Weekend Musings

It’s a quiet weekend. Yesterday was spent cleaning the house and doing desk stuff (as well as starting Season 2 of “The Tudors”). Today, after finishing the cleaning (and a few more hours of “The Tudors”), we’re going to Fiesta Hermosa, dinner, and then to the Hermosa Beach Playhouse to see “The Green Room” (where we’ll meet up with shutterbug93). Tomorrow we’ll see “Star Trek” (probably at 11a or 1135a) [possibly with ellipticcurve], and after that, the kid is off with her tech-crew friends to CityWalk, while we do… who knows what?

Of course, this means at least two reviews, but those will be for tomorrow. So, for today, let me share an interesting article about the former Fred Harvey restaurant at Union Station. I remember seeing this first back in the 1980s, when the UCLA team won the regional programming contest, and took the train to St. Louis. There was this empty, abandoned restaurant (and you know how I am fascinated by abandoned buildings). Years pass, and it turns out the space is used. No, not as a restaurant (too expensive to bring up to code), but as a rental facility for parties and events. As for Fred Harvey, he will live on as well. As part of the completion of Carhouse 7 at OERM, a large number of rail cars parked on the side of Carhouse 1 have been moved to Carhouse 7’s protective storage (at least according to the most recent Gazette). According to the same Gazette, that space will eventually become a Harvey Museum, spearheaded by the museum’s own Harvey Girl Society. With respect to OERM, I should note that the growth of this museum (and its museum family) has been remarkable. We joined back in the mid-1980s (the group itself dates back to the late 1950s), and the progress in just over 20 years has been amazing, and is a true credit to the museum’s volunteer leadership.


Idiot. A Pure Idiot.

I’m sure he thought he was doing the railfan community a service. But he was an idiot.

We’ve been hearing more and more about this engineer at the controls of the Chatsworth Metrolink. He was sending text messages to railfans. He was letting them ride in the cab. He was letting them operate the controls.

Everytime I hear them, I go “Idiot!”

He wasn’t doing the community a service, he was doing it a disservice. Further, the railfans should have known better. Only by abiding by the safety rules can this hobby be viewed positively. When a fan permits safety rules to be violated, even for their own benefit, they hurt the entire community. And the engineer who permits it, when carrying paying customers, is equally stupid — for he knows the rules and puts lives at danger.

There are controlled ways to get cab rides, in environments where safety comes first. Public trackage is not the place.

There. Now that’s out of my system.


May Be Of Interest To Some, But Not To Others

  • Hey larymotrmn! You might be interested in the San Fernando Valley Historical Society meeting on Thursday night at 7:30pm 7:00 pm at the Andres Pico Adobe (map). The speaker is David Coscia on “Pacific Electric Railway and the History of the San Fernando Valley”. I think we need some shills in the audience to keep him honest :-).
  • Hey cast album and theatre fans! With the recent merger of Sirus and XM, I was worried about the future of “Downstage Center”. For those unfamiliar with it, Downstage Center is an interview program hosted by Howard Sherman of the American Theatre Wing and John Von Soosten. With the merger, “On Broadway” moved from XM 28 to XM 75 (Sirius 77) and changed on-air hosts. So I dropped a note to the folks at the American Theatre Wing. Their response:

    Sirius XM has informed ATW of their intent to continue “Downstage Center,” but details are to be worked out. We are currently waiting for further details and hope to be back on the air very soon.

    Fans are welcome to express their support by writing to:

    On Broadway
    Sirius Xm Satellite Radio
    1221 Avenue of the Americas
    New York NY 10020

    We need to write Sirius XM and let them know to support this excellent program.

  • Hey, Cy Coleman Fans! In other theatre stuff, finally Cy Coleman’s “The Life” is being done in Los Angeles. Alas, another one of Cy’s shows I want to see, “I Love My Wife” is up on Goldstar, but the one date I can make (Saturday @ 2pm) is sold out. I do hope it shows up again.
  • Hey, Big Bang Theory and Humor Fans! To those that have never watched “The Big Bang Theory”: You should. This was the week they introduced rock-paper-scissors-lizard-spock to the world. Further, if you have a TIVO, look at the end card. Here’s this week’s (every week is different):

    Dear George Lucas,

    May I call you Mr. Lucas? On behalf of the writers of The Big Bang Theory, I would like to thank you for your astounding body of work, which has awakened the child within us and unleashed our dreams. That being said, we hope you don’t take offense at our good-natured jest regarding your most recent animated efforts. Yes they were cheap shots, but we can’t help but hold you to a higher standard — a standard of your own making. In closing, we are all looking forward to Indiana Jones 5 – The Curse of the Golden Catheter. Oops, sorry again.

    Very truly yours,

    The Writers

    P.S. To William Shatner, director of Star Trek 5. Go ahead, sue us.


