Los Angeles Anticipates Light Rail Line
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
And I'm Michele Norris.
This afternoon in Los Angeles, drivers will be doing what they do most afternoons in Los Angeles: sitting in their cars and waiting and waiting. But soon, Angelenos will be able to avoid their city's gridlock by using a new light-rail line.
NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports that after numerous delays and cost overruns, the first phase of a rail project will connect downtown to L.A.'s Westside.
MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Car-choked Los Angeles once had one of the most extensive public transportation networks in the country. In fact, the city's newest light-rail trains are running along one stretch of the old electric streetcar tracks.
(Soundbite of bell)
Mr. ZEV YAROSLAVSKY (County Supervisor, Los Angeles): Seeing the train come down these tracks, something I knew we would eventually see. I just hoped I'd live long enough to see it, and here we are.
DEL BARCO: L.A. County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky was among the officials watching this week's safety test run of the new Expo line.
Mr. YAROSLAVSKY: People are thirsting for public mass transportation. They're tired of sitting in their cars not moving, gasoline costing four and a half dollars a gallon. You know, there's a tipping point, and people want an alternative.
DEL BARCO: It's been half a century since rail passengers could get from downtown L.A. to the beach. But Yaroslavsky says the new Expo line is back to the future. He remembers riding the old trolleys as a boy.
Mr. YAROSLAVSKY: You know, when you look at the map of the old red car, it brings tears to your eyes because we had a great system. It could have been modernized and improved upon, but it would have been a lot cheaper to modernize and improve it than to dismantle it and then recreate it.
(Soundbite of train horn)
DEL BARCO: By the roaring 1920s, more than 1,000 miles of electric trolley lines and trains rails ran through the ever-expanding Los Angeles. The Pacific Electric's red and yellow streetcar lines led to L.A.'s early real estate boom. An old news reel from 1937 shows child actress Shirley Temple inaugurating one line.
Ms. SHIRLEY TEMPLE (Actress): All right, Mr. Mayor and Mr. City Attorney, get ready for the first trip on your beautiful new streetcar. All aboard.
DEL BARCO: By 1963, L.A. replaced the last of its streetcars with a web of freeways and bus lines. That led to conspiracy theories that the streetcars were dismantled by private companies who stood to profit: General Motors, Standard Oil and tire companies. That villainous plot figured into the 1988 movie "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."
(Soundbite of movie, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit")
Mr. BOB HOSKINS (Actor): (as Eddie Valiant) Come on, nobody's gonna drive this lousy freeway when they can take the Red Car for a nickel.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER LLOYD (Actor): (as Judge Doom) Oh, they'll drive. They'll have to. You see, I bought the Red Car so I could dismantle it.
Mr. ART LEAHY (Metropolitan Transportation Authority): It was truly the city in love with automobiles. They were unlimited. They were cheap. They were convenient.
DEL BARCO: Art Leahy, whose parents were both streetcar operators, now heads L.A.'s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He says there was no outcry when the old Red Cars stopped.
Mr. LEAHY: I don't think anybody especially cared. There are these glowing articles in the L.A. Times about how the buses are going to be so much better, so much faster. The freeway is going to be so wonderful. So nobody anticipated that this freeway system would get choked down like it is today.
DEL BARCO: The city has now spent decades and $930 million constructing and operating the new train system. But there has been some opposition.
Mr. DAMIEN GOODMON: When the rail line goes in, people will be killed.
DEL BARCO: Community activist Damien Goodmon lobbied to get some parts of the Expo line built above or below street level, particularly around school sites.
Mr. GOODMON: There will be accidents. And you're going to deal with the structural damage to the homes. It's already happened during construction. You're going to deal with the ridiculous noise pollution from these trains coming.
DEL BARCO: Many of these safety and noise concerns have been factored in to what L.A.'s transportation CEO Art Leahy envisions will eventually be a whole new transportation network for L.A.
Mr. LEAHY: Commuter rail, light rail, subways, more buses. So this really is a fundamental shift in Los Angeles, much more toward the model that you see in Chicago and New York and Washington, D.C.
(Soundbite of music)
DEL BARCO: Many of L.A.'s 11 million residents already depend on public transportation. Among them, 46-year-old Utilia Garcia, who lives near the new station on Exposition Boulevard. She says she's excited about soon being able to get to the Westside without a car.
Ms. UTILIA GARCIA: It's going to be a really good idea because, you know, the gas prices, they're really, really high, and we're going to save a lot of money.
DEL BARCO: L.A.'s new Expo Line opens for passengers in November. It's set to reach Culver City next year and make it all the way to the Santa Monica beach by 2015.
Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.