The state Senate passed legislation Monday diverting some of the money earmarked for construction of the Metro Rail subway in the San Fernando Valley to a proposed Amtrak-operated Valley commuter train.
The bill, which has gained widespread support among local elected officials, also would delay to Sept. 29, 1989, the start of subway tunneling between Universal City and North Hollywood.
Teri Burns, legislative assistant to state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys), the bill's sponsor, predicted the Assembly would approve the legislation on Thursday and send it to Gov. George Deukmejian.
The commuter service, which would operate on Southern Pacific railroad tracks, would consist of two round-trips daily during peak commuting hours between Union Station in downtown Los Angeles and either Simi Valley or Oxnard. Proposed stops for the 500-passenger trains are at Glendale, Burbank, Van Nuys and Chatsworth.
Robbins proposed the line to relieve congestion during the widening of the Ventura Freeway, which began last week and is expected to be completed in late 1990.
The California Transportation Commission, which controls transportation spending in the state, has responded enthusiastically to the plan.
At its January meeting, the commission ordered its staff to negotiate with Amtrak and Southern Pacific and to return in August with a detailed plan for the service. The bill, approved 24 to 2 by the Senate, would replace a 1984 law that required the Southern California Rapid Transit District to have begun tunneling north of Universal City by Sept. 29, 1987.
RTD officials let the deadline pass after Robbins, author of the original law, said he would introduce legislation granting a two-year delay.
Residents of Studio City and North Hollywood asked for the delay, arguing that the noise and congestion of construction should be avoided until it is certain when the Valley leg of Metro Rail can be connected with downtown Los Angeles.
The same 1984 law also requires the RTD to spend $74 million over the next seven years for the tunneling, which will extend from Universal City and Metro Rail's northern terminus at Chandler and Lankershim boulevards. Robbins introduced the original legislation to ensure that the RTD would not indefinitely postpone work on the Valley leg of the subway system.
Under Robbins' pending bill, the $74 million would be placed in a trust fund and the interest would be used to subsidize the commuter rail line while the freeway is being widened.
State Transportation Commission staff members estimate that the fund would generate $3 million over the two years, probably enough to operate the Amtrak line.
Spokesman for both Amtrak and Southern Pacific say they are willing to participate in the service if their costs are reimbursed.