March Trip report with video to Riverside, Los Angeles and Santa Monica

Report by Noel T. Braymer 

What a way to celebrate my 61st birthday, but I’m still too young for a Metrolink senior discount. I got to the Oceanside Station in time to get my ticket to Riverside for Metrolink train 850 and get on board before the 7:35 AM departure.  I still had the same old problems of trying to read the screen on the ticket machine with sunlight reflecting off it when buying a ticket in the morning. I noticed the older car I was on had some worn seat cushions, spots on the carpets and even the windows were dirtier than the new cars. My biggest concern though was the light ridership on the 850. There are millions of people between San Diego and Riverside yet there were few people on this train. Looks to me to be a marketing problem that more people were not on this train, not a problem with this market. Even with half price tickets if ridership more than doubled Metrolink would come out ahead. Video Link to new bridge over Santa Margarita River    Arrival and departure at Orange, California

The trip from Oceanside went smoothly. We arrived in Riverside about 13 minutes early at 9:32 AM and we were not rushing to get to Riverside. Train 850 then was parked at the Riverside Station with diesel engines idling until it left at 10:40 as the 851 to return to Oceanside. The Riverside Station has two platforms with one for 2 stub tracks for trains terminating in Riverside at the west end. In the center are the 2 tracks shared by the BNSF and UP. On the east end there are 2 run through tracks that connect at both ends with the BNSF/UP tracks. It was at the east platform that I waited for train 800 headed for San Bernardino. But before I crossed the bridge to the east platform I found the Megabus Stop at Riverside by the station entrance which is at the smoking area of the station. Megabus keeps it overhead low with just one small sign but takes advantage of the facilities at the public transportation center.

I shot video of train 800 arriving on time at Riverside by 10:24.Video link  I now had a ticket from Riverside to Los Angeles. Train 800 was due in at San Bernardino at 10:50 AM and would depart at 11AM as train 321 to Los Angeles. On the way I took video as the train came to Colton Crossing to record construction of the Colton flyover so the UP tracks can soon go over the tracks of the BNSF.Video link  I couldn’t find the flyover at first until I saw the existing UP tracks and I realized that what I thought was the nearby 10 freeway was the new flyover next to the old tracks. It looks almost finished and is scheduled to be in service by the end of the year. I know the UP will still fight to keep passenger trains off their tracks, but at least it will make possible for some more Metrolink trains to run between Riverside and San Bernardino. This $202 million project paid largely with taxpayer money will reduce rail and road congestion in much of Southern California.

I also shot video of the Metrolink yards in Colton just south of the San Bernardino station. Video link  I was surprised to see construction to enlarge this new yard. Train 800 arrived 10 minutes early into San Bernardino which gave me a 20 minute instead of a 10 minute layover. I was able to read an electronic message sign at the platform from the train saying the train might be up to 15 minutes late into Los Angeles because of meet problems. I thought little more about it and didn’t remember the conductor saying anything about it on the PA. With time on my hands I started counting the number of cars on a passing BNSF double stack container train. I counted about 115 cars on a train with 6 locomotives. That was a train over a mile and a half long carrying almost the load of 230 trucks that were not on the freeway in the LA basin. That would be roughly 4 or 5 miles of trucks on one lane of freeway almost bumper to bumper.That was just one train of many crossing in the area around Colton.

This train now the 321 to LA had a good load of passengers. Things went smoothly. My favorite part of the trip was taking videos as the 321 went sailing past traffic in the middle of the 10 freeway west of El Monte.  Video link  This was free flowing traffic and the time was just past noon not stop and go traffic rush hour traffic. How I wish all train trips were like this flying past traffic! But as we approached the Cal State LA Station the train slowed down. The rest of the trip was slower and got even slower as we got closer to Union Station. Then we stopped near the banks of the L.A. River. After looking like we might arrive early we had to wait for train 310 which was late and suppose to leave LA at 12:20 PM for San Bernardino while we arrived at 12:30 PM. The train crew seemed unsure if they would hold the 310 for us or not. Then the 310 came over with 2 locomotives in front and 5 cars and passed us. We were only a few minutes late but early is always better. Video link

You find out just how many people are on a train when you are all on the platform together trying to get through the tunnel in a huddled mass from the platform to the main station tunnel. I wasn’t taking pictures at LAUS this day. I ran out to have lunch at my favorite place near LAUS for Mexican food just inside of Chinatown. It was about a quarter after 1 when I got on the subway which was busy and transferred to the Expo Line to Culver City. There was a train waiting when I got to the platform but no signs on the side of the train said if it was Blue Line or Expo. I asked a Metro employee at the platform what it was. He looked between two cars,said Expo and I jumped in before the doors closed.

