Gold Line Eastside Extension Set to Open 11/15. But Is Metro Ready to Party?

10_8_09_they_arrive.jpgThe start date is now November 15. Metro’s planning a party. Photo: Randall Fleming

Metro has finally announced the opening day of the Edward R. Roybal Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension, which is Sunday August 15th

The announcement states "Free rides on the entire Metro Gold Line from Pasadena to East Los Angeles will be offered on opening day …" Which is interesting since the motion the Metro Board approved Oct. 22nd only stated "APPROVE free fare on the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension on Opening Day." And at least one staffer told me just in the past few days that only the new segment was going to be free.

For the sake of crowd control on the 15th the extension will be operated as a separate shuttle, traveling between Union Station to Atlantic/3rd with 7 minute headways. Folks coming in on the Gold Line from its Pasadena through downtown L.A. segment will need to get off at Union Station and get in line to board the trains running on the extension. And those riding to the terminus of the extension at Atlantic/3rd will have to get off and get in line to re-board. I anticipate the trains will be sent out from both ends perhaps half full to leave space free to handle boardings at the other stations along the route.

My first concern is just how well this all will work.

All Metro Rail opening free rides have had an overwhelmed response of residents eager to try out the new lines or line segments and heretofore were held over a weekend. But for budgetary reasons the free rides this time are only being offered for one day. I still have vivid memories of the large numbers of people who came out on the second day of free rides to try the Green Line when it opened in 1995. I have to think interest in the intervening 14 years has only increased about our growing rail grid network but now we are forcing that demand to be met on only a single day.

This is also the first light rail extension opening which just adds to the challenges and complications, as the new segment will be hit with folks coming in on the existing segment to ride the extension. Plus of course many will get to Union Station via some combination of the Metro Blue, Green, Orange and Red/Purple Lines along with weekend Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and Metrolink Antelope Valley and San Bernardino line service. We haven’t even contemplated the many residents of East L.A. who have waited years for their rail line and I am sure eager to try it out. It all adds up to lots and lots of people.

Adding to our travails are that this is light rail. I also have vivid memories of the huge crowds of people boiling out of Wilshire/Western station in 1996 when MOS 2A opened and SO.CA.TA had a booth there opposite the escalator. Heavy rail can carry a lot more people than light rail. And given the extensive street running segments this project has I imagine a 7 minute headway is about the minimum Metro can safely run the trains. Likely the extension shuttle will operate with three car trains (the maximum length the platforms can handle) although even with that maximum capacity I think it can easily be foreseen that people will have long waits to board very crowded trains during the opening day celebration.

And now we encounter the last problem. Again for budgetary reasons Metro is not planning to operate a bus emulator to provide relief for people who tire of waiting and just want to get back to their originating station and/or Union Station.

This is a need which is easily foreseeable. When the initial Gold Line segment opened in 2003, it suffered a near meltdown over the two days it ran for free. Metro hastily dispatched buses to rescue people stranded for hours at the intervening stations as overcrowded trains passed them up. I very quietly raised this issue recently with Metro staff and while they admitted I likely am right they feel in current circumstances the agency can’t afford to run such buses. I think the price of running such buses is much cheaper than having the coverage of the opening day event marred by reports of chaos on the platforms. I predict as in 2003 Metro will belatedly realize buses serving the stations are needed, and of course by deciding to do it only at the last minute it will be poorly handled and somewhat chaotic itself. Maybe this post will make Metro staff aware this is a serious impending p.r. fiasco that they should avoid.

If you find yourself stuck at one of the 4 stations along 1st Street (Little Tokyo through Soto) you can ride Metro routes 30/31 which shadows the route in that area and can get you back downtown (although the closest it gets to Union Station is Little Tokyo).

The last three stations along 3rd Street (Maravilla, East LA Civic Center and Atlantic) are served by Montebello Bus Lines route 40 which also serves downtown.

And the Atlantic station is between 1st and 3rd, with both bus lines operating on the adjacent streets.

So at least I have made public the alternatives for escaping via bus to aid those who find themselves trapped in a mass of confused humanity during this event. My conscience can be somewhat clear about foreseeing what likely will happen and trying to avert it, to the extent that is possible. Forewarned is forearmed.

As I noted in my recent post "The View from a Folding Chair" these rail opening celebrations are a great opportunity for advocates to engage the public on transit issues.

Booths and various activities will be at 4 station locations from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  • East LA Civic Center
  • Mariachi Plaza
  • Little Tokyo Arts District
  • Union Station (East Portal)

SO.CA.TA likely will be at Union Station. It should be interesting to hear what people have to say plus share with them various transit related materials. Can you believe the 15th is less than three weeks away? WOW!

