Maintenance Diaries: What it takes to keep our system running

All photos via el_transit_foamer

What is being done to make the system more reliable? How much maintenance work is required to keep the system running?

As a member of the team who monitors Metro’s primary Twitter streams and issues real-time service alerts from the Rail Operations Center, I see these kinds of questions on a regular basis. And I know how service changes can mess up someone’s day.

Many of our riders have even asked when maintenance work will end. The short answer is: it won’t.

Because Metro operates on a massive scale, covering Los Angeles County with more than 15,000 bus stops and 105 miles of rail, routine maintenance is necessary to help reduce wear and tear on buses and rail cars. On average, all six rail lines travel about 5,045,270 miles per year while operating at least 20 hours each and every day. Each bus travels about 42,000 miles per year. That’s over three times the average annual mileage of most peoples’ cars!

Regular upkeep is also needed for a better riding experience — to keep rail cars and buses clean, the air conditioning working and all the things that go into a smoother ride. Plus, regular maintenance lengthens the lifespan of our transit vehicles which are extremely expensive to buy. Metro’s most recent purchase — approved by the Metro Board in June — was for compressed natural buses that cost about $674,576 each and electric buses that cost $1.46 million apiece. Ideally, Metro replaces buses every 14 years.

The average life-span of a train car is 30 years. Seventy-eight of the new light rail trains from Kinkisharyo were recently purchased for $299 million. A new contract was signed in April to purchase 64 heavy rail cars for $178 million.

So what is Metro doing to keep your system running? A lot, and it’s too much to cover in just one post. In addition to our usual maintenance work, Metro now has dedicated funding from the Measure M sales tax approved by L.A. County voters last year for a State of Good Repair program — something most agencies do not have.

Over the next several months, I’ll be sharing exactly what our efforts are through the Maintenance Diaries series with behind-the-scenes photos and videos as we visit bus divisions and rail yards. We’ll take an in depth look at the work it takes to keep our trains and buses moving 24/7/365.

Here’s a quick list of some, but certainly not all, of the topics we’re planning to cover. Let us know in the comments below which one you’re most interested in! 

  • Maintenance Diaries: Preparing trains for service at the Blue Line Rail Yard.
  • Maintenance Diaries: How Metro trains are powered.
  • Maintenance Diaries: Metro’s Central Maintenance Bus Facility.
  • Maintenance Diaries: A look inside the Red Line Rail Yard.
  • Maintenance Diaries: How bus service is restored after a breakdown.
  • Maintenance Diaries: What makes a train run smoothly?

21 replies

  1. This is an awesome new addition to The Source. Looking forward to the future installments!

  2. Quick related question: since the Blue and Expo lines are interconnected, do their respective maintenance yards have any different functions, or are they just used to divide up the same tasks? Also, I’m guessing you’ll be able to use the new Crenshaw yard for the Green Line as well, since those lines will also overlap each other.

  3. The big, unanswered question is: Has Metro finally acquired (and put into service) all the rail-cars it has needed for over a year for the proper operation of its light-rail lines–which it should have had in place BEFORE opening the big extensions to Gold and Expo Lines in the spring of 2016?

    As we all should remember very well, Metro was totally unprepared with enough additional rail cars to accommodate the sudden surge of new riders on the newly extended Expo and Gold Lines. As a consequence of not having enough rail cars to operate three-car trains on those two lines, the two-car trains on the Expo Line (especially) and Gold Line became terribly overcrowded (like rolling sardine cans), prompting Metro almost to double the number of two-car trains at peak hours on Expo and Gold.

    The ripple effects of Metro’s failed planning spread to the Blue Line, where some of its existing three-car trains were cannibalized to provide more cars to Expo (and may to Gold)–thus increasing crowding on Blue-Line trains.

    Worse, the doubling of the frequency of peak-hour trains on Expo Line has led to a mammoth traffic jam during peak hours on the track shared by Expo and Blue trains between Washington and 7th Street Station, leading to incredible delays on BOTH Expo and Blue Lines, that often lasted far behind “peak hours.”. I myself have spent as much as 40 minutes on the Expo between Jefferson/USC and 7th Street stations (and 11-minute trip).

