How We Roll, Friday, September 18: the Marc Littman edition

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Reminder: With construction wrapping up on the Gold Line Foothill Extension, a dedication ceremony by the Foothill Extension Construction Authority is being held at the Downtown Azusa Station at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday for the city’s two stations. Details below:


From the Department of We Wish Him Well:

Skyline17Sept2015 (6 of 160)

The gentleman in the above photograph is my boss, Marc Littman, explaining to his colleagues how happy his wife will be to have him around the house more starting next week. Today is Marc’s last day at Metro, where he has been working since 1996. He previously worked at the RTD in the 1980s and then served a decade at the Community Redevelopment Agency. If you’ve been following transportation in our region over the years, you’ve almost certainly seen Marc on television, heard him on the radio or read his quotes in the newspaper.

Overseeing PR and media for an agency the size of Metro — which runs a vital public service 24/7/365 — is not a super easy job. Marc has to answer to persistent and not always patient reporters, agency staff and elected officials and elected officials’ staff while working nimbly with other giant bureaucracies with their own particular/strange way of doing things. It’s a job that often starts in the wee hours and extends well past normal bedtimes. Attentive readers may also recall that Metro was not exactly known as the Happiest Place on Earth in the late 1990s, making Marc’s task that much harder. And that was before smartphones and email-on-smartphones got popular.

Marc has done the job through good times and bad and handled the pressure, criticism and second-guessing as well as could be expected of any human being. His job is not unlike standing in front of a loaded cannon and handing someone the matches. As a reporter, I recall phoning Marc one day with a typical Metro-can’t-win-type question. After dropping my Snark Bomb, we got to chatting and Marc mentioned that he was training as a shaman. Thus, my favorite Marc Littman shamanesque saying: no matter who had dumped on him, his reply was always the same: “I Wish Them Well.”

This blog would not exist without Marc Littman. Period. He and our former colleague Matt Raymond saw the blog as a way to connect Metro with riders and taxpayers at a time of declining press coverage due to financial problems in the journalism industry. Marc hired me to run the blog and has given me a far longer leash than I probably deserve. I thank him profusely for it. I hope you do, too.

Happy Retirement, Marc. You left this agency in far better shape than you found it and have more-than-ably served the taxpayers, residents and journalists of our region. On behalf of everyone, we wish you well.


High-speed rail from Las Vegas to L.A.? China says it’s partnering with U.S. to build (LAT)

Amtrak's Southwest Chief in the Mojave Desert. The route serves Victorville and Barstow but veers south and misses Las Vegas. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Amtrak’s Southwest Chief in the Mojave Desert. The route serves Victorville and Barstow but veers south and misses Las Vegas. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The latest chapter in the years-long effort to restore rail service between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the two cities with something the other wants (gamblers and gambling, respectively) and two cities connected by the oft-constipated, oft-scary 15 freeway. In this new twist XpressWest — the firm hoping to build a bullet train between Victorville and Las Vegas — has formed a partnership with China Railways.

That’s significant because XPressWest hasn’t been able to raise the funds needed to build the project, most recently being turned down for a massive $5.5-billion loan by the Federal Railroad Administration. Here’s the graph in the LAT that lifted my eyebrows:

Chinese officials now describe the project as a 230-mile route with an additional stop in Palmdale and eventual service throughout the Los Angeles area using some of the same track that would be used by the publicly backed California high-speed rail project.

Let’s back up. With funding from Measure R, Caltrans and Metro have been studying a project called the High Desert Corridor. The project involves building a new freeway between the Antelope Valley in northern Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County as a better alternative to the narrow and sometimes dangerous Highway 138 that runs along the north side of the San Gabriel Mountains.

The Macau skyline. Hmm. Any similarities to Vegas? Photo by Lee Jing Xi, via Flickr creative commons.

The Macau skyline. Hmm. Any similarities to Vegas? Photo by Lee Jing Xi, via Flickr creative commons.