  • DJB

    The trains should be jammed on opening day. The point of free fares is to get a ridiculous amount of people to ride and attract press attention. There should be lots of people crowding onto platforms and into trains for eye-popping photo ops. It says “demand is overwhelming, lets build more of this”.

    This extension is a great victory, and truly a cause for celebration and all manner of child-like glee :)

    ¡Adelante, Metro!

  • 7 minute headways is pretty bad and theres no technical reason why they cant be shorter.

  • Spokker

    It honestly doesn’t matter what happens on November 15th. As long as people show up, who cares? What matters is November 16th.

    Yes, it’s going to be a logistical nightmare. Yes, there are going to be long lines and complaints. But it’s a celebration. Adjust your attitude accordingly and get to know your fellow transit rider. You’ll be pressed up against them anyway that day! ;)

  • Spokker, I think Metro not providing buses to serve the stations as a fallback when the trains are crammed full and people with kids etc, are standed perhaps for hours waiting to board a train deserves to be taken a bit more seriously than your flip attitude. Metro knows I’m right and is being shortsighted to not prepare accordingly.

    I hope all the folks who like to insinuate I am a rubber stamp for Metro note this is an example of my believing the agency is making a mistake and speaking up on same. But only after first giving it a fair chance via quiet communication to do the right thing.

    “You’ll be pressed up against them anyway that day!” Actually I am working a booth that day for SO.CA.TA, likely at the Union Station East Portal. I’ll get there on the subway and spend a day sharing ifnromation, answering questions, etc. Maybe in a week or so thereafter I’ll ride it to see how things are going.

  • And regarding the comments of Jass, I exchanged e-mails with Bruce Shelburne of Metro regarding the headways. Turns out (and this shouldn’t be a surprise) this stuff isn’t a=b, but prone to a myriad of factors. Movement of people is the big variable. Plus they are using every car available in the Gold Line fleet on that day and undertaking various measures to handle the large crowds that are expected.

  • “Metro knows I’m right and is being shortsighted to not prepare accordingly.”

    Then don’t ride the train on opening day. I think Metro is damned if they do and damned if they don’t regarding opening days. If they don’t do it, people will go, “Where is the free opening day?!” and since it’s the Eastside they’ll call it a racist decision to not celebrate the line’s opening with a free day. If they do an opening day, it’ll be a clusterfuck of unimaginable proportions. And since it’s the Eastside, people will say it’s racist to cram people of color into trains on opening day.

    So everybody should just relax and take the day in stride. And bring taxi fare if you’re so afraid of being stranded.

  • Spokker, I don’t dispute the logic of what you say. But the media coverage may include distracting wailing about the crowds. I still think Metro is foolish to not run some buses to help stranded folks, at least to minimize the p.r. fallout.

  • I followed the Seattle light rail opening and while there were reports of queues in the media, they weren’t negative. I think people are smart enough to know that free equals wait times.

  • Wad

    We are all cognizant of the budgetary problems, but Metro absolutely must run an emulator bus (Line 632 in its first incarnation) on Opening Day.

    If anyone remembered the Gold Line opening weekend in 2003, by the early afternoon crowds had gotten so large that there was a 4 hour wait time to get on a train.

    Those emulator buses saved the day. They were much slower, taking about an hour to serve all the Gold Line stations only, but they helped to shorten the long lines.

  • Rich

    I rode the Gold Line opening day in 2003… and I remember waiting in line for 2 hours as the line slowly moved its way from the Patsaouras plaza (inside near the ticket counter) to the platform. When we got to Chinatown’s aerial station, the doors opened on the WRONG side… as in, not on the platform side… No one fell out then, but damn was that freaky. I hope Metro’s got its systems worked out this time.

    I’ll be there on the opening day! Maybe I’ll board in Little Tokyo for shorter wait times…

  • Erik G.

    Now why would LA Metro have a car shortage? Surely the fine folks at AnsaldoBreda have delivered all 50 of the cars ordered from them by now?


  • Methinks a pirate booth folding bicycles for sale is in order. What say you?

    I think I’ll put the order for bicycles in now!

  • Chris

    More than anything, I hope the new extension means Metro will begin running 3 car trains. The crowds at Union Station for the Gold Line during rush hour are huge. There needs to be an extra car.

  • Wad

    Metro is capable of running 3-car trains on the Gold Line. It ran them on the day of the Michael Jackson memorial:

    When the Gold Line opened in 2003, only 2-car trains ran. At the time, the power stations could not handle 3-car trains, which led to the hours-long lines for a ride.

  • “the power stations could not handle 3-car trains…”

    Proof again the myth of the Gold Line Authority being cheaper, faster, better is a myth. Metro has spent millions fixing its mistakes, cheap engineering, etc. Yes, the line got built but we should not buy into the mythology surrounding that.


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