A Photo Essay of a Tour of the Gold Line Foothill Extension

This Wednesday, Aviv Kleinman and Damien Newton of Streetsblog joined a behind-the-scenes tour of the Gold Line Foothill Extension under construction in the San Gabriel Valley. We joined Albert Ho, head of Media Relations for the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, and Jeff Rowland, the Community Relations Manager for the Kiewit-Parsons Joint Venture, the constructors of the project.

Jeff Rowland, the Community Relations Manager for the  Kiewit-Parsons Joint Venture, knows just about everything there is to know about the Gold Line extension, and railroad construction in general. I made sure to pick his brain with many questions throughout the day, and he was able to answer them all with facts and figures.

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Yours truly waiting for a train at the Monrovia Station. If there were a LCD screen showing waiting time for the next train, it would display “1273236 minutes” (until November, 2016, of course.) All photos by Aviv Kleinman/Streetsblog L.A., except where specified otherwise

It was the most comprehensive tour we could have ever imagined, and we had a long and great day on the tour. We toured the future Maintenance and Operations (M&O) facility, the flyover bridge that crosses the 210 Freeway, and many future stations and sections of track alignment. We’re splitting tour coverage into four separate posts: The first about the line in general, the second about the maintenance yard, the third about the iconic bridge, and the fourth about Transit-Oriented-Development built and planned around the line.

The Metro Gold Line is a 19.7 mile light rail line running from East Los Angeles to Pasadena via Union Station in Downtown L.A. The line’s first phase entered service in 2003, serving 21 stations. The line’s third phase, the Foothill Extension, will extend from its current terminus in East Pasadena, at Sierra Madre Villa to Azusa, serving another 6 stations over the course of 11.3 miles. The extension will serve five cities directly, and it is proposed to transform transportation and development patterns in the San Gabriel Valley. Once bounded by the distress of being caught in freeway gridlock, San Gabriel Valley residents will now have the freedom to commute by Metro rail into Downtown LA and endless locations from there by using the new Gold Line extension.

In this first installment of the series, we explore the stations, track alignment, and construction machinery and processes. Photos and renderings will be displayed in that order.

Monrovia
Artist’s rendering of the future Monrovia Station. Courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority .

Rowland explained that in the initial phase of the Gold Line construction between L.A. and Pasadena, Metro asked each municipality that would host a station to design their own ‘personalized’ station that would be an art piece portraying a theme of the municipality’s choice. Art is great, but, according to Rowland, art the size of a train station is pricey. At the price tag of $25 million each, the current stations are marvelous and magnificent, but their costs were just too high for the second phase of the line.

For the current Foothill Extension phase, each station was designed with a “cookie-cutter” design, which, at only $5 million each, left a hefty budget for constructing peripherals around each station, such as large park-and-ride facilities. There is a smaller budget set aside for some personalized art pieces at each station, but the ‘cookie-cutter’ design was much more efficient. And, according to Streetsblog’s beloved Damien Newton, “Who doesn’t love cookies?”

Side Platform Rendering
Cookie-cutter design for stations: Side Platform Station schematic courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority. (Click image for higher resolution.)
Center Platform Rendering
Cookie-cutter design for stations: Center Platform Station schematic courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority. (Click image for higher resolution.)
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The Arcadia Station. The track-laying process is a long one with many complicated steps, and in many places, like this one, ready-for-train sections of tracks end abruptly at spaces where the track is not yet laid. The steps to lay train tracks will be discussed further in this article.

 

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The Duarte/City of Hope station
Duarte City of Hope
Duarte/City of Hope station rendering. Courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority.

 

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Grade-level photo at the Monrovia Station. These concrete ties were just recently laid, and as we can see, have not yet been straightened completely. In the foreground we see larger ties that are meant to be positioned under grade-crossings, in this case a pedestrian grade-crossing. The further, smaller ties, are standard for the track alignment.
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The track alignment immediately west of the iconic flyover bridge. The line will run for 4.1 miles along the median of the 210 Freeway from East Pasadena’s Sierra Madre Villa Station, the terminus of the current phase of the Gold Line.

