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Metrolink Debuts in Orange County With 2,000 Riders


FULLERTON — Three Metrolink trains traversed the rails of Orange County for the first time Monday, carrying more than 2,000 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 had not quite hit their target audience--at least not yet.

As Orange County's commuter service expanded from one train to three, 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 that is being offered through this 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 folks to try out Metrolink as the week goes on.

Hidalgo said 1,710 people rode the three morning trains into Los Angeles; a total of 2,900 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 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 is not 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.

Some who tried out Metrolink Monday said they are not sure they will convert to trains because the price is too steep for them. 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 the city of Santa Clarita and from Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

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