Los Angeles Area

L.A.'s Metrolink commuter rail service will upgrade tracks to become part of California's high-speed rail system.

The Los Angeles Urban Mobility Corridor—which connects Burbank, Los Angeles, and Anaheim—has a segment of railroad tracks that is among the most important and heavily used in the U.S.

It facilitates shipments through two of the nation’s busiest cargo ports (Los Angeles and Long Beach), and it’s part of the nation’s second busiest Amtrak line. Metrolink, the region’s commuter rail service, also uses it, and it’s set to become a vital segment of the state’s high-speed rail system.

A variety of trains—freight, passenger, commuter, and high-speed—will need to share the narrow stetch of land through a dense urban area. Recent planning by local, state, and federal agencies has focused on upgrading the infrastructure to accommodate these needs.

One result is that the Metrolink tracks are being electrified. That will allow commuter trains to start and stop faster, meaning they’ll run more frequently while cutting carbon emissions.

High-speed trains will also use these new electrified tracks, making it possible to take a single-seat ride on a high-speed train all the way from the Bay Area into LA.

Los Angeles Union Station
Los Angeles Union Station will be upgraded to allow trains to pass through from north to south.

Another focus of city- and state-level planning is the Link Union Station (Link US) project in downtown LA.

Link US will improve transportation options in the region in some important ways—their performance, their environmental impact, and ease of access, among others.  

For example, Link US will upgrade Union Station’s passenger concourse into a world-class facility, with new waiting areas and retail amenities. It will also significantly increase its rail service capacity, shorten train idling times to under 10 minutes (from as much as 30 minutes), and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Los Angeles Union Station is currently a “stub”—there's only one way in and out. Link US will give the station "through" tracks by extending the station to the south over U.S. Highway 101, allowing trains to pass through the station without reversing.

Integrating high-speed rail at Union Station is vital to the region’s transportation economy, given that it’s the connection point for Metrolink, Amtrak, and local transit.


Four takeaways

The exciting and innovative things going on with LA’s transportation system offer at least four takeaways:

One is that deep planning—like California’s 2018 State Rail Plan—is key to creating a transportation system that’s more than just functional. Coordination and planning make the difference between having an adequate system and one that helps build a vibrant, sustainable economy.

Second, high-speed rail drives upgrades, innovations, and investments across a whole transportation system. It’s never about high-speed rail alone. It’s always about integrating it and making every element—trains, tracks, stations, local transit systems—work better, together.

Third, Chicago’s own Union Station has the same role and potential as the facility in Los Angeles. It’s critical to the whole region’s transportation needs, including the future of high-speed rail, and it desperately needs to be modernized. See our plan here.

Doing so will be a big step toward giving the Midwest a competitive advantage and distinguishing the region on the global stage, as California is now doing.

A final point: Nothing happens without leadership and a strong commitment to forward-thinking investments. That’s been the story in California. It will be the same for any substantial transportation project, anywhere.