By Metrolink to Lancaster
March 15th, 2003

Don Winter

The Southern California Chapter of the Railway & Locomotive Historical Society (RLHS) has arranged a group outing on Saturday, March 15th, 2003, using Metrolink commuter train service from Los Angeles to Lancaster, CA, and back, with a group lunch in Lancaster in between. On Saturday morning, clouds are heavy over Santa Monica Bay (we canít see inland from our house), and rain is falling. Nonetheless, we get our stuff together and head off to drive into Los Angeles to meet the group at the appointed time. Once we get northeast of the Chevron oil refinery in El Segundo, the rain becomes very heavy and driving the rest of the way into LA is quite a chore. We are glad we can use the carpool/bus lanes, however, since the traffic on the other lanes on the Harbor Freeway is at a standstill (apparently due to flooding in the trench below the elevated carpool/bus lanes).

At length (although not actually taking any longer than normal, since traffic flow north of the place where the normal freeway lanes are flooded is running faster than normal) we reach the four-level interchange, turn onto the 101 South and exit at Alameda Street, crossing over the freeway, passing Union Station, turning east on Cesar Chavez Boulevard and pulling into our usual spot in public spaces in the MTA garage. We walk through the pedestrian tunnel under the platforms at Union Station to the main waiting room, where Chris buys me coffee and herself water. There, we wait until itís near the appointed time for meeting on the platform. We walk out to platform (track) 5, and find Bob Drenk checking people off on a list adjacent to the only train door thatís actually under the platform canopy (and thus not out in the ongoing downpour). After greeting Bob, we get on the train and walk through to our groupís location, upstairs in the Cab Car at the rear of the train. As we walk through the cars towards our seats, I note down the locomotive and cars we have on the train today: F59PH 886; Coach 178; Coach 131; and Cab Car 618. In the cab car, we take the last set of forward-facing seats, which just happen to be at a four-person table. Many members of our group are already here, including Laura Drenk whom Chris goes to talk to. A few more members of our group arrive, and one pair of men sits partially at our table and partially at the table across the aisle (where Don Duke and a friend are already seated). Then itís time to depart.

Outward bound Metrolink trains run in Pull mode, so the locomotive is leading in this direction. We pull past the new platform being built for the Metro Gold Line light rail line to Pasadena on the site of the old tracks 1 and 2, then pass the completed overpass where the Gold Line tracks climb up to get out of Union Station and turn towards Chinatown, west of the station. Catenary is now installed on the Gold Line tracks. Beyond this ramp, there are private cars on the Garden tracks adjacent to Union Station, one of which I take the time to identify. We curve east past Terminal Tower to reach Mission Tower (neither of them operable anymore), then turn north along the west bank of the Los Angeles River. In the rain, the river is quite full with swirling currents of water (compared to its normal completely empty state). To our west are the new shops of the Gold Line, with the cars that were originally delivered to the MTAís Hawthorne shops (which I pass four times a day on the way to and from work) and then we pass under the Gold Lineís river crossing that replaced the former Santa Fe bridge on itís one time line to Pasadena at this location.


Train 293

Train 296






Los Angeles

11:49 am

11:50 am




11:59 am

12:00 noon




12:05 pm

12:06 pm



Sun Valley





Sylmar/San Fernando










Santa Clarita





Via Princessa





Vincent Grade/Acton








3:36 pm

3:36 pm

North of the Gold Line bridge, we cross over to the east bank of the Los Angeles River as we also pass under the Golden State Freeway, pass the former site of Dayton Tower and continue past the Metrolink Shops that lay between the main line and the river. Further north, the relocated Dayton Tower, alongside San Fernando Road, marks the street entrance to Union Pacificís former SP Taylor Roundhouse, which we then pass to the west of the tracks. Soon afterwards, we make the Glendale stop at the now refurbished (post earthquake damage) former SP station and depot building.

After the Glendale station, the train heads north through some of the earliest industrial areas of greater LA (including the original airport facilities in the area-no longer connected to an airfield-at Grand Central Air Terminal), and makes its stop at Burbank. North of Burbank station is the wye for the junction with the erstwhile Burbank branch, and then Burbank Junction where the Coast Line heads off to the west, and we continue north, past the north end of the runway at Burbank Airport, running alongside San Fernando Boulevard on the stretch of track where a number of pedestrians and a few vehicles have intruded onto the Metrolink right of way with fatal results for the intruders. Along here, we stop at the stations in Sun Valley, pass through San Fernando and then stop at Sylmar (both parts of the City of Los Angeles, although the latter station also serves San Fernando. Then we pass under a maze of freeway ramps comprising the junctions of the 210 and 5 freeways and the 5 and 14 freeways, and through the lengthy tunnel into Saugus and Newhall in the Santa Clarita Valley. Metrolink Chief (civil) Engineer, Mike McGinley, a former civil engineer for SP before these tracks were sold to Metrolink, who is providing commentary to the RLHS group, turns on the (currently rear-facing) headlight on the Cab Car so that group members may observe the inside of Newhall Tunnel as we pass through it at the 25 mph speed limit. One of the things that can be observed is the pumps draining water every 15 ft. throughout the tunnel.

Not long after emerging from the tunnel, at the site of the original Saugus station, there is a former SP steam locomotive and some cars under restoration. There is a new siding at Newhall. At 12:38 pm, we pass train 294 at Saugus. Further along, on the site of the original Metrolink layover tracks when trains only ran as far as Santa Clarita, there are a number of former SP passenger cars stored on the one remaining siding. As the train passes through the relatively new city of Santa Clarita, it makes stops at Newhall, Santa Clarita, and Via Princessa. East of the built up area of Santa Clarita, the now easterly-directed line enters Soledad Canyon, which it follows all the way to the summit at Acton, beyond which it drops down into the Antelope Valley. The last spike in the SP line into Los Angeles from the north was driven at Lang, along Soledad Canyon, in 1876. This was the first railroad to enter Los Angeles.

