The Metro Rail System
(as it was originally conceived)
Although there were concepts for a rapid transit system in Los Angeles County as early as 1925, the first plan taken to the voters was proposed by the SCRTD (Southern California Rapid Transit District) in 1968. SCRTD came into existence in 1964, a creation of the state legislature to prepare a rapid transit plan that could win support of L.A.'s political and business leaders. The first plan submitted to the voters was the "five-corridor" plan shown below, the key line being the Wilshire Blvd. line which would have gone from Downtown to Brentwood, with a branch via Western Avenue to the San Fernando Valley. The only subway segments proposed were on the Wilshire corridor, Downtown L.A., and Hollywood; the rest was to be elevated.
Note the similarities to the current Metro Rail system; the Blue Line follows almost precisely the alignment shown here, the Red Line to the Valley follows a very similar route to what was proposed (with an extension via the Burbank-Chandler alignment and Sherman Way to Tampa Ave.), and the line east of downtown follows the alignment of what is now the El Monte Busway.
Metro's Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library has the 1968 report available in PDF format (however, it is a huge file and takes considerable time to download, even on a high speed connection).
We have created a separate page describing the "feeder bus lines" shown in green above.
With political and financial support for public transportation increasing nationally during the early 1970's, RTD made another effort in 1974, with a proposal that realigned the Valley line to continue through Inglewood to LAX and the South Bay, adding a line along the east end of the county continuing to Orange County, and proposing busways to Pasadena from California State University Los Angeles and from LAX to Norwalk. It also proposed numerous corridors for future expansion to eliminate a feeling that the proposed system was not inclusive of the entire region. Yet the new plan was rejected by the voters as well, despite the adoption by the Los Angeles City Council that year of a master plan which incorporated much of RTD's proposal.
After this setback, RTD turned away from comprehensive rapid transit plans. But County Supervisor Baxter Ward, who still believed a comprehensive enough plan could win the public's approval, put forward his own effort. The 230-mile, $7.2 billion "Sunset Coast Line" (which appeared as Propositions R and T on the June, 1976 ballot) was based on the old Pacific Electric rail routes, even going so far as to reidentify the Los Angeles to Long Beach corridor (which had been the last rail corridor previously operated in the region, and was the southern portion of the 1954 LAMTA monorail proposal) as the starter line:
This proposal, which Ward called the "route of the new red cars", also failed to win the approval of the voters.
Ward then scaled down his proposal (he called it "a limited construction program based on a limited amount of dollars") to the "Sunset Limited" plan. Most people who still thought rail rapid transit was feasible thought this was the most reasonable proposal of the 1960s and 1970s; it concentrated on the Downtown, Hollywood, and San Fernando Valley regions, proposing six lines which could easily be extended, and the system expanded, if they proved successful. It also proposed that the previous Los Angeles to Long Beach line be operated as non-electrified light rail on existing tracks.
The lines proposed for the Sunset Limited were:
Ward acknowledged that the California Legislature had, in the interim, limited the amount of sales tax for mass transit that could be placed before the voters for approval; coupled with the relatively small amount of Federal funding that the Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA) had been willing to earmark in 1976 and the effects of inflation since the first RTD proposal a decade earlier, he admitted that only about one-fifth of the "Sunset Coast Line" proposal of two years previous could be built by 2001.
- "Central-South Line" (the "starter line"), aerial from Union Station across the freeway, then in subway to just north of USC and aerial to Imperial Highway
- "San Gabriel Valley Line"), replacing the El Monte Busway, which had opened in 1974
- "Wilshire Line" a subway from 5th & Flower Sts. to Wilshire Blvd. & La Brea Ave.
- "Airport Line", in the median of the proposed Century Freeway, then looping inside LAX alongside the Dept. of Airport's proposed "people mover"
- "Hollywood Line", a subway from the end of the Wilshire Line to Hollywood, then aerial through the Cahuenga Pass to the San Fernando Valley
- "San Fernando Valley Line", operating above the median of the Ventura Freeway from Burbank to Sherman Oaks
However, Ward came up against a new bureaucracy ... one which had come to the realization that incremental planning, financing, and construction was the only game plan that would win favor with the voters.
The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) was created in 1976 by the California Legislature to oversee public transit and highway policy in Los Angeles County (removing the responsibility for planning rapid transit from SCRTD, although RTD retained the authority to design and build a subway, subject to LACTC's approval). LACTC was responsible for approving all plans and funding with respect to transit capital development, transit operations and highway capital development. In 1980, LACTC placed its own measure on the ballot to fund a rail rapid transit system: Proposition A, which was approved by the voters. It authorized a one-half percent sales tax earmarked for acquisition of rights-of-way and rail construction. Metro Rail was proposed as a wide-ranging system, extending from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay, as well as into the San Gabriel Valley, downtown L.A., and toward the Orange County border.
