Aaron Bonfilio of SBCAG.
Aaron Bonfilio, director of rail and transit programs for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, presents plans to bring Metrolink commuter services to the South Coast. (Serena Guentz / Noozhawk photo)

Commuter rail service from Ventura County may be coming to the South Coast in early 2024, as the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments South Coast Subregional Planning Committee heard about plans Wednesday to bring a Metrolink commuter train to the South Coast.

SBCAG has been talking with the Ventura County Transportation Commission, Los Angeles-based commuter rail service Metrolink and the Los Angeles-San Diego-San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor Agency (LOSSAN) to provide a morning commuter service line from Ventura County to Santa Barbara County. 

A similar service providing morning and afternoon commuter trains was offered by LOSSAN in 2018, but was suspended in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. LOSSAN reinstated an afternoon train that departs from the Goleta Station at about 4:30 p.m., but has not reinstated the morning train, and according to the SBCAG item’s staff report, “the specific morning train that served the peak-hour commute corridor is not (presently) part of LOSSAN’s service expansion.”

Now, after the pandemic, SBCAG and VCTC are working together to explore options to bring the commuter service back through Metrolink, which would be funded by potential recurring funding from the Federal Transit Administration — which may be available due to changes in the 2020 U.S. Census population count — and matching Measure A rail funding.

“[This is a] really important need,” Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams said. “I can totally see this working.”

The preliminary concept for the service shows the Metrolink leaving Moorpark at 6:33 a.m., stopping in Camarillo, Oxnard, Ventura, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara and arriving in Goleta at 8 a.m. The afternoon return trip would then be on the Pacific Surfliner, leaving Goleta at 4:25 p.m. — with the same stops as the morning train — and arriving at its final stop in Moorpark at about 6:05 p.m.

“This is hugely exciting,” Supervisor Joan Hartmann said. “And it’s great now that our previous experience with the train is foundational for how we analyze this.”

Local leaders and planners are hoping to create reliable commuter service, while also alleviating congestion on Highway 101 during peak hours.

“We would like to fill the train, bring as many people off the 101 as possible,” said Aaron Bonfilio, director of rail and transit programs for SBCAG.

Next steps in making the commuter service plans a reality include continued meetings between SBCAG and Metrolink, LOSSAN and VCTC, and Metrolink developing a cost proposal for the “a.m. peak hour service.”

The item is set to return to the SBCAG board in the winter, with a target start date in April.