A Bittersweet Golden (i.e., mixed red and yellow) Anniversary

The following will certainly be of interest to larymotrmn, zarchasmpgmr, jumbach, and the other transit and rail fans on my FL. March 3, 2008 will be a bittersweet golden anniversary. As noted in the February 17, 1958 edition of the LA Times (page 1, page 2), March 3, 1958 was the date that the original Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority took over control of rail and bus lines from Metropolitan Coach Lines, Los Angeles Transit Lines, and Asbury Coach Lines. From MCL, MTA received 711 busses, and 71 rail cars, operating over 1,242 one-way route miles. From LATL, MTA got 721 motorbusses, 109 trolley coaches, and 207 streetcars operating over 291.5 one-way route miles. From Asbury, MTA received 51 motorbusses operating over 173 route miles. MTA also received property such as the PE Terminal (not the PE Building) and the LATL building. MTA was promising better line operation. The article quoted the new MTA head as saying: “Within a month the public transportation riders will see an improvement throughout the system through changes in schedules and a changeover, as far as Metropolitan Coach Lines is concerned, from rail cars to more satisfactory busses.” The first rail line to be abandoned: the Bellflower Line. A long range product was elimination of all streetcars.

As for livery, the busses were going to initially remain in their MCL and other colors. They would be repainted. Two-toned blue was discussed, as well as red, orange, and green. According to the head of MTA, “I don’t care what, just so long as it is not yellow and green (the colors of LATL and Metropolitan Coach Lines).” Of course, the green at least lasted for a long time — I remember green busses when I rode RTD busses in the mid-1960s.

Of course, we all know that the original MTA, and its successor the (ahem) Rapid Transit District, didn’t fully improve the system. We’re seeing a return to streetcars (ahem) “light rail” and subways. Los Angeles is being on identifying transit problems, and proposing solutions, but not on actually fixing the problems.


Learning from History

Today’s lunchtime perusal of the LA Times brings an interesting article about a transportation forum recently held at the Peterson Automobile Museum. The forum, which discussed the proposed “Subway to the Sea”, was focused on how to fund the project. Everyone showed support for a subway, including representatives of Santa Monica, West Hollywood and Beverly Hills. Everyone also agreed it would take bundles of money that have yet to materialize. L.A. Councilman Tom LaBonge said he favored a parcel tax on L.A. County residents and said he thought that most people would pay $52 per year to fund transit projects across the county.

Yet there is another proposal out there. L.A. Councilman Jack Weiss last week asked the city to study whether a public-private partnership could be used. The idea would be to allow a private firm to build and run the subway, with government oversight. Weiss believes that “Private capital markets are enormous, and maybe there’s a way to tap them”.

Me thinks that the honorable Mr. Weiss doesn’t know his history.

Many people have heard of the famous Los Angeles “Red Car” system. It was made popular by movies such as “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?”, and there is a popular theory that what killed the “World’s Greatest Electrica Railway System” with “1000 miles of standard trolley lines” was a conspiracy of GM, Firestone Tire, and Standard Oil. Of course, this theory isn’t true for Los Angeles. So what killed the Red Cars (and its system system, the Los Angeles “Yellow Cars” Railway)? The simple answer is: a public-private partnership.

Any road network is inherently subsidized. The users of the road, both public transportation and private vehicles, pay for its upkeep through taxes, and thus tend not to realize the costs. This isn’t true for a rail network, where the railroad companies must pay for the right of way, must pay for construction of the rail lines, must pay for upkeep and maintenance on those lines, and must pay for the vehicles and infrastructure on those lines. Even if government was to acquire the right of way, over the long term, the other costs are sizable and are only recouped via revenue. But revenue is tricky: the PUC typically places caps on what can be charged, and there is only so much that can be charged before people stop using the transit.

That’s the real factor that killed the Red and Yellow Cars. The Pacific Electric (and LARy) for years applied for fees that would allow them to recoup costs and improve infrastructure. They were repeatedly denied fare increases by the PUC, which demanded service improvements. So, the PE and LARy bought busses, which ran on streets (paid for via taxes) vs. private right of way. The busses also gave them flexibility in routing as the city grew and transportation needs changed. It is what could kill a private subway, and it is what led to the creation of the first MTA — private “public” transportation wasn’t profitable.

Yes, there is the chance that a private subway could succeed. But to do so, the stars would need to really align. First, gas prices would have to rise sufficiently to offset the fares (remembering that as gas prices go up, the cost of the electricity for the lines also tends to go up). Secondly, there would need to be sufficient additional income, likely realized by the sale of advertising space to bombard the captive audience: seat ads, station ads, video screens in stations, etc. (such advertising wasn’t pervasive in the PE era). Thirdly, the lax MTA fare enforcement would have to be strengthened.

Folks like Mr. Weiss need to remember that California is not used to tolls. As I recall, the Foothill Toll Lanes (i.e., Route 241, 261, 73, and portions of 133) are just starting to break even. The Route 91 Express Lanes weren’t successful, and ended up being purchased by OCTA. I don’t know the profitability of the HOT lanes on I-15 near San Diego, but I think those are more capacity controls than profit based. The Bay Area is primarily used to toll bridges, which are a distinctly different thing.


