Los Angeles, once home to a major rail transit system, making a bit of a comeback.
There are four light rail lines in a system of 6 rail lines; the light rail lines are Blue, Gold, Green, and Expo (the subway is Red and Purple). The Blue Line was the first of the four light rail lines, running from Downtown Los Angeles to Downtown Long Beach. The line runs parallel to the 110 Freeway and in pretty much the same alignment as the old Pacific Electric Railway line from Long Beach to LA via Compton in the 1940s. The Green Line runs almost entirely in the median of the 105 Freeway, with the western part running along Redondo Beach and Manhattan Beach. The Gold Line runs from Pasadena to Union Station and then continues east to East LA via the Eastside Extension. The Expo Line, the newest of the Metro light rail lines, runs from Downtown LA to Century City with construction now underway to run all the way to Santa Monica.
This system was formerly a proof-of-payment system (POP) but was given the turnstile treatment a few years back due to rampant fare evasion. The ticket machines are on the platforms at some stations and near the entrance ramps at most other stations. TAP card validators are available at all turnstiles and at the sides of entrances in other stations. Most people use TAP smart cards or Day Passes and Monthly Passes to ride the system. The turnstiles are free-wheeling, so that anyone can access the system whether they tap or not. There are roving LAPD officers/sheriffs that patrol the system for fare evaders and troublemakers, POP or non-POP.
The Blue Line primarily uses three-car trains, mainly of the Nippon Sharyo P850s and some Siemens P2000 cars. The Green Line is entirely single and two-car sets of P2000s. The Gold Line runs Siemens P2000s and newer Breda P2550s which were ordered specifically for this line. The Expo line runs the same equipment as the Blue Line since those two lines have common track at Pico and 7th-Metro Center. There is an order for Kinkisharyo P3010 cars that will replace the Nippon Sharyos and provide for fleet expansion for the Expo Line extension, the Gold Line Foothill Extension, and the Crenshaw Line which started construction just recently. All cars in the system are high-floor cars built for high-platform stations, much like the subway. This might seem like less of a light rail system in the more traditional sense and more of a subway or light metro in that most light rail cars and streetcars have vehicle access via a low-level platform. The conscious decision to go high-platform may have something to do with the perceived higher comfort level with riding a vehicle with the floor above the trucks of the train compared to one with a low-floor design. The stations and top speed along these alignments do give the Metro Rail more of a interurban rail feel than an upgraded streetcar, which makes this system rather unique, although a low-floor setup (high-floor cars with low platforms similar to San Diego and Baltimore) would have been cheaper to implement, as far as station construction goes.
The Blue Line was and probably still is my favorite line in the system, with its three-car trains as a normal due to the ridership (roughly 80,000-90,000 riders a day) and its high-speed operation (most of the line allows for trains to speed by at about 60 MPH). The line is almost entirely grade-separated with gated railroad-style crossings at most intersections. Even though most of the Blue Line runs through some rough neighborhoods, that has never stopped me from taking a ride during any Southern California vacation. The section in the City of Long Beach is very interesting in that part of the line is in a loop that encompasses Long Beach Blvd, 7th Street, Pacific, and 1st Street. The 7th Street portion is part of the Long Beach Transit Mall, a transit center with connections to Metro, Long Beach Transit, LA Department of Transportation (LADOT), Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA), and Torrance Transit buses. The Long Beach Blvd section is a median-running stretch that allows trains to run up and down the street at the maximum street speed for the area. It is a busy, active, palm tree-lined, commercial thoroughfare with plenty of transit action for bus and rail aficionados.
The Green Line is probably the fastest line of the four since it’s in the median of the 105 Freeway, but other than that, the stop spacing in many spots, especially towards the Lakewood/Norwalk end, makes it boring to ride, unless you like seeing cars stuck in traffic. The Gold Line is more interesting since it goes in and out of the hills, then runs in people’s backyards before it travels along the median of the 210 Freeway in Pasadena. The Eastside extension and the entire Expo Line are areas that were not built yet during my last visit, so I cannot comment on those. The Crenshaw Line is in the process of preliminary construction, most likely to replace the #710 Crenshaw Rapid bus and connect to both the Expo Line and the Green Line.
What I would like to see in this system is construction of the Regional Connector that was proposed many years ago but never built, to connect the Blue Line and the Gold Line in Downtown LA. Originally, the Blue Line was to be extended from 7th-Metro Center out to Pasadena through Bunker Hill. The line from Union Station to Pasadena was eventually built, now part of the Gold Line, but the connector was deferred until funding was found. The Eastside Extension was built later on, which was part of the master rail plan for the region, but it was originally supposed to be an extension of the subway. The plan would have the Red Line run from North Hollywood to East LA and Santa Monica to East LA (which is practically the 720 Wilshire/Whittier Rapid bus today), and the Blue Line from Long Beach to Pasadena. The Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa and the Expo Line out to Santa Monica were planned later on and are currently under construction. After all is said and done, assuming completion of the downtown connector, I see the Blue running from Long Beach to Pasadena, The Expo running from Santa Monica to East LA, and the Gold running from Azusa to East LA. The Green Line would run from Norwalk to Redondo Beach as normal, and the Crenshaw Line would run from LAX to East LA or Pasadena via the Expo and Gold Lines. This would be a final opportunity to connect LAX World Airport with the Metro Rail system after a failed attempt to connect the Green Line at Aviation to LAX which never completed due to lack of funding (although the physical structural connection to the Green Line is still visible from the Aviation Station platform).
LA Metro isn’t my favorite light rail system, but it does have redeeming features about it that keep me researching even when I cannot go back due to work constraints. I do wish its network was a bit greater, giving access to better transit to more people, but that is not to say that LA Metro isn’t working on it. I do understand that the Bus Riders’ Union doesn’t want to hear that, arguing that light rail expansion seems to favor more well-to-do communities and choice riders, but some of the bus ridership can be better served by a more efficient rail system, never mind the conversion of Metro’s bus fleet to 100% CNG. LA will never be New York City, nor will Metro be Pacific Electric and local streetcar companies, but at least the city will have a more robust transportation network than it has ever had in the age of the LA Freeway network. Now, let’s get working on Metrolink.