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!

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