Metrolink trains running throughout Southern California might in the future make pit stops in Orange County at a new maintenance facility proposed near the Great Park.
Officials with the Orange County Transportation Authority, owner of the vacant property where the project is proposed, said the facility would make Metrolink more efficient by allowing its trains to be serviced and repaired locally instead of having to be routed to facilities in Los Angeles, San Diego or San Bernardino, which are operating close to full capacity.
The possible environmental impacts of such a facility are being researched now as the project to construct 90,000-square-feet of service and storage buildings on the 21 acres in Irvine goes through the approval process
Off Ridge Valley and Marine Way, the hub would be adjacent to the rows of soccer fields that dot the edge of the Great Park, next to a plant nursery and across from a senior residential community.
But residents in the senior community say they are wary the facility will add to the train noise, air pollution and traffic in the area, on top of being a not-so-attractive addition to their corner.
The cluster of buildings on the property would include a service and inspection facility, a building for administrative uses, a 40,000-square-foot maintenance building, a train washing facility, a pump house and a material storage building, among others. Eleven lines of track would have to be laid down for the trains to move through the hub.
The OCTA is leading the environmental review and approval phase of the project, which is expected to cost roughly $4.8 million. It would be funded by state grants obtained by Metrolink through California’s Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program, which funds rail improvement projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve rail service and safety.
Having a maintenance facility on Metrolink’s Orange County line will help take the load off facilities in nearby counties, where trains throughout the region travel to end each day, and help accommodate needed train storage in the future as population growth eventually requires more commuter rail services, an initial environmental review of the project provided by OCTA said.
Because the trains wouldn’t have to travel to surrounding counties for maintenance or overnight, the facility would “improve Metrolink service and reliability throughout the region for passengers who rely on it and will benefit the environment by reducing emissions,” OCTA spokeswoman Megan Abba said in an email.
Among several approvals needed before construction could begin is a conditional use permit from Irvine to operate the facility on the land that is zoned under the city’s general plan for “institutional” uses.
The city’s Planning Commission has yet to consider the application submitted by the OCTA.
To Rutnam Bavan, who has been living for about two years in the nearby 55-plus community, Travata in Cypress Village, the idea of a train maintenance facility is “totally incongruous, in my view, to the kind of planning that you would expect next to a park and next to a senior residence.”
Bavan’s neighbor, Karen Blakeley, has been organizing their community to send letters to the City Council and prepare responses to OCTA’s draft review of potential environmental impacts during a public comment period that is open until Tuesday, March 29. She said she’s concerned about exposure to potential air pollutants and noise that could continue into the night as trains pull in to be stored.
“We’re just basically saying it’s a big problem,” Blakeley said. “Aesthetically, (and) really mostly it’s the air quality, the noise, the vibrations, the traffic. All of those impacts are very concerning to us.”
In a project fact sheet, OCTA officials said construction that would produce the loudest noise would be conducted during the day, and the predicted noise levels during construction and operation would be below the Federal Transit Administrations limits.
The initial environmental review said even the nearest people to the project site, which includes Travata residents, would not be exposed to substantial toxic air contaminants or pollutants, and the impacts from construction and operations of the facility on air quality would be “less than significant.”
Once the public review period for the environmental report is complete, the project will head to the OCTA’s board of directors for consideration.
The facility, which would be smaller in size than its counterparts in LA, San Diego and San Bernardino, would perform cleaning, inspecting, refueling and wheel adjustment services, Abba said. “Metrolink trains will continue going to other facilities for heavier maintenance and repairs.”
The facility, which would be operated by Metrolink, is expected to be completed in 2028.
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