Report and Photos by Noel T. Braymer
After waiting 32 years to ride the old Pacific Electric Line on Exposition Blvd, waiting one more month after it opened to finally ride it when I had some time seemed typical. I was able to get up early and even out the door by 7AM. I like to ride Metrolink Train 850 that leaves at 7:35 out of Oceanside for Riverside. I get to sleep in a little longer, the train is not crowded and it has connections to trains both for LAUS as well San Bernardino. One problem with riding the 850 has been that if I tried to get a direct ticket to either Los Angeles or San Bernardino the ticket machine would tell me that Metrolink doesn’t have a train going to either places at that time. The tickets are only valid for 3 hours after purchase. So I usually buy a ticket to a station where I will get off to buy a second ticket to my final destination and wait for my connection. Well as we were getting ready to leave the conductor made an announcement telling passengers they could make connections to the other trains at any point between Laguna Niguel / Mission Viejo and Orange and to show the ticket of your destination when she inspected your ticket. When she came by to check my tickets I asked her how I could get a single ticket with a transfer to a second train. She pointed out that when the ticket machine tells you there are no trains available for that location you can override the ticket machine and get the ticket. I didn’t know that. I wonder how many people are not aware of this. It is a pet peeve of mine that the ticket machines don’t “know” what connections are possible so it discourages people from using them.
Well I still had to buy a second ticket to get to Los Angeles. When we passed Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo I could see my connecting train waiting on a side track off the mainline sharing a platform with the train I was on. I thought my next train would be 10 minutes behind the train I was on. Turns out it was 24 minutes later. I got off at Tustin because I hadn’t been there in a while and this was the first time I would be there since they added a new parking structure. The nerve wracking part about transferring without a ticket is not knowing if you will get a ticket in time before the second train leaves. It doesn’t help that the ticket machines are not on the platforms and require you to either use a tunnel or bridge to cross the tracks to the ticket machines. Sometimes it is hard to find the entrance to the tunnel at some stations. Well I had no trouble finding the tunnel at Tustin, I made a right at the other end and found 2 ticket machines. The screen on one machine was so dark that I couldn’t read it. There were 2 women in front of me on the other. One woman kindly let met get ahead of her when she saw what a hurry I was in. The other woman had never used a ticket machine before or ridden Metrolink. I was soon “helping” this woman to speed her up: ” no press L for Los Angeles not U for Union Station”. Soon I had my ticket and went back to the platform and waited and waited. Finally I saw a headlight.Then I realized it was an Amtrak locomotive with Amfleet cars and a second pushing locomotive. This was the morning “express” Amtrak Train and it was already 10 minutes late. When this happens which seems to be every time I ride Metrolink around this time of the morning the Los Angeles bound Metrolink train is held at Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo until it passes. If the express train was on time it would pass the Metrolink train before its departure time. The time between connections of my two Metrolink trains was increased to open a larger time slot of the express train recently. Soon my train arrived about 5 minutes late.
When we got to Fullerton I noticed new wooden ties on the side of the tracks which told me the BNSF was replacing ties and I kept seeing new ties for most of the rest of the trip to Los Angeles. This meant slow orders most of the way so we didn’t make up any time. Coming into Union Station Metrolink has equipment stored on every track it can find near the station. Some of these are trainsets stored between rush hours to be close by later in the day. But many of the older cars are in long term storage in need of a new paint job and overhaul. I was wondering if the turnstiles for the subways would be locked when I got there. That is the plan by the end of June. To use the turnstiles everyone will need to have a TAP card which is a type of debit card you add credit too for passes. The problem is LA Metro doesn’t have a system to use these turnstiles for people with paper tickets such as transferring from Metrolink, for a single one way ride or what I wanted which was a 5 dollar all day paper pass. This is why the turnstiles haven’t been put into operation yet after being installed well over a year ago. Well after a little research I was able to get from the Metro ticket machine a 5 dollars paper day pass and I found the turnstiles unlocked. Next was the subway to 7th and Flower to transfer to the Expo Line.
