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O.C. Riders Climb Aboard Metrolink's 1st Trip to L.A. : Transit: Balloons and bands greet about 2,800 people who took the 3 trains. Rides are free through Thursday.


FULLERTON — Three Metrolink trains traversed the rails of Orange County for the first time Monday, carrying about 2,800 commuters and joy riders into Los Angeles and back.

But amid all the hoopla that surrounded the train's debut, transportation officials acknowledged that they hadn't quite hit their target audience--at least not yet.

Train enthusiasts from as far away as Corona, students on spring break visiting friends in Los Angeles, and transportation officials were among the first to ride the flashy periwinkle-and-white, double-decker cars. They took advantage of free service offered through Thursday.

But the new system's lifeblood--business people hoping to avoid the freeway crunch between Orange County and Los Angeles--seemed to be in short supply.

Metrolink spokesman Peter Hidalgo said the six-county rail agency hopes Monday's joy riders will tell their commuting friends about the easy ride into Los Angeles' Union Station, prompting more working folk to try out Metrolink as the week goes on.

Hidalgo said 1,710 people rode the three morning trains into Los Angeles, and a total of 2,800 riders were expected throughout the day. Previously, the lone Amtrak commuter train from San Juan Capistrano to Los Angeles carried an average of 400 passengers a day. He said Metrolink hopes to turn about 25% of this week's free riders into regular Metrolink riders.

The group most likely to benefit from the introduction of Metrolink are those commuters who were already taking Amtrak occasionally into Los Angeles. There are more chances to catch the Metrolink than the Amtrak commuter train, since a Metrolink train stops three times each morning and evening in San Juan Capistrano, Irvine, Santa Ana, Orange, Anaheim and Fullerton.

And, Orange County commuters say, getting out of work on time isn't always a sure thing, so having three times--4:30, 5:37 and 6:25 p.m.--to catch a train out of Los Angeles should prevent a lot of headaches.

The trains' debut in Metrolink's newly served Orange County cities were marked by bands, food and balloons, along with free cardboard trains for everyone who showed up.

And in Anaheim, Mickey Mouse boarded the Metrolink for the seven-minute ride to Fullerton, where he was greeted by a bevy of tiny fans. But most of them left along with Mickey without hopping a ride themselves.

Alan Kobayashi was grateful for the Metrolink's start Monday.

For the first time since the Buena Park computer engineer started using public transportation to get to downtown Los Angeles, he missed the 7:14 a.m. Amtrak train from Fullerton because of an accident on the Riverside Freeway. He wasn't out of luck, though, as he caught the 8:11 Metrolink and settled in to read and relax on the 45-minute trip.

He said he plans each month to buy a 10-trip Amtrak ticket for the ride into Los Angeles and a 10-trip Metrolink ticket for the ride home, so he can still use the 7:14 a.m. Amtrak train and have flexible times for coming home in the evening.

Some people who tried out the Metrolink on Monday said they're not sure they'll convert to trains because the price is too steep. A monthly pass from San Juan Capistrano to Los Angeles costs $208; from Irvine and Santa Ana, $176; and from Orange, Anaheim and Fullerton, $144.

"For $3.50 more a day (for the train), I might as well keep taking the bus," said Anaheim paralegal Laurie Schwartz, as she caught the 8:11 a.m. Metrolink. "The comfort level's about the same."

The Orange County route is the fifth for Metrolink. It also runs commuter trains into and out of Los Angeles from Ventura, Santa Clarita, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

Metrolink Fares

The cost of riding Metrolink from the six Orange County train stations to Los Angeles' Union Station:

Station One way Round trip 10 trips Monthly pass San Juan Capistrano $7.50 $14 $65 $208 Irvine $6.50 $12 $55 $176 Santa Ana $6.50 $12 $55 $176 Anaheim $5.50 $10 $45 $144 Orange $5.50 $10 $45 $144 Fullerton $5.50 $10 $45 $144

Source: Orange County Transportation Authority

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