For 25 years there’s been an agency transporting Southern Californians across seven counties, now carrying 40,000 passengers a day covering more than 400 million miles a year. In terms of route miles, it’s the third largest commuter rail agency in the United States.
If you live in Santa Clarita you’ve doubtless seen it pass by, but you may never have used its services. It’s the Metrolink rail service.
“The average Metrolink rider is a Monday through Friday type commuter,” said Christopher Gutierrez, spokesman for Metrolink. “We play a vital role in providing that transportation, a convenient way to get cars off the road and get people to school and work.”
Ken Chase of Canyon Country has been riding Metrolink to his workplace in Pasadena for two years. Two or three days a week he rides it 50 minutes to Union Station in Downtown L.A., then takes the Gold Line from there.
“I was putting a lot of miles on my car. It was expensive, and I was tired of the grind of traffic,” Chase explained. “It takes longer, but it’s relaxing. I can do work sometimes or personal stuff. On the way home I can take a nap.”
An accountant, Chase calculated the difference in cost when making his decision. He found that driving totals $28 per day, including gas and the wear-and-tear on his car, while riding the train costs about $10 a day.
About 5-6 years ago Chase started riding the Santa Clarita Commuter Bus. He met someone on the bus and they began carpooling until his fellow commuter changed jobs. That’s when he tried the train.
“I found the Metrolink was better than the Commuter Bus,” Chase said. “The train is a little more relaxing.”
For one Santa Clarita resident who’s been riding Metrolink for 25 years, it’s more than just a lift to work.
“I love riding the train, either commuting to work, heading out to dinner in Downtown L.A. on a Saturday night, or a bike ride on Sunday afternoon,” said Andrea Stuart, who works for a Los Angeles law firm. “And I’ve made lifelong friends with other commuters. We’d play cards on the evening ride home to pass the time.”
Stuart also recognizes that not everyone shares her enthusiasm for train transport.
“Seriously, I’m a big fan of public transportation, and in Southern California, you’d think you were asking them to get on a UFO,” she said. “It’s crazy.”
Data shows a slight uptick in college students riding the train, Gutierrez said. But more pronounced is Metrolink’s partnerships around the Southland which enabled the agency to expand its service destinations. For instance, the public transportation agency provides “football trains,” bringing riders to the L.A. Coliseum to see the Rams. And there are trains to see the Angels, plus the new downtown San Bernardino station has a minor league baseball stadium close by.
During the holidays, Metrolink took skaters to the ice rink in Pershing Square, and the city of Riverside contracted with the agency to bring visitors to the Riverside Festival of Lights. There were holiday shopping trains, including a free shuttle bus to the Citadel.
“We aren’t just here on weekdays for workers,” Gutierrez said. “It’s one of the most affordable things you can do.”
One of the most popular trains is Metrolink’s discounted rates to the L.A. County Fair in September.
“Metrolink offers special services to the fairgrounds, to the front gate of the fair for free,” Gutierrez said. “People avoid long lines and parking fees.”
To promote the rail service, last year passengers got to see baby farm animals in a petting zoo at Union Station.
For anyone making Metrolink ridership a part of their New Year’s resolutions, Union Station will likely become a familiar place.
“You can get anywhere from Union Station,” Stuart said. “Sure beats sitting in traffic!”