YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Travel Insider

From Rail Line to Airline: One Stop Shy of a Full Ride : Airports: Cost and politics keep some big-city public transportation systems from going the distance to get passengers to the terminal.


It isn't a crazy idea to connect this nation's big-city public transportation systems to its major airports, is it? After all, it's been done in London, Paris, Chicago and Atlanta, among other places, thereby simplifying and reducing costs of arrival and departure for millions of travelers. But it isn't happening in Los Angeles. And in San Francisco and New York, battles to connect trains and planes have been prolonged, costly, fraught with political squabbling and, in New York's case, possibly futile.

In Los Angeles: In 1992, after much wrangling with airport officials and others, county transportation officials decided that instead of connecting directly to LAX, the Metro Rail Green Line would stop at an Aviation Boulevard station in El Segundo, 2.8 miles from LAX's Tom Bradley International Terminal. Six days from now, when the Green Line is scheduled to begin running between Norwalk and El Segundo, riders will have their first experience of their leaders' planning.

Beginning Aug. 12, travelers exiting the Green Line at Aviation Station are to connect with free LAX shuttle buses (the same buses that circulate among parking lots A, B and C), which will then carry them to LAX's passenger terminals. Green Line trains are to run daily every 12 minutes from 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., more frequently in times of peak traffic. After an initial 25-cents-a-ride special, the Green Line fare will be $1.35. Transfers are 25 cents. Thus, an airport-bound traveler starting at Los Angeles City Hall will have to take the Red Line, transfer to the Blue Line, transfer to the Green Line (total cost: $1.60), then transfer to the free shuttle bus and then catch a plane.

In San Francisco: Since Bay Area Rapid Transit began subway service in 1972, local leaders have been counting on the eventual connection of BART to San Francisco International Airport. But details were unclear, and last month skirmishing escalated over money and routing. Airport officials now say their target completion date of May, 1999, could still be met--but ground is not yet broken on the $1-billion project, and federal money to pay for it depends on congressional authorization.

Right now, the nearest BART gets to the airport is Colma, a new station due to open this year that is eight miles short of SFO. To get a traveler from the airport (11 miles south of downtown) to the city, someone has to use a car, taxi or bus.

The extension of BART is being coordinated with completion of a new international terminal complex to complement the airport's three existing terminals. Much of the recent nervousness began in June, when a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations committee was asked to earmark $22.6 million for engineering work on the BART extension to the airport, and instead earmarked $10 million, suggesting that spending be trimmed.

That move intensified arguments over the route. Some wanted the last leg to the airport to be underground; others wanted it elevated, which was said to be about $200 million cheaper. BART officials wanted the line to terminate 700-900 feet closer to the airport's busiest domestic terminal (which houses United Airlines) than airport officials preferred. Airport officials warned that such a route would boost costs and force a delay of six months or more in their planning.

On July 25, the commissioners endorsed the shorter elevated route that BART officials had criticized as a hastily improvised "back-of-the-envelope kind of concept." The move, airport officials said, would save money and wouldn't significantly inconvenience passengers because its terminus will neighbor a soon-to-be-completed light-rail shuttle that will move passengers at no cost among the airport's four terminals.

In New York: This fall, top officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are expected to scale back ambitious plans for a 22-mile rail line linking Manhattan with John F. Kennedy International Airport and La Guardia Airport, both in Queens.

The line would have concluded at a terminal on East 59th Street and carried a construction price estimated between $4 billion to $7 billion.

But in late May, recently arrived Port Authority Executive Director George J. Marlin told reporters that the 22-mile plan was dead, in large part because of escalating cost estimates.

The air-rail proposal was first advanced under then-Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1991. In October, 1992, the port authority began adding a $3 surcharge on airline tickets for departure from Kennedy and La Guardia, a surcharge that officials say has now yielded about $280 million.

The alternatives for a less costly project include a two-stop connection between La Guardia and 59th Street, or a shorter rail line that would take travelers from Kennedy and La Guardia to the Jamaica Center transit terminal in Queens, which connects to both the Long Island Railroad and the New York City subway system. Port Authority spokesman Bill Cahill said $40 million has been spent on the project so far.

After the port authority's executive director pronounced the 22-mile route dead in May, U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) complained to the New York Times that "we are the only major city in a developed country that does not have a rail connection to its airports." He had, of course, overlooked Los Angeles.

Reynolds travels anonymously at the newspaper's expense, accepting no special discounts or subsidized trips. To reach him, write Travel Insider, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

Los Angeles Times Articles