L.A. Building Another Rail Line that Just Misses the Airport

Thursday, August 15, 2013
(image: Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority)

On June 28, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Board approved a $1.27 billion contract for the Crenshaw/LAX light-rail project, completing a 20-year dream to connect one of the world’s busiest airports to the city’s expanding mass-transit network.

The approval was hailed by politicians, welcomed by travelers and saluted by the Los Angeles Times in a headline: “Funds OKd for rail line to LAX.” The only problem is, the rail line will not connect to the airport terminals.

It will miss by about a mile and a half and there are no plans to really connect it to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), unless one considers musings about shuttles and people movers as a plan. When the Crenshaw line opens on its scheduled date in 2019, it will terminate at the corner of Century and Aviation boulevards, where one can see the eastern edge of the airport’s southern runway from the vantage point of a nearby Travelodge hotel.

It’s the second time mass-transit planners have aimed in the direction of the airport and just missed. The Green Line, which will be connected to the Expo line via the 8.5-mile, north-south Crenshaw Line, has a stop just 2.5 miles from the terminals. The Los Angeles Times tells a tale of foreign tourists getting off the train at the Aviation/LAX stop, bewildered by the missing airport.

Part of the problem is labeling. Rail travelers might think they are headed to LAX when they are actually headed for the “LAX Corridor,” an airport-adjacent Metro project area.

But the near-misses are not oversights. The Board of Airport Commissioners once considered light-rail plans that included at least two alternatives for bringing the Green Line directly into terminals.

They apparently don’t now. In December 2012, the board was mulling three concepts for ferrying people into the airport, without mention of direct access by rail. One concept, probably the favorite, envisions the Crenshaw Line’s Aviation station connected, via a long bridge walkway, to a people mover headed for the terminals.

There are no plans to build a people mover.

Although a number of cities, including Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, have rail connections in their airports, it is not a foregone conclusion that it would work well at LAX. The Crenshaw Line does not provide a direct connection to downtown or other areas loaded with potential travelers. Airport and hotel workers and commuters could be its largest users.

Any number of reasons has been put forward to explain why the powers that be have decided against a rail line to the terminals. Safety factors have been cited, as well as the cost of building the spur and facility. Some have wondered if future airport redesigns that might centralize all arrival and departure locations in place of nine terminals would change the rail dynamic. Others have blamed it on the taxicab lobby.

What is known is that there won’t be direct rail service to LAX anytime soon, despite what signs, maps, media stories and promotional materials might indicate.    

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Newest Train to LAX Will Still Come up Short, at Least at First (by Laura J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times)

Light Rail to Los Angeles International: A Questionable Proposition? (by Yonah Freemark, The Transport Politic)

Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Misses Airport by a Mile (by Ryan Deto, LA Weekly)

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