IRVINE — The City of Irvine, renewing its drive for a $14-million, multimodal rail station to serve the city's growing industrial centers, has put forth a plan to build $700,000 worth of new track siding to accommodate passenger trains.
The Orange County Transportation Commission on Monday will be asked to recommend approval for $560,000 in federal transit funds that could provide the final boost needed to add a new stop in Irvine to Amtrak's 133-mile, seven-train-per-day route linking Los Angeles and San Diego.
With the commission's approval, there is a "good chance" that federal funds will be allocated for the new siding, which would allow trains to stop at Irvine without delaying other train traffic along the route, said Transportation Commission Director Stan Oftelie.
The proposed Irvine stop has been controversial in recent years among railway officials who view it as an increased commitment to commuter traffic. Amtrak was chartered as an intercity rail service, and the San Diegan's current service to Fullerton, Anaheim, Santa Ana, San Juan Capistrano, Oceanside and Del Mar already represents more stops than are found on other routes of similar length, railroad officials say.
The Santa Fe Railroad, which owns the track on which Amtrak trains run, has in the past opposed a new stop at Irvine, though the city already has $2.29 million in state funds and $11 million worth of Irvine Co. land committed to the new train station.
"The bottom line is, we're opposed to adding any additional passenger facilities on any of our lines for a variety of reasons, among which are delays to freight trains," said Santa Fe spokesman Michael Miller. With seven daily Amtrak trains in each direction and freight train service to three industrial complexes, the track is already heavily used in the Irvine, Tustin and El Toro area, he said.
"This is not a commuter line. We don't want to see it become a commuter line," Miller added. "Where does it stop? If you add stations every three, four, five miles, doesn't it really in essence become a commuter line?"
Irvine City Council member Barbara Wiemer, who will be making the funding request before the Transportation Commission on Monday, said the city's own studies have shown that a stop at Irvine would boost ridership on the Los Angeles-to-San Diego route by 25%.
The stop--at a station that would be located along the south border of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station--would serve theburgeoning employment linked to development of the Irvine Co.'s East Irvine Industrial Complex and proposed high-tech and biomedical office projects, city officials say.
"It would seem to me that Amtrak would be very interested in extending that service in order to decrease the subsidies it requires from the government," Wiemer said. "The use of rail service by people is only going to increase if you increase the service areas. You're not going to get on a train unless it's going where you want to go. And as Orange County develops, there's going to be more places in Orange County where you want to go."
Amtrak spokesman Arthur Lloyd said the company has been willing to provide service to Irvine, but Santa Fe has vetoed the idea.
The new siding is part of a $38-million package of rail improvements envisioned by Irvine city officials that eventually would include a full double track between Santa Ana and Irvine and the lowering of tracks through Irvine for environmental purposes.