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CalTrain was a short-lived commuter rail system in the Los Angeles area which operated between 1982–1983. It connected downtown Los Angeles's Union Station with Oxnard in Ventura County, using the tracks of the Southern Pacific Railroad. It was the first local rail service in Los Angeles since 1961 and was a forerunner of the modern Metrolink Ventura County Line. Service ended in the face of high costs, lower-than-expected ridership, a changing political climate, and staunch opposition from the Southern Pacific.

Service typeCommuter rail
First serviceOctober 18, 1982
Last serviceMarch 1, 1983
SuccessorVentura County Line
Former operator(s)Southern Pacific Railroad
StartUnion Station
Average journey time1 hour 40 minutes
Service frequencyTwo weekday round-trips
Train number(s)101–104
Line(s) usedCoast Line
Track gauge4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Track owner(s)Southern Pacific
Route map
Oxnard Amtrak
Simi Valley
Panorama City
Burbank Airport Bob Hope Airport
Glendale Amtrak
Los Angeles Union Station Amtrak


CalTrain had its gestation in a 1973 study by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which recommended two daily roundtrips between Union Station and Oxnard. The train would use the Southern Pacific's Coast Line. Amtrak already operated a single long-distance train, the Coast Starlight, over the route. SP objected to the proposal, alleging that the service would disrupt freight service on the single-track line, leading to a protracted dispute before the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC).[1] The PUC ruled against the SP several times, with a final order in June 1982, ordering that SP operate the service beginning on October 18.[2]

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) provided funding of $6 million for the service. Some of the money was to be spent on capital improvements, such as new station platforms. These would be located on Southern Pacific (SP) territory, prompting additional litigation between SP, Caltrans, and the PUC. The SP challenged the authority of the transportation agencies to construct these platforms on its property without its consent. After a ruling by the Supreme Court of California in favor of Caltrans the service proceeded, with the start date unchanged.[3] It was the first local rail service in Los Angeles since Pacific Electric discontinued operations on April 8, 1961.[4]

CalTrain faced serious problems in its first few months. George Deukmejian replaced Jerry Brown as Governor of California on January 3, 1983. Deukmejian favored highway projects over public transit, and showed no enthusiasm for what many called a "pet project" of the former governor. Daily ridership stood at 300–350 passengers, disappointing Caltrans officials who hoped for 2,600 daily riders.[5] The most serious problem, however, remained the disagreement between the state and the SP over the tariff that the state should pay to the SP for the use of its infrastructure. The state, together with local governments, was prepared to pay between $70,000-100,000 per month, while the SP insisted on the much higher figure of $588,000. By February $200,000 remained of the original $6 million allocation, which did not include the $2-3 million potentially owed the SP should its figure be upheld.[6]

Service ended on March 2, 1983, after storms damaged a trestle.[1][7] On March 11, the PUC indefinitely suspended the service - which was to be restored on March 14 - due to the dispute between Caltrans and the SP. The SP was ordered not to "remove or modify" the platforms and parking areas at the former stations.[1][7]

The tariff dispute was further litigated, with the Interstate Commerce Commission eventually ruling in 1985 in favor of the SP. This ruling ended attempts to resurrect commuter rail service in southern California until Metrolink began operation in the 1990s.[8]

Service was gradually restored to the former CalTrain route. The Coast Starlight (which still served Glendale and Oxnard) added a Simi Valley stop on October 26, 1986.[9] On June 26, 1988, Amtrak extended one daily San Diegan round trip to Santa Barbara, restoring service to Van Nuys (Panorama City) and Chatsworth; a Burbank Airport stop was added in 1990.[10][11] Metrolink Ventura County Line service began on October 26, 1992, stopping at all former CalTrain stations.[12]


Los Angeles County refused to allow the use of its El Camino equipment, then stored at Bell, so Caltrans looked elsewhere. Throughout its short history CalTrain's equipment situation remained in flux. Initially CalTrain used GE P30CH diesel locomotives and single-level Amfleet coaches leased from Amtrak. Caltrans then leased four bilevel coaches from Chicago's Regional Transportation Authority to replace the Amfleet coaches. These had barely entered service before the SP ordered all P30CHs in the country sidelined because of a derailment in Texas. CalTrain had to use EMD GP9s and bilevel coaches from the SP's Peninsula Commute equipment pool. The Chicago cars could now not be used because they required head end power (HEP) for heating and the SP's locomotives used steam heat, which was not compatible.[13][2]

Station stopsEdit

When service began in 1982 intermediate stops included Simi Valley, Panorama City, and Glendale. Planned additional stops included Camarillo, Moorpark, Chatsworth, Northridge, Burbank Airport, and Burbank.[14] Chatsworth opened on December 29, 1982.[15] Service to Moorpark began in early 1983; service to Burbank Airport began in February 1983, just prior to the service's discontinuance.[16]


  1. ^ a b c "Decision 83-03-027" (PDF). California Public Utilities Commission. March 11, 1983.
  2. ^ a b Hobbs, Charles P. (2014). Hidden History of Transportation in Los Angeles. The History Press. ISBN 1-6261-9671-0.
  3. ^ Smith, Ed (October 13, 1982). "Railroad Stay Denied: Commuter Service Given Go-Ahead". Oxnard Press-Courier. Retrieved February 3, 2013.
  4. ^ Smith, Ed (October 18, 1982). "87 Take Inaugural Oxnard-to-LA Train". Oxnard Press-Courier. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  5. ^ Smith, Ed (January 5, 1983). "CalTrain End Eyed By State". Oxnard Press-Courier. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  6. ^ Hartmann, Bea (February 3, 1983). "Demise of CalTrain Called Imminent". Oxnard Press-Courier. Retrieved August 9, 2013.
  7. ^ a b "State PUC dumps commuter train". Santa Cruz Sentinel. March 13, 1983 – via  
  8. ^ "ICC Ruling Casts Doubt On LA-Oxnard CalTrain". Pacific RailNews. No. 259. June 1985. p. 4. Archived from the original on September 11, 2014.
  9. ^ Rail Passenger Development Plan: 1988 Through 1993 Fiscal Years. California Department of Transportation - Division of Mass Transportation. 1988. p. 48 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ Rail Passenger Development Plan: 1990 Through 1995 Fiscal Years. California Department of Transportation - Division of Mass Transportation. 1988. pp. 60–61 – via Google Books.
  11. ^ "Burbank—Airport, CA (BUR)". Great American Stations. Amtrak.
  12. ^ "History of Metrolink". Southern California Regional Rail Authority. 2017.
  13. ^ Caldwell, Charles M. (February 1983). "Southern Pacific". Pacific News. Vol. 22 no. 2. p. 12.
  14. ^ Caltrans. "CalTrain train schedule 1981". Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  15. ^ "State Officials Dedicate New Train Station". Oxnard Press-Courier. December 29, 1982. Retrieved February 2, 2013.
  16. ^ "It's Here". Oxnard Press-Courier. February 16, 1983. Retrieved February 2, 2013.

External linksEdit