The street running on Flower street wasn’t too bad. It is much better since they fixed the junction for the Blue and Expo Lines at Flower and Washington. It took months to fix the problem which turned out the tracks at the frog were a half inch out of gauge. The area around 23rd street and Flower is always congested which is next to a ramp for the nearby Harbor Freeway. I don’t know what will be needed to fix that but I doubt it will be cheap. Near the 23rd street Station there is a lot of new and under construction expensive apartments. Once trains get to USC the they go at a good clip all the way to Culver City. Ridership on the Expo Line is very strong and growing.

What hasn’t changed is the lack of information or signage at the Culver City Station. But at least the parking lot is now paved. I was planning to take a number 5 Santa Monica Bus to Santa Monica. Just as I got out of the train I saw my bus leaving and knew I would miss it. I crossed Venice Blvd and found a stop for Metro 733 which I had also just missed which is an express bus from downtown LA on Venice Blvd which ends up in downtown Santa Monica. Well this bus was a good back up plan and it ran about every 15 minutes. A few minutes later I see another 5 bus at a light nearby at Robinson and Venice. I ran over there and after some confusion with the bus driver I got on the bus. I soon discover the 5 bus had a stop right in front of the Culver Expo Station.

The 5 bus went roughly due north and turned west on Pico. This is just south of Beverly Hills and I don’t think in all the years I lived in LA I had been on this part of Pico. Not many neighborhoods have restaurants advertise they serve both Kosher Gyro and Chinese Food. That wasn’t as colorful as the man who got on the bus earlier wearing a dark suit, light gray shoes, a red fez hat with gold trim and a white tassel and a scarf instead of a tie that looked like a American Flag . As I got closer to areas near where I had once worked and knew well in West LA and Santa Monica nothing looked familiar. So many new buildings and new taller office buildings. The Expo Line will be seeing a great deal of reverse commuting with many people living east and going west away from downtown Los Angeles to commute to work. My problem with all these new taller buildings was even though I was a block away from the Expo Line right of way, I couldn’t see much with the buildings in my way.

I got off the bus in downtown Santa Monica and walked to Colorado Street and 4th and found the construction site for the downtown Santa Monica Expo Station. I had seen construction from the 5 bus of a grade separation at Cloverfield Blvd a mile or 2 from 4th street. It was about 4 PM by this time and I had to head home. Not far from the Expo station site I found a Metro 733 bus loading passengers. I had enough time to run to get on board. I was back on the Expo Line around 4:30 PM and at the transfer station at 7th and Flower in LA around 5 PM.The 7th and Flower Metro Station now is crowded most of the time but even more so during rush hour. But in the middle of this crush on the platform was a guy in a dark suit, shaved head and a light colored hat selling pies. I had a flashback to the 1960’s when the Black Muslims would stand well dressed on urban street corners shouting “pecan pies” while holding boxes of pies in their hands. Like the 1960’s this guy only paid attention to “Brothers”.

Well I got to Union Station by 5:15 PM with plenty of time to make the Metrolink 606 at 5:40 PM.  Video link As I left for home I was feeling tired. I noticed on the BNSF mainline signs of new grading for what looked like a third track in several places. That will be the key to faster service in the future. Passenger trains will be able to pass freight trains without either train stopping. The trip home went smoothly and I was hoping to get to Oceanside before the scheduled time of 7:46 PM. I was also looking forward to dinner. Around 7:30 PM the train slowed to a halt at San Onofre and on the PA we learned we had to wait for a northbound Surfliner. We got into Oceanside only a few minutes late, but early would have been better.


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