As agencies across Southern California continue to focus on public transit, calls are growing for expanding passenger rail service – on a cross-county basis.

The latest example came at Monday’s meeting of the Orange County Transportation Authority, where board members discussed their plans to manage one of the region’s two main rail agencies.

OCTA Chairman Shawn Nelson called for expanding rail service to Los Angeles International Airport and elsewhere, citing benefits to freeway traffic along with convenience for OC residents.

A two-mile gap prevents the passenger train system from connecting to LAX, Nelson said.

The issue, said Nelson, speaks to the challenge of county-level transit agencies that sometimes miss the big picture.

“The short-sightedness, in my opinion, of LA is: it’s a big regional need but when you get down to dividing their [transportation] board up like ours,” the local elected board members “don’t find it their priority.”

Such a connection would help ease traffic congestion, Nelson added.

“If we can’t get there, we’re driving through their neighborhoods,” he said, pointing to congestion near where the 91 and 605 freeway meet.

Nelson suggested that a regional passenger train agency based at OCTA, the LOSSAN Rail Corridor Agency, take a leadership role in finding money for such projects.

“There’s nothing of this significance in the United States that’s a two-mile connection,” Nelson said, adding that other rail expansions in Southern California also “would be worth discussing.”

OCTA is in the midst of taking on a leadership role at LOSSAN, which is scheduled to take over administration of Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner passenger rail line from the state in July 2015.

By moving control to the local level, the idea is to better coordinate between the region’s three passenger rail systems: Amtrak, Metrolink and the COASTER.

LOSSAN’s managing director, Jennifer Bergener, said officials recognize that problems exist for passengers who need to connect between the rail systems.

Nelson’s request comes as public transit gets new attention in Southern California, amid worsening car traffic and changing public attitudes.

Officials in Los Angeles, long known as a car-centric city, are building two new urban rail lines and ramping up a focus on fostering pedestrian- and bike-friendly streets.

And San Bernardino County officials recently launched a bus rapid transit system connecting major destinations along a 16-mile route between San Bernardino and Loma Linda.

Southern California is home to the second-busiest rail corridor in the United States. More than 2.7 million people ride the Pacific Surfliner each year, officials say, and 4.5 million ride Metrolink and San Diego County’s COASTER.

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