Metrolink Travelogue by Steve Grande
Note: This rail travelogue was accidentally deleted and lost for many years. We managed to recover it in late 2010 from archives and re-post it to TrainWeb.com. These are some of my earliest rail travels and travel writings. My experience and understanding of Amtrak and other rail operations was quite a bit less than today and my writing style may have been a bit less experienced back then. So please pardon any problems that you might find in these earlier rail travel reports. A number of these earlier reports also have few or no photos or very small photos which was intentional to reduce download time during the early days of the web when almost everyone had slow dial-up connections to the internet!
I took a few trips on the Metrolink in April 1996, not that I had to get anywhere, but just because I wanted to see what they were like! I was looking at the "Inland Empire Orange County Line" schedule and was wondering how the trains gets between San Bernardino and Irvine. I am fairly familiar with the geography around my area and some of the major rail routes. I knew of no way that a train could get from San Bernardino to Irvine without taking a rather long "L" shape route that would take the train right through my neighborhood. I didn't remember a Metrolink ever going through my neighborhood.
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One day I decided to grab a late lunch at a drive-thru and sit where I could see the rails where I knew the Metrolink would have to go to get from San Bernardino to Irvine. Sure enough! The train came through! The reason I had never noticed it before is that the Metrolinks pretty much only run during rush hour.
Would you like to take a trip on the Metrolinks just to see what they are like? Be careful! Unless you know what you are doing, you will get stranded! Most Metrolinks only run into Los Angeles in the morning and out of Los Angeles in the evening. The "Inland Empire Orange County Line" pretty much just runs from San Bernardino to Irvine in the morning and from Irvine to San Bernardino in the evening. Thus, if you try to take a Metrolink in the morning, you could end up stranded with no return train for 8 hours! Or worse ... try the evening and be stranded overnight! (But at least you'd be stranded in a Los Angeles "bedroom community" rather than downtown).
With a little bit of careful study, I've figured out how you can take a ride on the Metrolink to see what they are like. You can take a Metrolink from either San Bernardino at 3:03pm or from West Corona at 3:48pm to either Santa Ana (4:13pm) or Irvine (4:32pm). There is plenty of free parking in both San Bernardino and West Corona. That same train just turns around and leaves Irvine at 4:47pm and Santa Ana at 4:57pm to arrive at West Corona 5:27pm and San Bernardino 6:16pm. If you miss that return train, there is another one 40 minutes later. That little round trip starting from either San Bernardino or West Corona, is one of the few on the Metrolink where you can get back where you started without waiting all day for a return train. As a side note, the train from San Bernardino or West Corona to Irvine will be pretty empty but the return train from Irvine will be pretty full. You'll still be able to find seats, though.
A little longer trip involves starting from Irvine at 10:06AM. Park your car in the free parking lot in Irvine, but don't park in the 3 hour spaces. Take San Diegan Train #775 to Los Angels, arriving at 11:20am. Stop in Union Station in Los Angeles, have lunch there and look around. Be sure to be back to the station no later than 12:45pm. Find what platform Metrolink #306 is boarding, get your one-way ticket and get on board! That train leaves Union Station at 1:02pm and arrives in San Bernardino at 2:26pm. Once you are in San Bernardino, purchase a one-way ticket to Irvine. That will be Metrolink train #805 and it will leave San Bernardino at 3:03pm. You'll be back in Irvine by 4:32pm! That is the only other round-trip that I have been able to discover that is possible on the Metrolinks without a big gap in the schedule.
Warning: These trips are only available on weekdays! Most Metrolink trains do not run on weekends. Also, Metrolinks seem to keep to their schedules more than any other train I've been on. However, there is a slight danger point in taking the train to San Bernardino. If that train were to be delayed for more than 30 minutes, then you would miss the train that takes you back to Irvine! There are no further trains that evening from San Bernardino to Irvine. You'd have to either take a taxi all the way back to Irvine, or would have to spend the night in a motel in San Bernardino and take a Metrolink to Irvine the next morning.
Here is another idea: How To Spend A Day On The MetroLink
Park your car at the station in Irvine, California. Take train number 800 at 8:10 AM which arrives in San Bernardino at 9:38 AM. Take train number 311 at 10:31 AM from San Bernardino to Los Angeles Union Station. You will arrive there at 11:56 AM. Have lunch in Union Station. Take train number 302 from Union Station at 1:02 PM back to San Bernardino. You will arrive in San Bernardino at 2:27 PM. Take train number 805 from San Bernardino at 3:03 PM to Irvine. You will arrive back at your car at Irvine Station at 4:33 PM!