The High Desert Corridor is in the environmental study phase and Caltrans and Metro are also looking at building high-speed rail tracks along the new road to connect to Victorville. The California bullet train project will run between San Francisco and Los Angeles with a stop in Palmdale. The idea is to connect those tracks with the Victorville-to-Vegas tracks. That would be one way to provide bullet train service all the way from Vegas to DTLA without having to route bullet train tracks over the Cajon Pass and through the Inland Empire.

As the LAT notes, state bullet train officials say that they are in discussions with XpressWest about using their tracks. Of course, the tracks between Fresno and Los Angeles are yet to be built and the many billions of dollars in funding to build them hasn’t yet been secured. So this is a Very, Very Hypothetical Thing considering the tunneling under mountain ranges and the construction of bridges that will be involved. And funding to build the High Desert Corridor also needs to be secured; the Measure R funds are only paying for the environmental studies.

Still…this is a very interesting development. Victorville is a long way from L.A. (about 85 miles) but pretty much everyone driving to Vegas from So Cal has to go through Victorville and I suspect a bullet train could siphon some motorists off the 15. I also have to wonder if China’s experiences with Macau and the big-time gambling there has them high on Vegas, realizing that vices = good ROI. Like Vegas, Macau is also rail-challenged, btw. As the crow flies it’s close to Hong Kong, but there’s no direct rail service — although the Chinese are hoping to remedy that with a big rail tunnel under the sea.

It’s interesting, too, that the Chinese want to invest in Vegas-to-Victorville instead of S.F.-to-L.A. Your thoughts? Think this will happen? Or is this more hot winds blowing from the desert?

It Happened on Light Rail in Ireland: 

In case you were wondering, here’s the section on animals in Metro’s Code of Conduct:

A. Animals are not permitted in Metro facilities or vehicles, unless one of the following applies:

1. The animal is in a secure carrier;

2. The animal is a certified police or security animal and is accompanied by a peace officer; or

3. The animal is a service animal, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and is accompanied by a patron.  A Metro representative may ask whether an animal is a pet and what service the animal performs for the handler.

B. Handlers shall maintain control of their animals.  No animal is permitted in a Metro facility or vehicle that is not under the control of its handler or poses a threat to a Metro representative or patron. A non‐service animal may be ejected if it unreasonably annoys patrons.

C. Handlers of animals shall promptly remove all animal waste from Metro facilities and vehicles.  Leaving animal waste in a Metro facility or vehicle is prohibited.

D. Handlers must ensure that an animal shall not deprive a patron of a seat or block an aisle.

Paris is sharing electric cars by the thousands. Will it play in Indy? (Bloomberg) 


Car sharing featuring small electric cars has been a hit in the City of Lights. And now Indianapolis has taken the plunge with the same firm doing well in Paris. The folks at BlueIndy have said demand has exceeded expectations although Bloomberg also notes there have been bumps in the road.

I’m betting this will work. Indy has been one of the Rust Belt-adjacent/Midwestern cities that has done a great job at reviving its downtown and adding civic amenities in recent times and I suspect there are enough car-lite residents who will use the cars. The BlueIndy website is very handsome, FWIW — screen grab is above.

After complaints, Councilwoman wants Costa Mesa to reconsider bus stop bench/shelter removal (Register)

The benches and shelters were removed to deter loitering by homeless. The plan is apparently to replace them with anti-loitering style benches. A member of the Costa Mesa Council now says the removal may have had “unintended consequences,” i.e. punishing transit users just trying to get from A to B. “I’m thinking we should come up with some kind of alternative,” she tells the Register, perhaps something that should have been considered before removal began. #Oy #DoubleOy

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9 replies

  1. “XPressWest hasn’t been able to raise the funds needed to build the project.”
    Not surprising when the route is tied to other pie-in-the-sky, developer-jerrymandered projects like Cal HSR. The XpressWest project might work if they spent the money for an extension over / through Cajon Pass to San Bernardino and some Metrolink connections. Build to LAUS and Anaheim later ….
    OTOH we could expand gambling in Cali and Las Vegas will just dry up and blow away ….. it could anyway when they suck their aquafer and Lake Mead dry in the near future.

