Arrow Targets Improved Intercity Rail Experience

Arrow train at station

Metrolink’s new Arrow service is turning heads. The nine-mile expansion to the regional rail network features state-of-the-art Diesel Multiple Units (DMU) carriages. The project was funded and constructed by the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority and was launched by the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (which operates Metrolink).

But the Arrow is different than the typical Metrolink service, which generally caters to longer distance commuters. Most trains run to Union Station in downtown LA in the morning, and then return to the Inland Empire (and other areas) in the afternoon and evening.

Instead, the Arrow train offers a continuous two-way service between San Bernardino and Redlands. The 24 departures daily in each direction makes it easier to use Arrow for appointments, errands, or to get to that biology lab at University of Redlands.

And there are lots of inter-modal connections.  At the Downtown San Bernardino Station, riders can easily transfer to Metrolink’s San Bernardino and Inland Empire-Orange County.  It is also the place to connect to the sbX Bus Rapid Transit line and Mountain Transit services.

Delivering the Project

Delivering the project was a big undertaking.  It involved rebuilding nine miles of existing track and rebuilding four stations, four bridges, and 26 grade crossings. An additional two miles of double track were added in the middle of the route to allow more frequent two-way service (allowing for 30-minute headways).

Each train can take up to 200 passengers and up to eight wheelchair users. There are also storage hooks for bicycles, space to store luggage or strollers, and handy USB charging ports at each seat. The station platforms are all level to the train for easy boarding.

This will be the first zero emission train to operate in North America.

SBCTA also worked with the Federal Railroad Administration and the Public Utilities Commission to improve grade crossing safety features to obtain Quiet Zone designations, which allows trains to pass through neighborhoods without routinely sounding their horns.

Finally, all the track improvements allow for Metrolink to expand an express service departure from Redlands providing a one ride experience all the way from Redlands to Los Angeles.

Owning the Right of Way

Another reason for the project’s success is that SBCTA purchased the rail line right of way in the early 1990’s.  (The tracks were originally owned by Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and were part of the  famous “kite shape track” that would host day trips for tourists from Los Angeles in the early 20th century).

Most other passenger rail services have to share the right-of-way with freight trains, which means they only have limited windows of time to operate.  SBCTA’s ownership of the track allows the Arrow to operate all day, every day.  Although some freight still runs on the line, those trips run infrequently and do not to conflict with the Arrow’s schedule.

Initial Ridership Encouraging

Arrow began operation in late 2022.  If you think about it—the post pandemic environment was not the ideal time to launch a new transit service. Statewide, transit ridership is down, many operators are facing serious funding shortfalls, and the state legislature is considering alternatives to address transit’s “fiscal cliff.”

But the early numbers are encouraging.  Station boardings have exceeded 50,000 since the lined open (including the new Metrolink express service from Redlands to Los Angeles). The San Bernardino Downtown Station—with its connections to Metrolink and Omnitrans bus service—has the highest use.

Even better, Arrow ridership is trending in the right way. Average daily ridership has increased three-fold over the first four months of operations (October ‘22 through February ’23). To assure this trend continues, SBCTA is working closely with Metrolink to promote the service by providing promotional fare products for general riders, as well as special passes to faculty and students of the University of Redlands.

This project would not have been possible if the voters had not adopted Measure I, the half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements

Green! And Getting Greener

The Arrow stands out among California services.  They feature sleek, modern trains powered by lower-emission Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) that produce less greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). They are powered via a diesel engine “generator” providing power to electric motors at the wheels.  The on-board low-emission engines and are smaller, quieter, more efficient, and cheaper to operate than standard locomotive haul coaches.

But the long-term plan is even more ambitiously green. SBCTA will to introduce hydrogen-powered trains by the end of 2024.  These Zero-Emission Multiple Unit (ZEMU) trains use hybrid hydrogen fuel cell and battery technology, which will further reduce the Arrow’s GHG emissions.  Funding for the transition, including the fueling infrastructure, was obtained under a Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP).

This will be the first zero emission train to operate in North America.

Local Sales Tax Dollars at Work

This project would not have been possible if the voters of San Bernardino had not adopted Measure I, the half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements first approved in 1989 and overwhelmingly extended in 2004.

Over $100 million of Measure I funds were used to cover the project’s $375 million price tag.  SBCTA then leveraged this investment to bring in additional competitive funds from the Local Partnership Program, Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program, Solutions for Congested Corridors Programs, a TIGER grant from the US Department of Transportation, and even some Prop 1B bond funds (approved by voters in 2006).

The support of Measure I does not stop there.  The 2021 Ten Year Delivery Plan for Measure I slates an additional $154 million over the next 10 years for operating costs.

Collaboration is a Key Ingredient  

Two key collaborations also contribute to the success of the project.

First there was a collaboration with large employers.  SBCTA partnered with GIS-software leader Esri for the construction costs of the station adjacent to their campus, the City of Redlands for enhancements to the Downtown Redlands Station; and the University of Redlands for enhancements at the University Station location. Together, these contributions contributed $7 million to the costs of the project. The benefit to the partners was a better user experience for the employees and students using the service and has the anticipated effect of encouraging more use of the system.

In addition, SBCTA has partnered with Metrolink to operate the system. Metrolink also maintains the rail vehicles and provides dispatching and maintenance-of-way services.   Metrolink’s experience in running transit service is invaluable, and incorporating the route into Metrolink’s system encourages a more seamless experience for passengers commuting to Los Angeles.

Larry McCallon, Council Member for the City of Highland, who serves on both SBCTA and Metrolink boards (and formerly served on the CALCOG Board), put it this way the day service began: “The launch of Arrow is monumental for both San Bernardino County and the southern California region. The effort of SBCTA and Metrolink to complete a project of this magnitude is tremendous. By extending passenger rail service to Redlands with new, modern and eco-friendly trains, the agencies are fulfilling commitments to not only provide southern California residents with greater regional rail connectivity, but also meet California’s aggressive climate improvement goals.”

On the Right Track

The Arrow train is off to a great start.  It also serves as a great example of how funds from a local sales tax measure can be used to deliver projects that can make a difference in the region.  The San Bernardino County Transportation Authority is looking at other opportunities to expand and improve the mobility opportunities for the residents of San Bernardino County.

infographic map of route from Redlands to San Bernardino

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