    If Metro does finally have enough cars to run three-car trains at peak hours, why doesn’t it reduce the frequency of Expo peak-hour trains (presumably now 3-car trains) by enough to reduce (or even eliminate) the rail traffic jam north of the “wye” at Washington and Flower?

    • Expo has over 64k riders each day. They need 6 minute service with 3 car trains during peak times to keep up with demand.

  4. As I have stated previously the mating of older equipment with new equipment as the second car on a three car train could eliminate over crowding to a large degree. It could be a otherwise B.O. car that lacked for instance reliable electric motors that wise would mean disposal of the car for salvage. One can see this type of configuration in San Diego where older equipment is used with new.

    I think many complaints about maintenance especially on the Blue Line appears to be from lack of planning. Rails upgraded and then a couple of months later more track work installing cross overs and the like. Why wasn’t it one project?

    The Seventh and Flower station was not designed for two separate rail lines and scheduling within the station is difficult due to unforeseen traffic delays especially on the Expo Line. Train Operators are guaranteed a rest room break at the end of the line plus at least one break to eat. Coupled with that getting the next scheduled train out and around in coming trains has proved to be difficult. I don’t see much of a improvement with the Downtown Connector completion.

  5. I would also love see some topics like “What happens after a rail car is pulled from service?” or “Maintaining the junction at Flower and Washington.”

    Looking forward to the series!

  6. Most systems keep their rail cars going for nearly 40 years (NYCMTA has R32s which are now 53 years old) with the help of a mid-life rebuild at around age 20.

    This was chosen not to be done at Metro, and is why the 30 number is being used in this story.

    • Some rail cars ARE getting that mid-life rebuild though. Most of the subway cars will be getting that treatment. One car is already getting it done somewhere across the U.S.

  7. I enjoyed your article as usual. I think Metro is doing a good job compared to the New York City subway system which is falling apart as well as the Washington, DC train system as well. The one thing I would like to see is for Metro to insist that their contractors start to replace older buses. Line 232 which runs along PCH from Long Beach to the LAX Transit Center is still running old Orion buses. When do the buses running through the South Bay ever get replaced? Thank you.

    • The MTA not the contractors are responsible for replacement of buses.Why those old Orion are still in service is a good question. They could at least be replaced by buses up for sale at Division 12 as a short term solution.

      • One possible reason is because those Orion buses are diesel and do not have expiring tanks. They can be kept running longer. CNG buses however have tanks that expire after 15 years. The buses at 12 mostly have expired tanks and will not be used for service. As metro’s in-house fleet ages and tanks expire they are trying to either retank the buses or buy new ones. An order for new buses just passed and Metro should be getting about 290+ buses starting next year i believe.

  8. This article focuses primarily on the vehicles, but what about Maintenance of Way on the rail lines? Track, Traction Power, Signals, and Rail Communications all play an important role in helping patrons get to their destinations safely and on schedule.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for the suggestion! We’ll discuss and see if we can work it into the series.

      Anna Chen
      Writer, The Source

  9. Yeah sure, maintain all you want, just please for the love of god stop scheduling track maintenance and 20-minute service during midday or early in the night. Its really a major issue and metro needs to do better.

  10. You can’t make everyone happy, and delays happen. New trains don’t just appear over night. I think this series is a great idea as maintenance is one of the least appealing, and probably understood, topics in Transit. I look forward to all of them (but how the trains are powered is probably what I’m most excited about).

  11. I’d love to see what new developments are coming to the Green Line with the coming addition of the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the new connections from Norwalk that can be made using the wye junction.

  12. How bus service is restored after a breakdown is the one I’m looking forward to. Also, it would be nice to cover What happens to a bus once it is officially retired; where does it go? I feel it would be nice to cover for Source readers that don’t know.

  13. This is a good idea. I’d like to go the extra step and tour one of the maintenance facilities one day.