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Metro Cut Late Night Rail Service, Blamed Regional Connector

Two days ago Metro cut late night rail service, including cutting Foothill Gold Line train service by over an hour. Photo via Gold Line Construction Authority

Metro is finally testing its new Regional Connector subway project. Metro riders are eager to ride the expanded light rail lines, and to experience shorter trip times and fewer transfers. The new subway isn't anticipated to open for another month or so, but Metro has already implemented the first Regional Connector impacts to transit service: cutting back late night trains. What? Why?

Last week's Metro late night service cuts announcement - via The Source
Last week's Metro late night service cuts announcement - via The Source
Last week's Metro late night service cuts announcement - via The Source

Metro announced the latest service cuts just after 3 p.m. Friday Wednesday afternoon - pretty late for service cuts going into effect two days later, on Sunday night. In addition to social media announcements, Metro shared the details via a post at The Source: Last train of night departures on A, E & L Lines are changing this Sunday, April 9. (Corrected 4/14: Streetsblog initially missed the initial Metro notice - which Metro did by updating a week-old blog post and via social media. Metro announced these cuts four days before they went into effect, not two days as SBLA had initially reported.)

Transit riders know that when Metro announces service changes that is pretty much always a euphemism for service cuts.

These new cuts impact the three Metro light rail lines being tied together by the new downtown L.A. Regional Connector subway: the A (Blue) Line, E (Expo) Line and L (Gold) Line. Late night service has been cut by over 30 minutes on all four legs, and by over an hour on the Foothill Gold Line. Here are the new departure times for the four terminus stations:

    • A Line Downtown Long Beach Station last train went from 11:53 p.m. to 11:06 p.m. (47 minutes cut)
    • E Line Downtown Santa Monica Station went from 12:00 a.m. to 11:14 p.m. (46 minutes cut)
    • L Line Atlantic Station went from 12:08 a.m. to 11:37 p.m. (31 minutes cut)
    • L Line Azusa Pacific University/Citrus Station went from 12:14 a.m. to 11:02 p.m. (1 hour 12 minutes cut)

Similar reductions went into effect for trains outbound from downtown L.A.:

    • A Line from 7th Street Station last train went from 12:10 a.m. to 12:03 a.m. (7 minutes cut)
    • E Line from 7th Street Station went from 12:13 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. (13 minutes cut)
    • L Line from Pico/Aliso Station to Atlantic went from 12:50 a.m. to 12:10 a.m. (40 minutes cut)
    • L Line from Union Station to Azusa went from 12:47 a.m. to 12:14 a.m. (33 minutes cut)

There were also some smaller service cuts (and one small increase) for early morning trains. These cuts are arguably within the range of minor adjustments needed to make the new Connector work:

    • A Line inbound from LB first train went from 4:00 a.m. to 4:07 a.m. (7 minutes cut)
    • A Line outbound to LB went from 3:57 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. (3 minutes cut)
    • E Line inbound from SM went from 4:29 a.m. to 4:36 a.m. (7 minutes cut)
    • E Line outbound to SM went from 4:10 a.m. to 4:03 a.m (7 minutes added)
    • L Line inbound from Atlantic went from 3:57 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. (3 minutes cut)
    • L Line outbound to Atlantic went from 3:49 a.m to 4:10 a.m. (21 minutes cut)
    • L Line inbound from Azusa went from 3:14 a.m. to 3:42 a.m. (28 minutes cut)
    • L Line outbound to Azusa went from 3:57 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. (3 minutes cut)

Hank Fung, chair of the Metro Community Advisory Council, visited several stations on Sunday night and tweeted his findings that Metro had posted little to no notice of the service cuts at the impacted stations. As of press time Tuesday, Google Maps transit directions (which this Streetsblog editor uses to navigate Metro transit) still show the wrong outdated schedule. The hasty cuts with little notice likely stranded some Metro riders expecting to take late night trains that were no longer in service.

Metro didn't explicitly announce whether these changes are permanent, which means that they likely are. Unless the riding public and transit advocates protest to get them reversed.

Note also that these cuts are on top of Metro not having fully restored pre-pandemic rail service.  The A Line was already operating at 83 percent of pre-COVID service levels; the E Line and L Line were at 78 and 92 percent respectively.

Why is Metro further cutting rail service? According to The Source, it is "due to Regional Connector testing." Regional Connector construction is essentially complete, with a grand opening rumored to take place next month. This new subway that Metro promotes as "mak[ing] it easier to ride across L.A. County" and "increas[ing] opportunities for jobs, education and essential services" now seems to mean that late shift workers and event goers lose about an hour of service.

And the cuts are in place now, when the connector is not even open - and no opening has been announced.

Perhaps there are other factors at play? Metro is recovering from a partially self-inflicted bus operator shortage. That shortage, coupled with the newly opened K Line operations, has perhaps resulted in a shortage of light rail operators, who Metro generally hires from the bus operator ranks.

Tying together three formerly independent lines, with multiple far-flung rail yards, is very complex. Last train end-of-line processes have been complicated by the presence of many unhoused riders.

So, perhaps, with all these complications, the agency is really pushing hard to open the Connector, and really did need to trim something back somewhere? But Metro hasn't shared any of that information.

(On April 12, this article was updated to add more train time specifics)

Regional Connector map - image via Metro
Regional Connector map - image via Metro
Regional Connector map - image via Metro

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