Zest for Amtrak Station Shrinks Among Officials of Interested Cities

November 19, 1987|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

Enthusiasm has declined among officials of three Southeast cities bidding for an Amtrak intercity train station as more becomes known about requirements for the project--the latest being that cities will have to pay for track improvements at the proposed sites.

Commerce, Norwalk and Pico Rivera are competing for the station that is intended to upgrade Amtrak's Los Angeles-San Diego route, which now has no stops between Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and Fullerton in Orange County. The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission considers the addition of a station in the Southeast area as critical to increasing ridership.

Last week, officials of the three cities, Amtrak, the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Co. and the Transportation Commission met for the first time to discuss the station. Representatives of the Santa Fe, from whom Amtrak leases track, divulged their requirements for the proposed station.

In addition to the track requirements, Santa Fe officials emphasized that the station will have an intercity designation rather than commuter, to minimize interference with the railroad's high-speed freight operation in the area. More than 40 trains, including 18 Amtrak trains, pass through Santa Fe's main freight line in the Southeast area daily.

The intercity designation means Santa Fe will allow a maximum of two stops each way daily, and those stops will not be during the morning or evening rush hours, said railroad spokesman Mike Martin.

"Santa Fe has maintained that we will not encourage nor support nor allow, if we could possibly prevent it, commuter service on the line," Martin said. "Amtrak is not chartered as a commuter rail operation. They are intercity."

City officials had envisioned the station as a transit hub, attracting thousands of commuters from throughout the area, but the schedule imposed by Santa Fe is expected to initially produce fewer than 100 riders daily. This projection, coupled with the cities having to seek independent financing for the project, has led officials of Commerce and Pico Rivera to say they doubt the project would be a good investment.

Estimates of Cost

Cost estimates for the station, to include a 1,000-foot platform, restrooms and maybe a ticket booth, range from $500,000 to several million.

"It's difficult when you don't know if something is going to be successful and (you) have to ask your taxpayers to pay for the whole thing," said Dennis Courtemarche, city manager of Pico Rivera. "We still have to weigh all the advantages and disadvantages."

Ray Rodriguez, assistant director of community development in Commerce, said: "The big question is, 'What is the economic return?' But you also have to ask, 'Where's the money (for the project)? Where's it coming from? Who's going to maintain the station?' "

Norwalk, which until about six months ago was not even in the competition for the station, now appears to be the front-runner. The city has paid consultant Carl Schiermeyer $10,000 to study those questions and others and come up with a preliminary station plan, environmental information and traffic projections.

Norwalk decided to compete for the station after the Los Angeles-San Diego State Rail Corridor Study Group released its initial report last spring, said Public Works Director Ken Montgomery, and is the only city so far to hire a consultant for the project.

Montgomery said Norwalk is promoting itself as a logical transportation link between Amtrak and one Century Freeway light rail station, planned to open in 1993 on the west side of the city. The three-mile trip between the two stations could be handled by Norwalk's bus system, he said.

"We think our location is superior . . . because it makes sense to have a connection between the two rail stations," Montgomery said.

Commerce officials say their city would be the best location because no new construction would be needed except for the station. Commerce also wants to have a transit center at the intersection of Garfield Avenue and the Santa Ana Freeway, Rodriguez said. Bus service already exists along Garfield, there is direct freeway access and a park-and-ride lot is in place.

Commerce also has a large commuter base, with about 85,000 people coming to work in the city each day.

Pico Rivera remains interested, but there may be logistical problems because of a nearby train yard at Pico Rivera's favored site at Slauson Avenue and Bermudez Street.

A committee of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission wants to select a Southeast site in early 1988 and have the station completed in early 1989, said Craig Johnson, a rail development officer for the commission. The proposal deadline has been extended from Dec. 1 to Jan. 4 to allow cities to respond to last week's meeting.

Selection Criteria

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