Renditions of East Light Rail line

Nearly 70 years after the last Red Car trolley crossed the San Fernando Valley, a new light rail system will begin construction in 2022, extending from Van Nuys to San Fernando/Sylmar.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Board of Directors has approved the final configuration of the East San Fernando Valley Light Rail Transit project.

The line will travel in the middle of Van Nuys Boulevard as it connects with Metro’s Bus Rapid Transit G Line (Orange Line) and the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink Station. It will travel along the Metro Link Corridor that parallels the Metro line link in the City of San Fernando, Metro officials said. It will not go directly through the San Fernando Mall.

“For far too long, the Valley was neglected by transportation planners who have seen us as the center of car culture,” said Los Angeles Councilman Paul Krekorian, member of Metro’s Board, who represents District 2. “But the Valley needs more transit, the Valley wants more transit and the Valley will support more transit.

“This project will be a huge step forward for the residents and small businesses of the East Valley, who have longed for the return of light rail transit for well over a half century,” added Krekorian.

However, because of COVID-19 this year, public meetings including city council meetings have been limited to zoom and online communication to residents causing public participation to drop off. It’s fair to say that people living in the Northeast San Fernando Valley may still be unaware of the upcoming construction, or both the positive and negative impact the light rail will bring. 

The project was announced in 2018 by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who was joined then by Councilwomen Nury Martinez and Monica Rodriguez. The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol requested comment from both Councilwomen but they did not return calls by press time.

More Discussion Needed In the City of San Fernando 

The second segment would also transverse the City of San Fernando, which has asked Metro for added safety studies, said City Manager Nick Kimball.

“We need to make sure we get the traffic figured out,” he said.

That would potentially include rerouting more cars away from Hubbard Street to use the 118 freeway, as well as installing better signage and traffic signals to prevent people from crossing the railroad tracks.

“We have some issues with pedestrians versus train collisions, so we need enhanced safety actions,” Kimball noted.

There have been fatal incidents in San Fernando of people stepping in front of the train. Accidents on this stretch of Metrolink rail are a common occurrence.

On Oct. 20, a person was taken to the hospital in critical condition after being struck by a Metrolink train near Brand Boulevard.

Before that, a person was killed after being struck by a Metrolink train near the corner of Paxton Street and San Fernando Road in Pacoima on April 7. Another person was killed on Sept. 15, 2019 near Maclay Avenue and First Street in San Fernando, and there was a fatal accident as well on Nov. 1, 2019 near the intersection of Paxton Street and San Fernando in Pacoima.   

Once the line reaches San Fernando Road, the trains will transition onto two other railroad tracks to be built next to the existing Metrolink rail line. A future review would determine if those new tracks need a potential grade separation, meaning deciding if it’s better they are elevated or go underground, Kimball said.

Metrolink is also considering adding another railroad track next to the existing one to allow for trains to head in different directions as they cross San Fernando. 

So far, Metrolink has installed double tracks from Palmdale to Santa Clarita and from Los Angeles to Burbank. The segment of the line that reaches San Fernando has become a “bottleneck” and there are plans to correct that, according to Kimball.

 “Four tracks coming through San Fernando means four times as much train traffic, and that creates a lot of issues,” Kimball said. “Metro needs to work with City staff and Metrolink to do additional safety studies and analysis.”

Should the tracks be doubled through the City of San Fernando, it would require about 100-feet of extra space next to the existing Metrolink track.

That would mean Metro may take a 10-foot wide swath of land from San Fernando Middle School, the San Fernando Police Department property and Parking Lot 6N. 

Kimball said Metro has also held talks with two businesses whose property would be acquired by eminent domain to make space for the additional tracks. But “90% of businesses won’t be impacted,” he noted.

He said the San Fernando City Council is supportive of the light rail line as it promises to create good regional connections and there will also be a station on Maclay Street. 

“There’s a lot more benefit to these two projects,” the City Manager said.

Funded by State gas tax and Measure M funds—a sales tax increase approved by voters in 2016 and would generate nearly $120 billion over 40 years for transportation projects — the $2.2 billion rail line will be built in two phases.

Work on a 6.7-mile stretch between the “G” Line will begin in 2022 on Van Nuys Boulevard in Van Nuys to San Fernando Road in Pacoima. A second, 2.5-mile segment would come next, extending the line to the Sylmar/San Fernando Metrolink Station. 

Along the way there will be 14 stations and end-to-end travel time is expected to be 31 miles. Daily boardings are anticipated to exceed 30,000 by the year 2040.

Completion of the line is set for 2028, just ahead of Los Angeles hosting the Summer Olympic Games.