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EARTHQUAKE: THE ROAD TO RECOVERY : Camarillo Metrolink Station Opens Today : Transportation: No-frills facility was built in a week. It marks the first commuter train service in west Ventura County.


Pioneer commuters will step onto the first Metrolink trains in Camarillo this morning as transportation officials continue to combat crowded freeways following last month's deadly earthquake.

Construction workers Sunday put the finishing touches on an impromptu railroad platform that took only a week to build once the decision was made to expand the commuter train route into west Ventura County.

"A permanent station would have canopies, water fountains, landscaping--many, many more amenities," Metrolink construction manager Joe Castro said Sunday.

Local dignitaries are scheduled to be on hand this morning as the platform opening is officially celebrated.

The commuter trains will make two round-trips a day from Camarillo to Union Station in Los Angeles, with stops at Moorpark and Simi Valley before they move into Los Angeles County.

A one-way trip from Camarillo to Los Angeles will take about 80 minutes.

Other emergency Metrolink platforms have also opened in Northridge, Canyon Country, Palmdale and Lancaster since the Jan. 17 earthquake, Castro said.

But when Santa Clarita and Antelope Valley commuters boarded Metrolink trains at those stations in the weeks following the earthquake, pushing and shoving combined with confusion and mayhem as first-time riders swarmed trains before others could disembark.

Metrolink officials promised Sunday to make sure that does not happen in Camarillo or Northridge, where another station opens today.

"We have made provisions to ensure there is adequate staffing at the stations," spokesman Peter Hidalgo said. "We have a series of Metrolink ambassadors wearing purple caps and shirts to assist first-time riders on how to experience Metrolink."

The 700-foot-long Camarillo platform, located just off a newly paved and striped parking lot along Lewis Road, is scheduled to be in service as an emergency transit alternative for one year.

After that, Castro said, local and regional transportation officials will decide if the ridership from Camarillo warrants its continuation as a regular stop.

"At the emergency stations we've already opened, we've been getting 200 or more riders a day," he said.

Paul Biere, operations supervisor for contractor C. A. Rasmussen, said his crews have worked 14-hour days since last week to complete the Camarillo platform.

"Normally, it takes a month or longer to even get the documents together to start a project like this," said Biere, whose firm also constructed emergency Metrolink stations in Canyon Country and Lancaster.

"In this case, it was a matter of hours," said Biere, who added that his crews lost two days because of rain early last week. "It gives you a sense of pride to knock something like this out in a few days."

Larry and Grace Bignami, a retired Camarillo couple who toured the platform Sunday, said they had been waiting for years for commuter train service to Los Angeles.

"We intend to use it once in a while," Grace Bignami said. "We won't drive down there, so we never went to Los Angeles for that very reason."

Hidalgo said Metrolink has retained more than half of the first-time riders that have used the commuter train since the earthquake.

"We weren't supposed to have the numbers we've been having for several years, so we're certainly ahead of the game," he said. "Unfortunately, it took an incident like this to see some type of commuter behavior changes."

* RELATED STORY: Metrolink postpones decision on a stop for trains at Burbank Airport. B2

Camarillo Metrolink Service

Metrolink trains are scheduled to depart from the Camarillo station beginning today.

Where: 30 Lewis Road at Ventura Boulevard, just south of the Ventura Freeway. Exit freeway at either Carmen or Dawson drives.

When: Mondays through Fridays.

Times: Trains depart at 5:44 and 6:34 a.m., and return at 6:30 and 7:03 p.m.

Parking: 240-space paved parking lot at the Metrolink station.

Access: Trains are wheelchair-accessible.

Cost: A round-trip ticket to Los Angeles costs $12. A monthly pass is $176.

Information: (800) 438-1112 or (800) 371-LINK.

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