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!