    BTW nice pony on the Irish light rail. The ADA now defines miniature horses as ‘service animals’ for some circumstances: And we thought getting Metro to add more onboard bike space was tough :-).

  2. Funding aside, a Palmdale – Victorville – Las Vegas alignment actually makes a lot of sense. The CAHSR station sites are fairly well known by now (published in the EIR), so it is possible to build the alignment and leave room for an eventual connection into CAHSR from Palmdale. This may be a smart move in that the XpressWest project may be able to ferry people from both NorCal and SoCal to Vegas by picking an intermediate point, and avoid having to acquire additional right-of-way over the Cajon Pass. I see more challenges with the technical specifications of the train cars that would have to be compatible with a system that hasn’t gone through design-build or procurement. And of course, funding.

    This does make China a huge player in future CAHSR discussions, though, particularly if they can demonstrate that their technology is viable in the US.

  3. About the horse on the “LUAS” in Dublin, That isn’t that uncommon in Ireland. In the movie “The Commitments” (1991) the manager of the first Soul Band in Ireland is looking for a missing female singer at her flat. He walks up to the apartment’s lift (elevator) and there is a young boy with a horse waiting at the lift. The adult says “You aren’t bringing that horse on the lift are you?” To which the boy replies in deadpan ” Well he can’t walk upstairs, that would kill him.”

  4. There is more than enough money in Vegas to build this so many times over. They stand to benefit greatly from this investment; interesting that they don’t build it out them selves and make money off of it.

  5. Regarding the Gold Line Station dedications:

    I heard (on KPCC this morning, Monday) the head of the Construction Authority say that the GL extension construction will be 100% finished Wednesday. I would presume that this marks the date for the turn over to Metro.
    The Monrovia campus looks fully stocked with new police cars and service vehicles, etc.

    The reporter said that the extension will not open until Spring and stated that was based upon availability of ‘train cars’.

    Does this mean that Metro now has a formal plan for dealing with the rolling stock shortage WRT opening 2 lines at almost the same time?
    Does this mean that Metro has put one line ahead of the other (GL vs. Expo)? If so, which and why?
    If both are going to open at the same time (after a wait for rolling stock), why?
    It would seem that the GL is going to be ready for Metro to use sooner than the Expo., if it is being delayed in revenue service, is the same true for the Expo?

    A delay in either line until “Spring” (sometime after March 21, but befor July 21) risks losing a whole semester of students riding the Metro and establishing a good relationship with light rail. I understand that there are issues with ‘pre-revenue service’ and making the PUC happy, etc.

    Metro needs to get these extensions in service as soon as safe, the PUC, and rolling stock allows; in what ever order they are ready, unless there is a -serious- and powerful overriding reason to do otherwise.

    When do we want to ride the new rail? Yesterday. 🙂

    • The frequency of trains on the Foothill Extension will be the same as Expo 2. My understanding is that the frequency of trains on BOTH lines will be increased after more new rail cars are delivered. As for the opening date, it is based on several factors — the time of the formal takeover process, testing and employee training. There are almost certainly some smaller items that will need to be completed, too.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • It was specifically stated that rolling stock was what was keeping the line from opening earlier.
        Not talking about frequency of trains. Talking about opening sequence of the extensions and likely delaying issues.

        Is Metro currently foreseeing opening one line or the other first or both at essentially the same time (all things going according to internal projections)?
        Is rolling stock availability -likely- to be a delay in opening dates? (*I am not asking for a date.* I am asking for info about what Metro’s current understanding of the situation is. I hope that those involved can share this with you and you with us. This blog would be the ideally way to share this.)

        Yes, I do ride.