This map accompanied the ballot description for Proposition A:
||Note that this plan did not call for any RTD "feeder bus" lines, as had the 1968 proposal. This points out the early rivalry between LACTC and RTD, which continued until the two agencies were merged to create MTA in 1993.
After passage of Proposition A, LACTC finalized the candidate corridors. The key lines were the Wilshire and Wilshire West lines, extending from the Civic Center to Santa Monica; the Long Beach line, from downtown L.A. to downtown Long Beach; the Century line, which was envisioned to run down the center of a freeway which had been planned by Caltrans since the 1950s; and the San Fernando East-West line, to operate from the Wilshire line through Hollywood into the San Fernando Valley, continuing through Van Nuys and Canoga Park. Other lines were the San Fernando North-South/West Los Angeles/South Bay-Harbor, Pasadena-El Monte, Harbor Freeway, Glendale, and Santa Ana lines.
That same year, the RTD Board of Directors selected a "preferred alternative" for their subway route, from Union Station, through Downtown Los Angeles and under Wilshire Blvd. to Fairfax Ave., then north to Hollywood and under the Cahuenga Pass to North Hollywood. After evaluating the alternatives analysis and environmental impact statement, UMTA approved the first part of a preliminary engineering grant in the spring of 1980.
LACTC identified the six "highest priority" corridors in March, 1982, and they began construction within a few years on the Long Beach light rail line, with RTD to build the Wilshire, Wilshire West, and San Fernando East-West subway.
At the end of the decade, with the first light rail line scheduled to open in 1990 and the first subway segment scheduled for two years later, LACTC issued a revised version of the "high priority corridors" map, which they called the "400 Mile Metro Rail System". By issuing the revised map, they set the stage for a second ballot initiative, Proposition C:
As envisioned by the LACTC, the "400 Mile Metro Rail System" included "Metro Rail" (Red Line) with one branch operating as far as Westwood and a second branch to the Valley; the "Long Beach/Los Angeles Line" (Blue Line); the "Century Line" (Green Line); plus the "Coast Line" (a two-branch extension of the Green Line to LAX and Torrance), the "San Fernando Valley Line" (a westward extension of the Red Line from North Hollywood), and the "Pasadena Line" (a northerly extension of the Blue Line). It also identified several additional candidate corridors, including the two busways which LACTC thought could be later converted to rail. It is obvious that the Metro Red, Blue and Green Lines were named after the colors they were shown by on this map, even though LACTC was not referring to them by those names yet.
After Proposition C (and Proposition 108, the Passenger Rail and Clean Air Bond Act) passed in 1990, LACTC moved forward to acquire key rights-of-way from Southern Pacific to "protect" them for Metro Rail construction:
Despite political meddling and NIMBYism, parts of Metro Rail were constructed. Other corridors have been converted to other transit uses, and some remain in limbo. The map shows all of the corridors approved by the voters under Proposition A, with the names LACTC subsequently gave them.
Century: Metro Green Line (light rail) began operation in the center divider of the I-105 freeway on August 12, 1995. However, the line differs from the original alignment at both ends: To the east, it ends at the I-605 freeway instead of continuing through Norwalk to I-5 (an example of the aforementioned NIMBYism), and to the west it operates to Redondo Beach (presumably to eventually connect with the Harbor Subdivision Line, now called the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor project) but the "main" branch to LAX was never constructed (although a spur does exist for about 100 feet just beyond Aviation Station). 2008's Measure R provided funding for the extension to LAX, and some early planning for this is underway; Measure R also provided funding for an extension southward from Redondo Beach, and a preliminary environmental study has been started for this project.
El Monte: RTD and CalTrans constructed a combination busway and carpool lane along this alignment, the first segment of which opened in 1973. It is currently used by MTA and Foothill Transit express lines to the San Gabriel Valley, including the dual-corridor Metro Silver Line, and Metrolink's San Bernardino line operates parallel to the El Monte Busway between Union Station and Rosemead.
Exposition: LACTC acquired the right-of-way for this line in 1990 from Southern Pacific. The Mid-City/Exposition Line (better known as the Metro Expo Line) began operations between 7th St./Metro Center and La Cienega Blvd. April 28, 2012 and was extended to Culver City two months later, on June 20. The second phase, to downtown Santa Monica is under construction.
Glendale: Metrolink has, since October 26, 1992, operated two of its lines -- one to Ventura via the San Fernando Valley and one to the Antelope Valley via Santa Clarita -- along this alignment, which was acquired by LACTC in 1990.
