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O.C. Looks Forward to a 15-Minute Trip to L.A.

Transit authority is set to approve a $7-million study for an Anaheim- Union Station train route that would be part of a 700-mile corridor.

September 19, 2006|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

High-speed rail has long been a dream -- a fantasy, some would say -- of mass-transportation enthusiasts in Southern California. But on Monday, planners in Orange County decided to take a $7-million step toward making such travel between Los Angeles and O.C. a reality.

The money would pay for preliminary engineering and environmental work to find out whether it's feasible to use the existing train corridor for an added electrified track to whisk passengers from Los Angeles' Union Station to Anaheim in as little as 15 minutes.

"This approval ensures that if funds become available to build the system, we will have an L.A.-to-Orange County route," said Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle.

A transit committee will recommend the funding at Monday's Orange County Transportation Authority board meeting. The board is expected to approve it.

A statewide bond initiative to build a network of high-speed-rail lines had been planned for the November election but was removed from the ballot. The measure, which seeks nearly $10 billion, is now expected to be voted on in 2008.

The 700-mile high-speed-train system is planned to serve the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles, the Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego.

High-speed rail has been in use in Japan for decades. But it has met with mixed results in the United States.

The heavily promoted system serving Washington, D.C., New York and Boston has suffered numerous stoppages because of alleged design flaws that landed Amtrak and the manufacturer of its Acela Express train in court. Service has resumed, but only on a limited basis.

In California, when the concept was introduced, the proposed route was just Los Angeles to San Francisco, said Paul C. Taylor, executive director of development for the transportation authority.

"By putting $7 million on the table, we will help jump-start the Los Angeles-to-Anaheim route," Taylor said.

To date, only the San Francisco Bay Area has approved preliminary rail studies, said a California High Speed Rail Authority spokesman.

"Assuming voters approve the bond, we're looking at improvements to the corridor in five to six years," said Mehdi Morshed, the rail authority's executive director in Sacramento. "The train won't be running for another 10 to 12 years."

The train system would use the existing corridor, but -- because trains would go much faster -- alignments, right of way, improved grade crossings and other factors must be studied, Morshed said.

The fastest speed for a Metrolink train is 79 mph. But high-speed trains could reach 125 mph going into Los Angeles, Taylor said.

"It will be a short trip, maybe taking only 15 minutes, because you don't have any stops," said Pringle, who is also an OCTA board member representing Anaheim.

Anaheim, which recently partnered with OCTA and acquired a 13 1/2 -acre property near Angel Stadium for a major transportation hub, has the most to gain from high-speed rail.

The city recently announced plans to build one of the largest transit centers in Southern California, which would include a 20,000-square-foot Metrolink station, 1,000 parking spaces, a pedestrian underpass and pedestrian plaza. The second phase will add 2,000 parking spaces, a high-speed-rail station and a pedestrian bridge linking the station to the Arrowhead Pond.

Metrolink serves a total of more than 5,000 daily commuters in Orange County, a Metrolink spokeswoman said. Ridership for August was up 6% from last year, the spokeswoman said.

"We believe that many people want to and will commute from Anaheim to Los Angeles," Pringle said.

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david.reyes@latimes.com

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