Leon Worden

New train station on fast track

Leon Worden · February 5, 1997

Canyon High School's jazz ensemble filled the air with music as the shiny, blue-and-white train glided quietly up to the platform. It was the first day of Metrolink's new Saturday service, and a small crowd had gathered at the Santa Clarita station.

About half the crowd boarded the train for Los Angeles. Historian Phil Scorza was there, videotaping the moment for posterity. I rode down with councilwomen Jan Heidt and Jo Anne Darcy and a handful of friends.

It was my first time on the Metrolink. I've ridden trains all over Europe, and even a few here, but this was my first venture on the local line.

The train was immaculate. The ride was smooth and fast. We were there in no time. Metrolink must have been a Godsend to the folks who had to travel to work in Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles after the earthquake. Before the quake, only about 900 people rode through Santa Clarita on an average day. Ridership soared immediately after the quake and leveled off at 3,800 per day -- better than a fourfold increase in three years.

We pulled into Union Station. It was a shock. No graffiti. No trash. No bums. The tiled floors and walls sparkled!

Rightly proud of the work the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has done to bring mass transit to Los Angeles, Jan Heidt made the perfect tour guide. Jan is a Metrolink board member and an alternate on the MTA board.

She whisked us to the Metro Red Line, showing us how easy it is to make what planning geeks call a "modal transfer." The subway stations were as clean as any I'd seen in Europe, and if it weren't for the ultra-modern signs flashing "arrival" and "departure" times, you'd think you were in London or Paris or Berlin.

Our whirlwind tour led us back to Union Station, where we crossed the street and lunched at a restaurant on Olvera Street. Playing consort to this group of women was a blast. I'll spare you the details.

On the return trip we talked about the Metrolink station the MTA is planning to build in downtown Newhall. The new station is coming together faster than anyone expected. It looks like the MTA is going to approve funding for the $4 million station in April, with groundbreaking to follow a year from now.

The station is slated for the northeast corner of Railroad Avenue and Market Street, where Newhall Hardware's Garden Center is today. Hardware store owner Don Guglielmino bought the parcel from Southern Pacific some years ago.

"Mr. Guglielmino purchased the property for the simple reason that it was the best large commercial property within Newhall's old downtown. The city's attraction to this site for the same reason is understandable," Guglielmino spokesman Doug Wubbena said yesterday, adding that Newhall Hardware celebrates its 50th anniversary on San Fernando Road this year.

The city's attraction to the site is all the more understandable when you consider it's precisely where the Newhall Depot was in days of yore. In a classic case of history repeating itself, it seems that what worked 120 years ago could work again tomorrow.

The new station is one of the major capital improvements identified in the revitalization strategy that the people of Newhall developed in 1995 and 1996. The public will have opportunities to influence the design of this defining landmark, and it will mesh nicely with the improvements to Railroad Avenue that the city will be making this summer with $2.8 million in state and federal grant money.

Transit officials expect the new station to increase ridership in the Santa Clarita Valley as people in Newhall and Valencia will no longer have to drive north to ride south. Downtown planners expect the station to bring new customers to Newhall as our Old Town becomes a destination point along the rail line. The Newhall Redevelopment Committee voted Monday to recommend that the City Council authorize site acquisition and construction.

It's a win-win all around, and we'll even see some of our county, state and federal tax dollars come back to Santa Clarita in the deal.

* * *

Remember Michael Freedman? You know, the town planner who led the merchants, property owners and residents of Newhall through the revitalization planning process? Well, he stars tonight on Public Access television when the local cable company broadcasts "The Making of the Downtown Newhall Improvement Program."

Hosted by Mayor Clyde Smyth, the hourlong show recaps the entire plan, from design guidelines and street improvements to a market analysis and financing. Catch it at 7:30 p.m. tonight on SCVTV Channel 20.

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Leon Worden is a Santa Clarita resident. His commentary appears on Wednesdays.


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