Harbor Freeway: MTA and CalTrans constructed a ten-mile combination transitway and carpool lane on I-110 between downtown L.A. and SR-91 which opened October 26, 1996, and MTA published a rail-like timetable showing its express lines along that alignment until most of them were folded into the dual-corridor Metro Silver Line on December 13, 2009. Two additional stations (although without exclusive lanes) opened south of the transitway October 29, 2000.
Long Beach: Metro Blue Line (light rail) began operation June 14, 1990.
Pasadena: Construction had begun on this line when MTA halted rail construction in 1998. Subsequently, the California Legislature created the Pasadena Blue Line Authority to construct the line (renamed the Metro Gold Line when it began operation July 26, 2003). The Gold Line was extended via the Eastside Transit Corridor on November 15, 2009, and an extension of the Gold Line to Azusa (built by the construction authority) is expected to begin operation in 2014. A link through downtown Los Angeles between the Blue and Gold Lines, now called the Regional Connector, was included in the 2008 Measure R project list, as was an extension of Eastside Gold Line farther east.
Route 2: The original route, adopted by LACTC in 1982 and shown at right, used a former Pacific Electric right-of-way to connect with what is now the Red Line at Hollywood/Highland Station. It was later identified as the most cost-effective rail project, after Exposition (either elevated or subway from La Cienega & Santa Monica to Hollywood & Highland), but it was eliminated from consideration shortly thereafter, ostensibly because of funding issues, but also because of the controversy surrounding the Wilshire Blvd. segment. With the Red Line now operating underneath Vermont Ave., this alignment is no longer considered necessary. RTD had responsibility for building the subway, while LACTC kept control of light rail construction; LACTC later transferred the light rail lines to RTD as well, in exchange for RTD dropping its opposition to the creation of the Foothill Transportation Zone (Foothill Transit) in the late 1980s.
San Fernando East-West: An extension of the Metro Red Line from Wilshire/Vermont Station to Hollywood/Vine Station began operation on June 12, 1999; an extension to North Hollywood began operation on June 24, 2000. LACTC acquired the former Southern Pacific Burbank-Chandler right-of-way in 1990 to extend the route via light rail, but when MTA halted all rail construction in 1998 this line was still in the planning stages (although LACTC had completed the Environmental Impact Report). In 2005, MTA opened the Metro Orange Line busway on the corridor. An extension of the Orange Line to Chatsworth Metrolink Station is under construction and expected to begin operation in the summer of 2012.
San Fernando North-South/West Los Angeles/South Bay-Harbor: This line was supposed to operate down the center of the I-405 freeway from Sylmar to Long Beach. So far, all that's happened is carpool lanes north of US-101 and south of I-105, although the Measure R project list includes a I-405 corridor connection project, part of which involves the presently-under construction northbound carpool lanes between I-10 and US-101 (the southbound carpool lanes have been in place for many years already).
Santa Ana: This was to be an extension of (or connection to) a light rail line operated by the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) down the center of I-5. Proof of this line's death is that the Metro Green Line stops a little over a mile short of I-5, and OCTA has lost interest in the alignment as well. It appeared on the Measure R project list in 2008, but has a low priority (only some "early planning" has taken place).
Wilshire: Metro Red Line (subway) began operation from Union Station/Gateway Transit Center to Westlake/MacArthur Park Station on January 30, 1993; the line was extended to Wilshire/Western Station on July 13, 1996.
Wilshire West: After political maneuvering by various parties (using the possibility of "dangerous methane gas pockets under Wilshire Boulevard", for which see the link under the Route 2 alignment), the subway alignment was moved south from Wilshire/Western Station toward Pico/San Vicente, where an existing transit center shared by MTA and Santa Monica Municipal Bus Lines would be utilized as a multi-modal hub. No plans existed for it to go any farther west when MTA halted rail construction in 1998; Metro Rapid Line 720 has been operating on Wilshire Blvd. since June 24, 2000. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa favors an extension of the subway on the original proposed alignment, and it was included on the list of projects funded by 2008's Measure R. Metro now calls this the Westside Subway Extension project, and has conducted several rounds of public meetings since 2007 to gather information for the environmental impact report.
Matthew Barrett of Metro's Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Research Library has prepared a slide show on the history of Los Angeles rail service, We thank him for also providing the Proposition A voter information map and the maps of the 1974 and 1976 proposals.
I also recommend The Seven Eras of Rapid Transit Planning in Los Angeles by Robert P. Sechler on the Southern California Scenic Railway Association website as a further insight into the history of rail transit planning in the region.
(Thanks to Edmund Buckley at Western Transit for locating the Herald-Examiner graphic of the original Red Line route, Darrell Clarke for providing the 1968 RTD proposal and 1982 LACTC maps, Dana Gabbard for unearthing the second Proposition A map, Elson Trinidad for the LACTC/SP map, and to Tom Wetzel for providing additional background information.)