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EARTHWATCH : Catching Rail Fever : All aboard. It may soon be time to think seriously about leaving gridlock behind.

November 01, 1990|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | Richard Kahlenberg has worked on behalf of Greenpeace and has been active in The Urban Resource Network and The Environmental Coalition.

Last week I got an invitation to a press junket. When my colleagues get these invitations it's for Maui or movie sets or B-2 factories.

What I got was an invitation to ride the train from Ventura to Los Angeles and back. Sort of. Actually, not really at all. Yes, I did get the invitation but I didn't board in Ventura. The station, for now, is in Oxnard.

Off I went. Nothing will stop me from taking a train. Amtrak is expanding its service and I'm a train travel booster. I actually go out of my way to take a train.

Now the bad news. For those of you living in Ventura County and working in Los Angeles, the current schedule means you have to work very long hours to make commuting by train work. There is only one train going to downtown Los Angeles in the morning (8:35 a.m.) and the return train is nearly 11 1/2 hours later (8 p.m.). Things are a bit sunnier for Angelenos who work in Ventura County.

The good news is that there appear to be plans to fix this.

The route--part of the Santa Barbara to San Diego leg, with stops at Oxnard, Simi Valley, Chatsworth, Burbank Airport and many Los Angeles County sites--has three daily runs. In 1988 there was one, in 1989 two, and now three. That's because ridership is up.

The more we use the train the more trains from Ventura County we get, said Lee Deter, a Caltrans deputy director I met on my junket.

The reason, he said, is "when you add a train on this run you get more than twice the customers."

Speaking at the inaugural ceremonies at Union Station in Los Angeles, state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana) said he anticipates an additional "five more trains by the end of next year." Caltrans was unable to confirm this when asked by The Times. But if this is true, it should solve the problem for Venturans commuting to Los Angeles.

We do know that the station in Ventura is under contract to open in 1992, according to Ginger Gherardi of the Ventura County Transportation Commission. And the existing Amtrak service in Simi Valley will expand to connect with the Moorpark station at High Street and Casey Road. This is the Ventura end of the service that will soon link us with Los Angeles' rail network.

So get in shape for the future. With one or two more additional lines, Venturans can seriously think about getting off the freeway and onto the train. If the train expense is daunting to you, just consider: downtown Los Angeles parking is now running $6 to $12 per day. Gas and wear and tear on your car must be considered. And I don't know about you, but I'll pay good money to buy four hours of repose on the train, instead of freeway aggravation.

In my dream of a perfect California there is no clutter and pall from petroleum-guzzling cars and planes. Instead, lots of silent, swift, magnetic trains and silent, swift, electric cars go everywhere. Twenty years ago this was silly talk. Now things have changed. We can make it happen by using today's trains. And last week the rail line serving commuters in Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and San Diego counties finally secured its rights of way for a network of convenient stations.

There are a number of stations already available via Amtrak, and there will be even more in about 20 months. Starting with Oxnard, it's on to Simi Valley-Moorpark, Chatsworth, Van Nuys, Burbank Airport, Glendale and Los Angeles.

NEW DAILY TRAIN SCHEDULE Ventura County to Los Angeles

Oxnard 8:35 a.m. 4:10 p.m. 5:24 p.m. Simi Valley 9:05 a.m. 4:40 p.m. 5:45 p.m. Chatsworth 9:28 a.m. 4:57 p.m. no stop Van Nuys 9:39 a.m. 5:08 p.m. no stop Burbank Airport 9:47 a.m. 5:16 p.m. no stop Glendale 10 a.m. 5:29 p.m. 6:33 p.m. Los Angeles 10:30 a.m. 6 p.m. 7:30 p.m. (Union Station)

Returning Los Angeles to Ventura County

Los Angeles 8:20 a.m. 9:55 a.m. 8 p.m. (Union Station) Glendale 8:37 a.m. 10:13 a.m. 8:17 p.m. Burbank Airport 8:49 a.m. no stop 8:29 p.m. Van Nuys 8:57 a.m. no stop 8:37 p.m. Chatsworth 9:08 a.m. no stop 8:49 p.m. Simi Valley 9:30 a.m. 10:50 a.m. 9:05 p.m. Oxnard 10a.m. 11:21 a.m.

For further info call 1-800-USA-RAIL. Fares are about $20 round-trip. Ask for specifics.

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