SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - After about a decade of planning, and the growing, frustrating congestion on Highway 101 for work week commuters, the South Coast will see a new commuter train early Monday morning.
The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), the main agency coordinating the plan says it has requests from 1200 workers who live and commute from Ventura County to get a seat. About 500 will be available when the train hits the rails.
For the first month free 10-day train passes will be available.
They are going to be provided at 400 a week for the first three weeks in a staggered release of the complimentary passes.
SBCAG Deputy Director Gregg Hart says the passenger service may have seemed easy to launch years ago but there are many considerations when it comes to who uses the rails, at one time, for how long.
The goal was to have one big run from Ventura County to Santa Barbara and Goleta in the morning and a direct run back in the afternoon without having to pull over for other trains including the freights loaded with cargo.
To do this, riders will have to get on board much earlier than they had originally thought, and that may lead to some changes in their work schedules
The train begins its run from Simi Valley at 5:19 a.m. It will be in Oxnad at 5:58 a.m., Carpinteria at 6:34 a.m., Santa Barbara at 6:47 a.m., and Goleta 7:15 a.m.
Going home the train begins moving south at 4:25 p.m. from Goleta.
The full train schedule can be found at: http://www.trafficsolutions.org/Train
The current train that could come close to the new service was well off the pace of what employers needed with their workers and didn't arrive until after 10 a.m.
The other component was made possible by the Metropolitian Transit District (MTD).
Hillary Blackerby the MTD marketing director says there will be free busses ready to move workers to the major job sites. Those include the Santa Barbara School District office downtown, the County Administration building and Cottage Hospital. At the Goleta stop there will be service up and down the Hollister corridor, Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, and plans have been made with UC Santa Barbara to shuttle those employees.
She says the train will provide a unique experience that is beyond what riders find in car pools, or long haul shuttle busses "There is a camaraderie on a train. People meet their neighbors and co workers and relax a little longer," said Blackerby who is a frequent train rider.
Having this aspect of the ride worked out helps to complete the full connection. "As soon as they get on the train, they will know they have a connection to their work site," said Hart.
During the January 9 mudflow disaster in Montecito that flooded the freeway and force a nearly two week shut down, enhanced train service was provided. It was often standing room only.
"Having 5000 try out the train under any circumstances was a great start," said Hart. "We heard from a number of people that they were very excited to have this option. They really look forward to making it part of their daily commute."
This new train service is taking place while the also long awaited freeway widening project is underway from Carpinteria to Montecito. The first phase involved bridge replacements. The final project will have a High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane for those with more than one person in the car at peak hours.
For now morning traffic is often below 20 miles per hour through the area roughly starting around the Rincon. The back up begins before 7 a.m. Drivers looking for surface street options have also found back up congestion and delays.
"In the 101 in Motion plan we envisioned a system with all of these pieces integrated , with the busses, the train and the HOV lane," said Hart. "Ultimately we are going to have a really robust, diverse system for people to choose from. We are pleased to provide this service. It gets them a chance to get out of the congestion.
Going behind the scenes in the often difficult planning stages of this new service Hart shed some light on what it took to adjust the schedule and find an open time slot on the rails.
"It was a very tight window to find time," said Hart. "There are a number of Metrolink trains that come out of Ventura County that are going southbound and there's only one track so the train has to be in a safe place for them to pass. To find this slot that works for the commuters and also the operators was not an easy task."
There will be a special ceremony Friday afternoon at 3:45 p.m. at the Goleta station to celebrate the first week of service. Among those attending, the California Transportation Agency Secretary Brian Annis.