Futuristic 300-feet underground train station

Futuristic 300-feet underground train station

California:Developers of a 5,800-home transit utopia proposed for the Newhall Pass want to include a futuristic people-mover that would transport commuters 30 stories down to a subterranean Metrolink platform.

The plan by Palmer Investment envisions commuters living in the Las Lomas project, perched atop the San Gabriel range between Sylmar and Santa Clarita. They would reach the Metrolink platform on elevators cored through a mountain to an already-built rail tunnel 100 yards below.

The concept is unique, say Metrolink officials, who have seen sketches but no actual plans and are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

A first time initiative

"We've never seen anything quite like what is being proposed. It is quite unusual," said Denise Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Metrolink. "As far as I know, there is no such station in the United States."

Las Lomas would be served by Metrolink's Antelope Valley line, which runs from the Lancaster-Palmdale area and stops at three stations in Santa Clarita before passing through Sylmar, Sun Valley, Burbank and Glendale on its way to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. Roughly 7,300 passengers ride on weekdays.

Trains thread through, but do not stop in, a tunnel dug through the base of the San Gabriel Mountains. Among the engineering concerns about an underground station are the diesel emissions and pollution from trains, which would need to be vented to protect waiting passengers.

"We do not load and unload passengers in those tunnels, and we're not asking people to stand 20 minutes and wait for a train," Tyrrell said. "This kind of falls out of our experience."

Project will challenge engineering and financial experts

An engineering expert who is not familiar with the details of the Las Lomas project said the Metrolink proposal would be challenging from both engineering and financial standpoints.

"Any decision to proceed should be premised on thorough study beforehand," said James Moore, a transportation engineer and professor of civil engineering and public policy and management at the University of Southern California. "My prediction would be, without having executed the study, it is prohibitively expensive to do this."

Moore, who is also director of USC's Transportation Engineering program, didn't guess the price, except at "zillions" of dollars. Palmer Investments would shoulder the entire cost of the station.

Las Lomas is one of several large-scale developments planned for North Los Angeles County. Ultimately, 21,000 homes are planned at Newhall Ranch north of Valencia, while 25,000 homes are expected at Tejon Ranch, near the L.A.-Kern counties line.

Benefits accruing from the metroline

Nearly 60% of Santa Clarita residents commute to jobs outside their valley. With the area's population booming, the job-to-housing balance is expected to become even more uneven as many new residents commute to jobs in Los Angeles.

A key regional metropolitan planning organization urges cities and developers to plan projects that generate fewer car trips -- and preferably short ones.

Las Lomas proponents have billed it as a "smart growth, transit-oriented community." The number of car trips generated by the project could be fewer if the train station is guaranteed.

Results from a study by the California High Speed Rail Authority to determine the impacts of a such a line are due in 2009.

Concerns expressed

One concern is how an underground train station would fare in an earthquake.Tom Heaton, a professor of engineering seismology at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said the Newhall Pass has been one of the nation's most active seismic areas over the last 40 years.

The overpass on the Interstate 5-14 interchange collapsed in the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake and the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.

However, those standing on an underground platform might be less aware of shaking than motorists on the freeway, he said.

"Generally, people who've been in tunnels below the ground in earthquakes have experienced much lighter shaking than at the surface of the Earth," he said. "As the waves come to the surface of the Earth, the motions are greatly amplified."

Despite unknowns about the Metrolink station, Palmer Investments introduced the proposal to Los Angeles officials Aug. 7.

The Los Angeles City Council's Planning and Land Use Committee approved an agreement that would allow the Las Lomas Land Co. to reimburse the city for staff time needed to speed review and process documents for the project.

In the end, Metrolink would not have the final say about a Las Lomas station. The decision must be agreed upon not only by Metrolink but also its four regional partners in the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, a joint-powers agency