Just in time: Metrolink brings back service for 24 trains, adds 2 new trains

For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Metrolink has brought back service to 24 trains and added two new trains to its daily schedule.

The expanded service started Monday. It arrives as more workers across the Southland leave their kitchen tables and home offices and head back to the workplace — and as gas prices have been soaring to record highs.

The average price for a gallon of regular gas in California on Monday was $5.85, up from $3.91 this time last year, according to the American Automobile Assn.

Metrolink’s lines stretch across Ventura, Riverside, Orange and Los Angeles counties and, before the pandemic, transported roughly 40,000 daily riders.

But in March 2020, health mandates brought the region’s daily commute to a grinding halt, as much was unknown about COVID-19. At the time, Metrolink’s daily ridership all but disappeared, falling 90% to just under 4,000 daily riders, according to the commuter rail system.

From April 2020 to February 2021, those continuing to ride the rails were essential workers, according to field surveys compiled by Metrolink. Recently, ridership climbed back to about 30% of pre-pandemic levels. Weekend ridership levels have done much better, bouncing back to 70% of their earlier performance.

Passengers arrive by Metrolink train at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Metrolink will reinstate service on 24 of the most in-demand lines.

(Luis Sinco / Fontana News Room)

“We have seen ridership bouncing back since people have started coming back to offices,” Metrolink Chief Executive Darren Kettle said. “And traffic is back with a vengeance.”

Metrolink hopes that, with the restoration of the 24 lines and addition of two new trains, the system can bring back even more riders.

In a statement announcing the service changes, Kettle said, “as Metrolink CEO, I’m elated that we’re able to restore our service close to pre-pandemic levels, so our riders can get to work, to friends and family and to fun — more affordably and without the headaches of traffic and parking.

“As a Metrolink rider, I am happy that my two favorite Ventura County Line trains are coming back into service, so I can have more flexibility to get to and from work,” his statement continued. “And I know from my conversations with fellow Metrolink riders, they too are looking forward to the flexibility our new schedule will bring to their lives.”

A passenger prepares to board a Metrolink train at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles on Monday.

Metrolink will also add two new trains as it gears up to serve commuters returning to work in downtown offices.

(Luis Sinco / Fontana News Room)

The new updates will include:

  • Riverside Line: Four added trains offering increased flexibility for weekday travel.
  • San Bernardino Line: Six added trains including later evening trains, plus new Sunday service.
  • Ventura County Line: Six added Metrolink trains including weekday morning and evening trains, plus four Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains that are now available to all Metrolink ticket holders, including on Saturday and Sundays.
  • 91/Perris Valley Line: Two added trains with midday service to Los Angeles and a reverse morning trip to Riverside County.
  • Antelope Valley Line: Six added trains and schedule updates offering increased flexibility for weekday travel.
  • Orange County Line: Two added trains offering more weekday morning service.

Kettle told The Times the agency is rethinking its commuter rail model and looking at different fare structures for workers who go in just a few days a week.

“We just can’t count on the commuter model any longer,” he said. “We have to try to expand into leisure and entertainment and discretionary trips.”

Face masks are still required on all Metrolink trains, platforms and stations. Depending on the distance traveled, ticket prices range from $0.50 to $26.50, with weekly and monthly passes also available.

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