
· Metro Considering Rail Link From Valley to Bob Hope to Pas [Curbed LA]