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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

After 11 Years, Repairs to Train Tunnel Are on Track

September 16, 2000|CATHERINE BLAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Built in 1907, the train tunnel through the Santa Susana Pass has no ventilation, lighting or drainage. Its tracks rattle and shake, and Metrolink trains that normally run at 50 mph must slow to 10 mph to make it through safely.

At the end of the month, after 11 years of haggling over money to pay for it, the tunnel will close so its tracks and ground under them can be improved. But that means hundreds of Amtrak and Metrolink passengers from Ventura County will have to take buses to Chatsworth to catch the train south.

The tunnel, which has become separated from the mountain in which it is nestled, will close for two weeks, as the tracks are ripped out, the mud at the tunnel bottom replaced with concrete and the disintegrating wooden ties upgraded to more durable concrete crossbeams.

"This is both an offensive and defensive action," said Mike McGinley, director of engineering for Metrolink. "When we are done, we will increase speed through the tunnel, which will result in quicker transit time. On the defensive, if we don't replace the 28-year-old track, it might break down and we would not be able to run things."

The project will cost about $4 million.

The 1.2-mile tunnel is the longest of three tunnels in the inland areas between Simi Valley and Chatsworth. Using Metrolink, about 300 people a day commute from Simi Valley to the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles along the rail line through the Santa Susana Pass. Another 220 passengers board the train in Moorpark, while 80 board in Oxnard and 70 in Camarillo. Six Amtrak trains and 10 freight trains use the tunnel each weekday.

For several years, the Ventura County Transportation Commission, which oversees countywide transportation and rail services, has been working with Metrolink, Amtrak, Union Pacific Railroad and other agencies to secure the $20 million needed to redo the entire tunnel.

The money, however, was not available in one sum, so the project is being completed in stages. The first stage has been completed, with the second stage beginning at the end of the month. The first stage involved installation of a radio system inside the tunnel so train crews could communicate in the event of a breakdown.

Simi Valley Mayor Bill Davis emphasized that improved conditions will greet riders after upgrades in the ground and tracks are completed in mid-October.

"This will make a smooth track. Now the tracks are literally sitting in mud and going back and forth. . . . Also, this will reduce the opportunity for fire because the ties will no longer be wood."

In upcoming stages, the tunnel's shell will be replaced with concrete and secured to the mountain and light fixtures installed, according to Mary Travis, manager of rail programs for the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

From Sept. 30 through Oct. 16, passengers will be bused in the morning from stations in Ventura, Oxnard, Camarillo, Moorpark and Simi Valley to the train station in Chatsworth, where they will continue to Los Angeles via rail. Passengers returning home will be bused from the Chatsworth station into Ventura County.

Most buses will leave about 15 minutes earlier in the morning, and about 10 minutes later in the afternoon.

To compensate riders for the inconvenience, Metrolink's October monthly passes will be discounted. A monthly pass from Simi Valley to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles will cost $125 instead of $155.75. A monthly pass from Oxnard to Union Station will cost $190.50 instead of $259.75.

FYI

For more information, call Mary Travis at 642-1591, Ext. 102.

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