Orange County transportation officials on Monday established a new rail program office, to be headed by veteran transit planner Brian Pearson.
The action came during a joint meeting of the Orange County Transit District board and the Orange County Transportation Commission, which are in the process of merging into one super agency.
Pearson, 51, of Laguna Hills, is the transit district's director of development. He has supervised OCTD's plans for special, elevated ramps reserved for buses and car-pools that will soar over congested freeway interchanges.
Pearson, who will report to Stanley T. Oftelie, executive director of the transportation commission, will help develop plans for a 23-mile light-rail system that possibly will serve six cities between Irvine and Fullerton.
The transit district, however, will continue to pay Pearson his $80,000 annual salary.
The planned light-rail system, dubbed the "Orange Line" by OCTC Chairman Dana W. Reed on Monday, may use monorail vehicles, although no specific technology has been selected yet.
"Please think big," Reed admonished Pearson during Monday's joint meeting. "It's not enough to get from Santa Ana to Irvine . . . but from Santa Monica to Irvine."
Reed said he was referring to plans to link Orange County light-rail projects with those in neighboring counties.
In addition to the urban "core" system currently being studied, officials agreed Monday to pursue purchase of a 5-mile stretch of old Pacific Electric "Red Car" right of way and an adjacent, 3.8-acre site for a passenger depot between Beach Boulevard in Stanton and the Los Angeles County border. The purchase is expected to cost $13.9 million, with the money expected to come from Measure M, the half-cent county sales tax hike approved by voters on Nov. 6.