Soledad Canyon follows the upper reaches of the Santa Clara River, twisting and turning to follow the narrow course of the river along the bottom of a wider valley (a few feet higher than the river). As result of many folds over the years, the river has changed course at times, and so the path of the railroad has changed. More recently (1994 and subsequently), Metrolink has built less-twisty, faster segments of track, as Mike McGinley relates to us. In many cases, the older segments of track have remained in place, and are now used as sidings, controlled remotely from Metrolinkís Dispatching Center. At Honby, there is a long segment of older track still in place as a siding. At Humphreys, and old tunnel portal is visible on the right as we pass on the newer track bypassing the tunnel. At Ravenna, the bridge over the stream has been recycled from the ATSF Pasadena line.

Metrolink started running trains as far as Santa Clarita in October, 1992, with the intention of extending in the Antelope Valley (where Palmdale and Lancaster are located) in the early 21st century. However, the January, 1994, earthquake changed all that, because it closed highway 14 at the intersection with Interstate 5, cutting off all road access between Santa Clarita plus the Antelope Valley and the rest of the Los Angeles area. Since the railroad was unscathed, a decision was made immediately to start running Metrolink trains through to Lancaster, with great success. About half the ridership seen right after the earthquake has been retained long term.

One of the areas Mike points out as we climb through Soledad Canyon is an exotic animal refuge, where there are many animals of species normally seen in zoos. We donít see many animals, perhaps because of the weather, but we do spot a large male lion sitting in full king-of-the-jungle pose on a platform on top of his sleeping hut. There is much less rain falling up here, and perhaps there has not been much rain at all (since the streams are not, by any means, full), but the sky is overcast and low clouds are inhibiting any view of the mountains on either side of the line. Fred Francis, sitting at the same table as us, is using his laptop computer to design a business card for his friend Steve, sitting across the aisle. This leads to a general conversation on things having to do with computers, that goes on sporadically for much of the way to Lancaster.

Dropping down into the Antelope Valley, the line makes a turn to the left and heads due north through Palmdale. Here the Palmdale Cutoff line from Colton via Cajon Pass enters from the east (but remains a separate track on the east side of the Metrolink line, with a connection that permits freights to use the Soledad Canyon line). There is currently no station in Palmdale, because use of the existing SP station required passengers to cross the heavily used SP freight line on foot. Plans to add a Metrolink station on the west side of the track are well along. At Lancaster, where there is a station built since 1994, the Metrolink service ends.

On arrival in Lancaster, we detrain and walk more or less as a group across the wide street next to the station and one block west to Katz Ďn Jammers cafť, where we are to have lunch. This is an unpretentious place, occupying just one store front, with the mandatory bathroom facilities out rear and opening from the parking lot. However, it is (barely) large enough to accommodate the whole group and is very convenient to the station. Our group price has included one entrťe, one drink, and one dessert from the comprehensive but not fancy lunch menu. The restaurant staff (including at least one person brought in for the occasion, presumably because of the impact of so many people arriving at once) is reasonably efficient, given the circumstances, and all food is served in good time for its comfortable consumption before we have to leave. I have an omelet with JalapeŮo chilis, and a banana split. As everyone is finishing dessert, Mike McGinley gives us a briefing on Metrolink and some of its civil engineering and other expansion plans for the next couple of years. Then, we walk back to the station where our train awaits. Of course, there is no crew on duty as yet, so the train is locked. This becomes a problem for some people when a light shower starts. Others of us watch as a freight headlight appears from the north on the UP track, but the train disappears behind the parked Metrolink trains (not just ours, but those that will be used on Monday morning) before it gets close enough even to get a good look at it.

About 15 minutes before departure time, the train is opened and we board. This time, Don Dukeís group and ourselves swap sides of the train so that we get the other view going back, but otherwise we have the seats at the same location in the same car as on the outward trip. On the return trip, Tom Gildersleeve sits with Don Duke and his companion, and a lively discussion of matters having to do with changes in publication technology over the years ensues. (Don Duke owns Golden West Publishing, which published among others his own books on the Santa Fe and the recent book on the Southern Pacific in Los Angeles.) Tom Gildersleeve obviously has much experience and expertise in the characteristics and use of photograph scanners, including those for 35mm slides, so it is interesting to hear his recommendation of the recently-introduced 3200dpi Epson 3200 for general usage in scanning railroad photographs if slides are an important part of the mix.

Heading down Soledad Canyon, there is some discussion as to whether snow is visible at the upper elevation of the San Gabriel Mountains to our left (south), but no conclusions are reached due to the presence of heavy low clouds obscuring much of the view of the mountains. At Ravenna, we pass train 294 at 4:04 pm. As we head back onto the coastal side of the mountains, it becomes clear that a lot more rain has fallen here than where we have been, since parking lots and grassy areas are puddle if not actually flooded. Later, we find that while LA has 3.3Ē of rain today, Lancaster has only 0.14Ē!

Back in Los Angeles, the rain has stopped so we drive home much more comfortably than we had driven into LA in the morning. In spite of the loss of visibility of the scenery (and photographic opportunities) due to the weather, this has been a good day out. At the furthest point, we were 75 miles from LAUS, and thus about 100 miles (on the route we took) from our home!