Trains have played an important role in Irvine since 1887, when the Santa Fe Railroad first laid tracks across The Irvine Ranch. Back then, the train picked up lima beans (and later oranges) and dropped off bags of mail, but no passenger service was available. This all changed in June 1990, when the city opened Irvine Station, offering Amtrak commuter service. To get the word out, city officials and chamber members hailed passing trains to let local passengers know they no longer had to drive to Santa Ana or San Juan Capistrano to catch a train. As train conductor E.B. Burwell Jr. said on the first day of service, “They’d rather get on here, near where they live.” When the first passengers boarded at 6:15 a.m. that day, the price of a ticket to Union Station was $9, half the current fare. Today, Irvine Station, at Barranca Parkway and Ada in the heart of the Spectrum District, is the most popular station in Orange County, serving over 1 million passengers annually.
Ellen Bell is an Orange County historian and author of “Irvine: Images of America.”