Metro in a Day
Back in 2017, I came across an article by David Ulin recounting his experience riding the entire LA Metro Rail system in a single day. Naturally being a bit of a transit junkie, I thought that maybe I could do something similar someday.
Five years later, I finally decided to repeat David’s journey. What spurred me to do so was the 25th anniversary of the Metropolitan Los Angeles Branch (MLAB) of ASCE. Originally founded in 1997, MLAB has nearly 2,500 members throughout Los Angeles County, making it one of the largest branches of ASCE in the country. My first thought to help commemorate such a large milestone was to finally take that trip that I conceived back in 2017. The A Line (Blue) was the first fixed rail line in the county since the closure of the Pacific Electric Red Car system and is only a few years older than MLAB, opening on July 14, 1990. Metro’s system has substantially grown since then, now having 6 different lines and 93 stations covering over 100 miles. It continues to grow with the K Line opening on October 7th and Downtown LA’s Regional Connector (definitely a game changer) scheduled to open later this year, with more lines currently under construction.
I chose July 16 for the trip, just two days after the 32nd anniversary of the A Line’s opening. My day started early in the morning. Arriving at the Norwalk C Line (Green) Station at 5:30 AM, I loaded a day pass onto my TAP card, for the discounted price of $3.50, which will be available through the end of 2022. Due to signal work that weekend, I had to take a shuttle bus two stops before boarding the C Line at the Long Beach Blvd station.
The furthest west I had ever previously taken the C Line was the Aviation/LAX station, which appeared to be the case for most passengers, as there were only a few people left in the car beyond that point. This end of the C Line is reported to have one of the lowest levels of ridership in the Metro Rail system, but it is in the works to extend the line southward to Torrance. When I arrived in Redondo Beach, the station was understandably very quiet.
I headed back the other direction to make my way to the A Line (Blue). I got off at the Rosa Parks Station and headed downstairs to transfer. I had a few minutes before the train arrived, so I decided to take a walk around the newly renovated station. It was very pleasant, with trees, shade structures, and a bike facility to safely secure your bike. After my walk, I headed back to the platform. At this point my day got a little more interesting, to put it kindly. While waiting, it became clear that the train was delayed, with no update as to why or when the train would arrive. The crowd of waiting passengers grew in both size and frustration. After 30 to 45 minutes, a train finally arrived. Keep in mind that a southbound train is supposed to arrive every 20 minutes at that time of day. We were moving again, but unfortunately it was short lived. At the very next stop, the conductor instructed everyone to get off the train due to a malfunction. As instructed, we boarded the next train that pulled up to the platform, but shortly after, for whatever reason, we were told to switch back to the original train. I guess whatever the issue was had been resolved. Finally, after almost an hour of delays, we were back on our way to Long Beach.
The rest of the trip to Long Beach went smoothly. After a twelve minute pause at the Downtown Long Beach station, I rode the A Line back towards Downtown LA. I was able to relive the scenes that I had just seen through the window a half hour earlier. Once we arrived at 7th St/Metro Center, I headed to the B and D Lines (Red and Purple), which are the two heavy rail subway lines in the Metro system. I took the subway to Union Station, which is the central hub of the transit system in Los Angeles. Everyday, over 100,000 commuters pass through the iconic station, with connections to light rail, the subway, Metrolink, Amtrak, and numerous buses.
Here I completed the East LA segment of the L Line (Gold), shuttle and all, which is currently disjointed due to the Regional Connector construction. Once back at Union Station again, I hurried to the L Line platform to finish the segment to Azusa. I experienced yet another challenge in my day, albeit much more minor than earlier. There were two trains waiting at the platform, but I wasn’t sure which to board. As I got closer, I saw one had the doors closed, so I intuitively boarded the one with the doors open. After a few minutes, the other train started to pull away and I finally saw through the windows that there were indeed passengers on board. I had chosen poorly. Now I had to wait another 15 minutes. With another train pulling up, I wasn’t confident that I was on the right train until a passing Metro employee confirmed that it indeed was. There is definitely room for improvement in keeping the riders informed.
After departing towards Azusa, we passed noteworthy stops such as Chinatown, Highland Park, and Memorial Park (Downtown Pasadena). Once the alignment shifted to parallel the freeway, the view of the mountains was a definite highlight. Construction is currently underway to extend the line from Azusa to Pomona, with an extension at the other end from East LA to Whittier in the planning phase.
By the time I had finished the line and we arrived back in Downtown LA, I was starving. I took the subway to Pershing Square and walked over to Grand Central Market. I decided to try a breakfast hash bowl (served all day) from Berlin Currywurst. It did not disappoint. In my opinion, food is always a great reason to have a transit adventure. Whether it be Grand Central Market, Olvera St, or Langer’s Deli, the options are plentiful.
After finishing my meal, I headed back to the station to board the D Line (Purple). This line is currently being extended in three different stages, with an ultimate terminus in Westwood set to open in 2027, just in time for the Olympics. I took a quick round trip to Koreatown and back, and then transferred to the B Line (Red) to head to North Hollywood. It was nearly 3 PM when I arrived. With only one line remaining, I stayed on the train and shortly departed back towards Downtown.
Arriving once again at 7th/Metro Center, I transferred to the E Line (Expo) at 3:31 PM. At the Pico Station, right next to LA Live, the train emerged from below ground to the street level. The sunshine was very refreshing, as I had spent a bit too much time underground.
The trip on the E Line was very pleasant. A man on the train was noticeably excited to take his one-year-old daughter to the beach for her birthday, there were a number of interesting new buildings to look at along the route, and a lovely looking bike path paralleled the alignment near Santa Monica. Overall, I would have to say that this was my favorite line of the day.
When I arrived in Santa Monica, my mission had been accomplished. I successfully rode every line and every mile of the Metro Rail system in a single day, excluding any segments closed at the time. I would have loved to walk over to the beach to enjoy the weather and atmosphere, but after such a long day, I was much more interested in getting home. I decided to head back on the first train possible, which was leaving in about seven minutes. We departed at 4:25 PM and I was on my way home, my mission finally complete.
I got off at the LA Trade Tech College Station to transfer to the 460 bus to ride back to Norwalk, a much quicker alternative than taking a combination of the A and C Lines. After over 12 hours, I was finally back in Norwalk where I had first set out for the day. All said and done, I learned a lot about the system and had quite the experience. I am grateful for the opportunity and am glad to share it with you through this article. The good definitely outweighed the bad and I will look for more ways to incorporate transit into my life in the future. I hope that my journey may encourage people in the LA area who haven't taken much transit before to get out and try it, maybe with just a short trip on the weekend to the beach, a museum, or Downtown LA for some food. If we all collectively take small baby steps, maybe we can find a way to start living a less car dependent life. Go out there and enjoy the ride.