As Damien Newton wrote, “building a light rail line is hard.” Jeff Rowland explained the general process in 6 parts:

  1.  The line’s alignment is planned, area zoned accordingly, and necessary properties purchased.
  2.  The alignment’s land is graded and an initial layer of Rail Ballast is laid down.
  3. Ties are positioned, and tracks are fastened upon them.
  4. Track Ballast is packed under, between, and around ties, and then shaped by a Ballast Regulator (pictured below)
  5. In the case of a light rail system such as the Gold Line, the catenary, or OCS (Overhead Contact system), which provides electricity to the train’s pantograph, is installed above the tracks.
  6. Trains are delivered, the track is electrified, and commuters and pleasure-travelers alike enjoy a sustainable mode of transportation!
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“Dinah, won’t you blow your horn?”
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Track sections are delivered in 80-foot pieces, and welded to 400-foot lengths. At this length, the tracks are very malleable, ‘like spaghetti,’ and can be shaped as the constructors wish.
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According to Rowland, this grade crossing directly southeast of the Arcadia Station was exceptionally complicated, due to its diagonal nature that required the reconstruction of the entire intersection. Local residents and businesses have faced road closures for upwards of four months.The expansion authority provides shuttle buses to circumvent road closures, and prints  banners and flyers for businesses to distribute and display.
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A Ballast Regulator found working on the alignment that runs along Duarte Road. These fine pieces of machinery include a shaping plow (pictured in the foreground) that will form the ballast to its trapezoidal shape, and a street-sweeper-like spinning drum attached to its posterior, which flails large strips of rubber around, clearing away any awry ballast.
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These hopper cars (found on the alignment along the median of The 210) carry ballast and distribute it along the track.
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Pizza’s here! A dump truck delivers a fresh batch of track ballast to a staging area just southeast of the 210 flyover bridge.
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Hundreds of concrete ties await their fate of being laid along the alignment to eventually hold the rails.
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…and these rails await their marriage to those ties.
As previously mentioned, rails are delivered in 80′ pieces, but are welded to form 400′ sections.
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This ‘SpeedSwing’ is a hi-rail vehicle. As all hi-rail vehicles, it is equipped with standard tires to move about roads and construction sites, along with retractable flanged wheels that allow it to ride the rails like a train is able to.
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The hi-rail SpeedSwing retracting its flanged wheels to rubber tires in order to navigate about the construction site. Notice the metal sound wall on the left. It is filled with sound-absorbing material in order to keep the sounds of the train on the inside of the wall. According to Rowland, “the trains are so quiet, the loudest thing about them is usually just the whoosh of the wind that trails behind them.”
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The SpeedSwing in motion, carrying a cargo of concrete railroad ties. Wow, these things are cool!
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A trailer that is outfitted to be able to be towed down the railway track
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Streetsblog head Damien Newton, Streetsblog intern Aviv Kleinman (yours truly), and Albert Ho, Media Relations director for the Expansion Authority, stand proudly near the 210 flyover bridge (in order from right). What a great tour! Thank you Albert and Jeff!!

Tune in next time for a tour of the Maintenance & Operations (M&O) facility! 

  • AJ

    Can’t wait for Irwindale Station!

  • LAifer

    Awesome – great photo diary!

  • James Fujita

    I see nothing wrong with cookie cutters. I see cookie cutter stations all over the place, from San Francisco to Tokyo.

  • Micky

    They look like all the other Pasadena-route Gold Line stations… it’s fine to keep the new consistent with the old.

  • DTLARes

    These certainly make more sense than the Expo Line stations (which provide little or no shade). SMH.

  • MaxUtil

    Amen. Still minimal, but they look better even than some of the other gold line stations which have the same problem.

    I wonder if any of the side platform stations will have pedestrian access mid-platform where appropriate or if they’ll all have access only from either end. Pedestrian access still seems to be second thought at best for Metro.

  • Oh, are you the person who is going to use it?

  • Not sure why the Arcadia grade-crossing would be a challenge; The Santa Fe built the line there in the late 1800’s and maintained it in working order until at least the late 1990’s. This is not a new rail line ROW, just a change in use with the required upgrading of tracks and addition of overhead cantenary.

  • Side access? That requires the cost of (and space for) more turnstiles. Which I am not even sure these stations have space for. Remember citizen, turnstiles are infallible and keep us all safe from the evil-doers!

  • MaxUtil

    Are these stations going to be gated? Doesn’t look like it from the renderings. But maybe they’re pre-lockdown designs.

  • I’m looking forward to this being completed. I did a preview about a year and a half ago that was more focused on the track-adjacent neighborhoods… looks like things have moved along nicely!

    Here’s the link if you’re interested.

    http://www.kcet.org/socal/departures/columns/block-by-block/exploring-the-metro-gold-lines-foothill-extension-phase-2a.html

  • Alex

    I asked that same question to the editor of Metro’s blog. The editor said these stations aren’t gated.

