Rail service could be in future of Orange Line

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Metro's Orange Line opened in 2005 as a dedicated bus lane spanning the width of the San Fernando Valley. The line has proved so popular that local advocates have worked to advance legislation that would allow light rail to be built along the line's right-of-way. COURTESY OF METRO

The San Fernando Valley’s demand for public transportation has outgrown Metro’s Orange Line bus route and needs a rail system in its place, according to a bill passed Thursday by the Legislature that would make it legal to build a railway along the bus line’s right-of-way.

Metro’s Orange Line opened in 2005 as a bus rapid transit service during a time when it was illegal to build rail along the route. But in May, the line’s average weekday ridership nearly cracked 30,000 – almost doubling Metro’s initial projections – and local rail advocates now fear the bus route is nearing capacity.

“We have to invest in the long-term public transportation,” said Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Sherman Oaks, who introduced the bill in February 2013. “People are starved for public transportation. … The first step is removing the restriction. Now we know what the other clear objectives are.”

If the bill is signed, it will take effect Jan. 1.

Rail lines are able to transport more people more quickly than dedicated bus lanes. A three-car Metro light-rail train can carry approximately 400 passengers, compared with the 90-person “crush load capacity” of Orange Line buses. Additionally, the Assembly bill states that rail could reduce end-to-end Orange Line travel time from 44 to 29 minutes.

An Orange Line rail project is not in Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan, so no funding exists for the switch. Nazarian said the project would need federal funding to proceed.

Metro said it has no plans to study converting the Orange Line to light rail and disputed that the line was nearing capacity.

“The bus rapid transit system is working quite well and carrying a lot of people,” said Metro spokesman Rick Jager. “The beauty of the line is that you can always run more buses.”

Coby King, board chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, disagrees that more buses can be added. He said when he rides the Orange Line, buses are sometimes overcrowded and that other times they become delayed, “stack up” and catch up to each other.

“The Orange Line already carries more people per day than the Crenshaw Line (is projected to), and that line is being built as light rail,” King said. “So we think the numbers are already there…What we found in hindsight is that as great as the Orange Line has been, it could be so much more.”

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