When I got off at 7th and Flower I was amazed to find a Light Rail Train waiting at the platform. Only it was a Blue Line Train not an Expo Train. The Expo Line is the only line in LA without the name of a color. LA Metro wanted to use the “color” Aqua because it was the same in English and Spanish. This didn’t go over with some of the politicians and no color was officially chosen but LA Metro uses a light bluish color as the unofficial color of the Expo Line. To me it looks like Cyan which is the light bluish color you see with computer printer color cartridges. Cyan is pronounced the same in English and Spanish only in Spanish it is spelled with an I and not a Y. About the time the Blue Line Train was leaving an Expo Train arrived at the other platform and track to discharged its passengers. It then pulled forward towards a crossover. After the Blue Line train left the Expo Line Train reverse direction and changed tracks and stopped to pick up passenger. Even though it was a new line, the equipment was the same old equipment as the Blue Line. Considering that the Expo Line has to share maintenance facilities with the Blue and Green Line that explains why you see that both type of equipment on the Expo Line. The first real difference riding on Flower street is after leaving the junction at Washington Blvd for the Blue Line the street running is slower. There are several street crossings on Flower including some for freeway on-ramps for nearby Harbor Freeway. When the line gets near Exposition Blvd on Flower St it goes into a tunnel and crosses under the intersection of Flower and Exposition Blvd before coming out at a street level station station serving both USC and Exposition Park the new home of the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The line moves fairly fast on Exposition Blvd with grade separated bridges with stations over La Brea and La Cienega Blvds. For now La Cienega is the end of the line just shy of Culver City. While at La Cienega a train operator told me the Expo Line was being extended to Culver City on June 20th. Most trains were running empty past La Cienega to Culver City and back to return to revenue service.
There have been stories of trains running with only 3 passengers shortly after opening of the Expo Line. The loads compared to the other trains seemed light. But with 3 car trains there was plenty of room to fill. At the La Cienega Station I saw a parking structure for the station which look full from the outside. This suggest that commuters are using the train to get to downtown. Most of the ridership in the mid day was between USC and downtown. It will take some time to build up local ridership during the off peak periods plus the Expo Line at 8 miles is only about half its length when
finished. The Culver City Station should have good bus connections to the Westside which will increase ridership. After a couple of stops to take pictures I returned to 7th and Flower. The junction for the Expo and Blue Lines has been in the news quite a bit at Flower St and Washington Blvd. There have been problems with it and there are workers constantly checking and working on the junction during the day as the trains run. When I got off at 7th and Flower I discovered that this train went straight to the same platform I used to get on the outbound Expo train. When I turned around I was surprised to find my Expo Train was now a Blue Line Train. That was one reason they were using 3 car trains on the Expo Line because they were running the same trains on both lines. I next rode the Red Line to North Hollywood. The Red Lines runs every 10 minutes from Union Station to North Hollywood. The Purple Line also runs every 10 minutes from Union Station to Wilshire and Western. These trains share tracks from Union Station to Wilshire and Vermont so there are trains every 5 minutes most of the day on these shared tracks. The Red Line now runs with the maximum length of 6 car trains all day long and the trains have few or no empty seats. The Purple Line has 2 car trains and crowding isn’t a problem. LA Metro would do well to run more trains at closer headways on the Red Line. The Purple Line only goes as far as Western Ave on Wilshire Blvd. Wilshire is the busiest transportation corridor in the Los Angeles region. Once the Purple Line is extended to Westwood near UCLA the ridership will exceed that of the Red Line. The Red Line trains now are busy all the way to North Hollywood and empty seats only appear at the next to last station at Universal Studios.
When I returned to Union Station I was ready for a late lunch. I went to my favorite place to eat near Union Station which is a small Mexican Food place and juice bar on the edge of where else: Chinatown. The food there is better and cheaper than at Olvera Street. I was taking a 3:20 Metrolink departure for Oceanside and still had time on my hand. I jumped on the Gold Line at Union Station for a quick trip to Pasadena. The Gold Line now has all the new
equipment . As one of the hilliest routes it is also the most scenic line going though some of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. I was still over 20 minutes early for my ride home. There was a good crowd waiting for the train at the platform when it arrived. But once we left Union Station there were still seats available. It was a little early in the rush hour. What I noticed as we went deeper into Orange County that instead of the train losing passengers we gained passengers. A market still underserved are commuters from north San Diego County to Orange County which this train serves. Near Oceanside I checked on the new rail bridge over the Santa Margarita River in Camp Pendleton. Finally progress that can be seen although it will still be some time before there is double tracking through most of southern Camp Pendleton and Oceanside.I like to travel and I enjoy riding trains: when they work and are mostly on time. But these little trips are also educational because I learn a great deal about where I travel and about what is going on around the railroads.