  • Alex

    Scroll down and you will see my question (Alex) and the editor’s response (Steve Hymon):

    http://thesource.metro.net/2014/04/30/videos-spotlight-the-art-and-artists-of-the-gold-line-foothill-extension/

  • ubrayj02

    The vast sums of money being expended on parking lots around these stations needs to be written about more. It communicates something to the public about what we are worth if the stations are cookie cutter and the money that could have gone to make something special is being wasted on asphalt and white paint. These stations are going to pass through some nice commercial districts and the waste of money on parking lots instead of other amenities or design consideration is a scandal.

  • Aviv Kleinman

    Yes but, as Jeff Rowland explained, safety standards have increased greatly. Double crossing gates, increased cab operator visibility standards, etc. were rarely the case when this ROW was used by SF. Also, the light rail trains will be passing through at a much higher frequency than freight rail ever could have, which adds a very different dynamic to the intersection.

  • Aviv Kleinman

    So don’t we! And it saves lots of money as well.

  • davistrain

    To borrow a line from the Beach Boys, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” if passengers on our Metro Rail lines got to the station on bikes (such as Flying Pigeons) or buses (or their own two feet), but the real world of today calls for having some place for folks to park their “gas buggies”. I suspect that the sight of the massive parking structures under construction at Monrovia and Arcadia must be quite offensive to many Streetsbloggers, but they’re a reality. As far as station design is concerned, consider the San Diego Trolley system’s original line to San Ysidro–as I recall most of the stations were built to the same design. I believe that most passengers have little interest in the art work of the stations–they’re looking down the track, wondering when the train is coming, reading something, or chatting with traveling companions (or sometimes total strangers, which is one of the unquantifiable benefits of public transit).

  • Micky

    They aren’t even building THAT many parking spaces… about 150-200 spaces per station. They are nothing like Sierra Madre Villa’s 5-story 900-space structure.

    Expo I’s last two stops have more than a thousand spaces combined, so the Foothill Ext is on par with other similar lines in the system.

  • ubrayj02

    OMG, please tell me more about how “unrealistic” it is to design stations for non-motorized access while per capita VMT continues to drop, while car-lite and car-free household numbers continue to rise, while gentry continue to move back into the urban core, etc., etc., etc.

    And your point about nobody caring about the station design is a really, really, good point. Nobody cares about station design – and why should they when they are shit-scapes?

  • Joe Linton

    It’s incredible and sad that people can think 150-200 spaces are “not that many”

  • James

    I’m a bit annoyed by the use of the term “cookie cutter.” LA is a monument to bad design and architecture, not just bad in the sense of ugly but more significantly bad from the perspective of the user. Architectural criticism around here always seems to be limited to an artistic perspective in want of some form of novelty will little interest in any other measure of a building or a space. What I want to know is how well the platforms will work well for the people who use them. How easily can these stations be accessed by pedestrians and cyclists, how easy is it to quickly get the information need to board the correct train etc.

    People often look at Munich’s U-Bahn’s stations with envy and think “I wish our stations looked like that.” http://tinyurl.com/lppgekp So do I. LA’s subway stations are ugly or just stupid, gimmicky and annoying. But that is a small part of the problem. There also also poorly laid out, confusing and difficult to access and a joke in terms of infomation tech. Is this what happens when the architects and engineers involved have never used transit before? Is Metro scared of giving out to much information? The very first time I stepped foot in a U-bahn station in Munich I figured out everything I needed to know very quickly and never in my many years there did I have the trouble I’ve had using the subway here. Those pretty subway stations are some of the best designed, most functional and most convenient suway stations in the world. The color scheme is often the least impressive aspect. Metro seems to have gone for the opposite: ugly and difficult to use.

    These gold line station platforms appear to be quite pleasant and that is a pretty big improvement in these parts. Being on foot, on the sidewalk, in a bike lane, on a platform or anywhere inbetween buildings is almost always an unpleasant experience in southern california. Ugly, inconveniant, noisy, dangerous and a reminded that I am a second class citizen and an after or non-thought. Pleasant is about all I can hope for as far as aesthetics go. I just hope it is not another insult to the user.

  • Shelley K.

    I live in San Dimas and work in San Marino. Since the extension to Claremont is AT LEAST a decade away I will have to drive to the Citrus Station with my bike in the back so I can ride it to work from the Allen Station.

    I like aesthetically pleasing things, but excuse me if I believe that practicality is first and foremost. If there is no place to park, then I cannot ride.

  • Shelley K.

    See my comment above. I am 6 miles from the Citrus Station. There better be parking or I cannot ride.

  • Joe Linton

    are you expecting to park for free? or would it make sense for parking construction/maintenance costs to be covered by the folks who are parking there?