Comprehensive Rail Networks for Los Angeles

An entry in the LA Times Bottleneck Blog has an interesting pointer to a website called Get LA Moving (a project of The Transit Coalition). This website proposed a comprehensive rail network for Los Angeles that includes, among other things:

  • The Bronze Line. 53 Miles of Track (47.3 Miles of New Track). The line begins near the Van Nuys Blvd/Foothill Freeway (I-210) intersection and continues south down Van Nuys to Ventura. East down Ventura to Sepulveda. It then continues down the Sepulveda Pass from Sepulveda/Ventura to the UCLA station at Strathmore/Westwood, with a small diversion to the Getty Center tram station. South down Westwood to Pico; and southwest down Pico to the eastern shoulder of the 405 Freeway. Southeasterly down the eastern shoulder of the 405 freeway to Culver; continuing southeasterly down Sepulveda to El Segundo; and south down the western shoulder of Sepulveda from El Segundo to Rosecrans at-grade. East down Rosecrans to the existing Green line tracks; and southeast down the Green Line ROW to Marine/Redondo Beach Ave. Southeast down the Harbor Subdivision ROW to the western shoulder of the 405 Fwy, continuing southeast to Hawthorne Blvd. South down Hawthorne Blvd. to the Harbor Subdivision ROW at 190th. Southeast down the Harbor Subdivision tracks at-grade to Crenshaw; continuing down the Harbor Subdivision to Normandie. South down Normandie to Pacific Coast Highway. East down PCH, continuing after the Los Alamitos Circle down Atherton to Bellflower, veering southeast to the Cal State Long Beach/Long Beach Veterans Hospital terminus at 7th Street/Campus Drive.
  • The Lime Line. 24.2 Miles of Track (19.7 Miles of New Track). The line would extend west from the Glendale Galleria station down Broadway sharing tracks with the Gold line to the Valley Subdivision/Metrolink ROW, which rusn parallel to San Fernando Road. Northwest up the ROW at-grade to the Coast Subdivision/Metrolink ROW; continuing at-grade down the ROW to Sherman Way. West down Sherman Way to Reseda; and north up Reseda Blvd to Nordhoff. West down Norhoff to the Coast Subdivision/Metrolink ROW; and north up the ROW at-grade to the Chatsworth Metrolink station terminus.
  • The Gold Line. 37.2 Miles of Track (33.5 Miles of New Track). The line would extend west from the Old Town Pasadena station down Walnut to the 134 freeway; continuing west to Colorado Blvd. West down Colorado Blvd to Broadway; continuing west down Broadway to the Valley Subdivision/Metrolink ROW parallel to San Fernando Road. Northwest up the ROW at-grade to Olive Street; and southwest down Olive to North Pass Ave. Southwest under Universal Studios to Ventura/Lankershim. West down Ventura to Wilbur; and north up Wilbur to the southern shoulder of the Ventura (101) Freeway to Canoga Ave. North up Canoga Ave to the Burbank Branch/San Fernando Valley Busway ROW near Vanowen to Plummer; continuing north up the Coast Subdivision ROW at-grade to the Chatsworth Metrolink station terminus.

This would make it easy to get to work. Bike to Northridge Fashion Center, and thenk take the Lime Line to the Bronze Line to the Green Line.

I do think the proposal has some problems. It abandons (or makes into a trolley) the current portion of the green line between Imperial/Aviation to Rosecrans. I’d keep that as an alternate terminus for the Green Line — it is important because of the rail maintenance yards. In fact, the one thing many of these fancy plans do is forget the maintenance and storage yards, especially for lines that have different types of equipment or power. That is a significant concern, especially for lines that move from at-grade to elevated to below-grade. For some, you prefer overhead catenary, and for others, third-rail. I do think the proposal is better in its valley coverage than the proposal developed by Numan Parada, although Numan’s map does a better job for the Green Line. It certainly is an improvement over the current approach.

Will we ever see this? Who knows. But the maps are pretty and fun to look at, and one can always dream 🙂


Now Departing on Track 29…

[An observation while waiting for the tea to cool…]

Allied Model Trains in Culver City is closing its big store.

This weekend, Allied Model Trains is closing, to be reopened in a smaller space across the street in July. The original owner is retiring, and a former worker, together with some competitors, is taking it over. Land is too valuable, and a camera store will be taking over the Union Station scale-model building on Sepulveda Blvd.

What’s killing Allied? The shrinking of the model train hobby, combined with the fact that, to quote the owner:

Then there is the looky-loo hobbyist who, he said, comes in, checks out the latest model trains with powerful lights and digital sounds but buys almost nothing.

“He says, ‘Wow, I would love that.’ Then he walks out of here with a tube of glue and a magazine and buys it online from some guy working out of a barn in the middle of Kansas. Folks like that are the first ones to scream, ‘I can’t believe you’re leaving.’ “

Now, I remember Allied from their old location on Pico. I would stop by occasionally and pick up books on the Pacific Electric (I was never into model trains, unlike my colleague Marshall). I think I visited the Culver City location once. So I’m certainly not helping. Still, I loved the store and its look, and it is sad to see such architecture lose its use, and the city to lose such a resource.