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The Train Stops Here for More Riders Than Metrolink Expected


GLENDALE — As Metrolink celebrated passing the one-millionth passenger mark, officials of the commuter rail service expressed surprise that more riders than had been projected are choosing Glendale as a destination.

When Metrolink opened last October, its officials said they had expected about 20% of the riders on the Santa Clarita and Ventura County lines to make Glendale their stop. Now, after more than 10 months of operation, about one-third of the passengers on the two lines that connect to downtown Los Angeles are disembarking in Glendale.

"It's much more than we expected," Metrolink spokesman Peter G. Hidalgo said of the more than 900 riders coming daily to Glendale. On all trains, as of the end of July, there were more than 8,100 passengers daily.

Exceeding projections has been characteristic for the system, Hidalgo said. Overall ridership figures have gone beyond the projections made last fall when the train service started. The estimates called for a target of 5,300 riders daily by June 30. The figure turned out to be 6,500. Projections now call for daily ridership of 10,000 by January.

"Our passengers are continuing to rely on us as their chosen way to get to their destination," said Metrolink chairman and San Bernardino County Supervisor Larry Walker.

Of the four Metrolink lines, the Santa Clarita and Ventura County lines, however, are not as popular as the San Bernardino and Riverside routes.

To attract more riders, Metrolink last week offered special trains from Simi Valley to the Ventura County Fair. In two days, 20,000 passengers boarded, prompting Metrolink to triple the number of cars that had been scheduled. Some trains had standing room only, an event rarely recorded on the daily commuter lines, Hidalgo said.

Buoyed by that success, Metrolink is offering a special reduced fare during the four weekends of the Los Angeles County Fair in Pomona, starting Sept. 11 and ending Oct. 3.

Besides being able to stop at a new temporary station at the Fairplex, riders can travel anywhere along the San Bernardino line, between Rialto and downtown Los Angeles, for the flat rate of $4 round-trip. Normally, the fare for Rialto to Los Angeles would be $14.

With a train ticket, fair-goers will receive discounted admission to the fair. Children younger than 6 can ride free.

The reduced rate is part of Metrolink's campaign to attract new riders. Hidalgo said surveys show that most of the train passengers were formerly "drive-alone commuters."

Critics have said that subsidies to Metrolink and its suburban passengers are stealing funds and passengers from the existing bus service in the region, particularly lines that serve the inner-city rider. But "the issue," Hidalgo said, "is commuters need a number of options," and rail transportation is one of them.

A new station in Fontana is scheduled to open Nov. 20 on the San Bernardino line. Other stations are scheduled to open next spring at Rancho Cucamonga and Cal State L.A.

Service to Orange County, which will include free transfers to Metrolink trains bound for Glendale and Burbank, begins in December.

In its one-millionth passenger who traveled on the San Bernardino line Friday, Metrolink officials could not have found a better spokeswoman.

As someone who once drove or rode the bus to commute to Los Angeles, Sandra Glass said she was thankful to have a train stop close to her home in Claremont.

"It's really an efficient, comfortable way to travel," Glass said. "If we could just talk people out of their cars and get them to try the train for say a week or a month," they would be believers, too.

Glass, 57, a vice president for programs at the W.M. Keck Foundation, a philanthropic organization, said that her average commute driving took 90 minutes one way. When it rained, she said, the drive could be longer.

Now she delights in traveling to work on a trip that regularly--rain or shine--takes about an hour. Trains, she said, offer a partial solution to the region's transportation difficulties.

"It really can solve some congestion and pollution problems for Southern California," she said. "But the citizens are going to have to try it."

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