How do they do that? Dig a subway tunnel

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

Lowering tunnel boring machine into the ground — Dec. 15, 2005 — for construction of Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension.

With the Crenshaw/LAX line, the Metro Regional Connector and the Purple Line Extension readying for construction, there will be plenty of digging going on in L.A.County. But how do you dig a subway tunnel? Dynamite? Giant corkscrew? Spoon?

In the U.S. we’ve been mining subway tunnels for more than a century. At first there were men and shovels and dynamite and excruciating physical labor. (Think Holland Tunnel under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey. Think pressurized compartments holding workers who had to be depressurized at the end of a shift to avoid getting the “bends.”) Fortunately, we now have machines to do the heavy work.

During the past 20 years Metro has constructed three sets of tunnels: one for the Metro Red and Purple lines, another for two stations of the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension and a third to carry the Expo Line under the busy Figueroa-Exposition Boulevard intersection.

Tunnel boring machine

Tunnel boring machine

For the Gold Line Eastside Extension, two tunnel boring machines nicknamed Lola and Vicki (see video above) were lowered into the ground in Boyle Heights to bore twin subway tunnels from First and Boyle to First and Lorena streets at a depth of 50 to 60 feet. Each TBM weighed more than two million pounds and was 344 feet long. Each built a tunnel that was 21 feet in diameter.

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How students benefit from taking transit to school

JP is one of many students who rely on Metro to travel to school and around the region. Photos by Cris Liban/Metro.

JP is one of many students who rely on Metro to travel to school and around the region. Photos by Cris Liban/Metro.

Although Metro has programs to help parents and kids as they head back to school, many parents often still feel intimidated by the prospect of sending their kids off to class via transit.

With that in mind, Metro Deputy Executive Officer of Environmental Compliance Services and transit experienced dad Cris Liban offers his point of view on why kids and transit go hand in hand:

I contemplated for a little while on this article and have come to the conclusion that I needed to write it. It was a request from a colleague, Jody Litvak, whose kids grew up using transit. Jody’s three part post from a couple of years ago has a lot of great tips on getting students to school on transit.

Well, it is back-to-school time again, an appropriate time to reflect on what Metro can do for your children. I ride transit every day, and the significance of Jody’s request didn’t really dawn on me until I started looking around.

What seems to be innocuous to me has to be highlighted for others. I happen to live two blocks from a transit stop. My son JP attends a school that is only two transit stops away and transit has been one of my family’s choices to take him to school. We live in Los Angeles and it is almost always sunny and fun to walk, bike and use transit.

As the environmental guy for Metro and with all of these great things going for me, I cannot help but sound biased. But I’m not. I am not going to convince you to get your kids and yourself out of your car and switch to transit. I will, however, try to provide you with information that will encourage you to try this great system we are expanding.

As I wondered what my point of view would be able to offer, I thought hard about my experiences riding transit with my 12-year old son: the countless hours we spent – sometimes with my wife – going to different places around the city.

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Check it out: the Harvey House menu from 1943

Curious what folks were eating — or could eat — at Union Station's Harvey House restaurant 70 years ago?

Answer: shirred eggs (baked eggs), fish species identified by geography and not species name and deviled egg sandwiches and prune juice. People: when was the last time you saw prune juice on a menu?

For those not in the know, the Harvey House is the old restaurant on the southern side of Union Station. It has been closed since 1967 but is used for TV and film shoots as well as special events. Metro would like to bring it back as a restaurant and needs to find someone willing to run the place; the kitchen needs a lot of work.

For those interested in old menus, the Los Angeles Public Library has an interesting online collection. And if you have never seen Harvey House, below are phots from the 1940s and from today. Not a bad place to have a pot pie, eh?


Then & Now: downtown Sierra Madre

Photo by Alan Weeks.

Photo by Alan Weeks.


Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro


Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro

If you happened to be in downtown Sierra Madre on Friday afternoon and wondered who the idiot was stumbling around in the street juggling an iPad and Nikon DSLR, look no further. The idiot was me.

But I was there to serve a larger purpose: to try to update Alan Week’s 1950 photo of downtown Sierra Madre, which once upon a time had a streetcar and a depot as part of the old Pacific Electric system. The photo was taken shortly before this line was abandoned in Oct. 1950. I took a stab at recapturing the photo both in color and black and white, the second and third photos above.

The line branched off from tracks along Huntington Boulevard and ran along Sierra Madre Boulevard to the penultimate stop in downtown Sierra Madre and then one more at the Mt. Wilson Trailhead on Mira Monte Avenue.

What has changed? The depot is gone but the shortcut with parking between Baldwin Avenue and Sierra Madre Boulevard remains. The building at far left in Alan’s photo remains as the Shirley Hotel but the facade at top has been added. Alan’s photo offers a gimpse of a gas station at right along Sierra Madre Boulevard; there’s still a gas station there, but it’s one of those modern, lacking in character things. The San Gabriel Mountains, thankfully, remain.

And, finally, the tree in my color photo that is just left of the ‘Do Not Enter’ sign may be the same tree shading the old car in Alan’s photo. If I had a DeLorean and some asphalt, perhaps I could go find out.

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Preview of September Metro Service Councils Meetings

After taking the month of August off, Service Councils will resume their normal meeting schedules in September. As usual, a wide range of topics will be covered at the different meetings. Please note that some of the presentations are tentative at the time of this posting.

All Service Council meetings include a report from Metro Service Council Director Jon Hillmer providing previous month’s statistics on ridership, performance and other measures of Metro service. In addition, a recap of the July 29th Meet and Confer session with CEO Art Leahy and representatives from all Service Councils will be provided at each meeting.

In addition, September meeting topics specific to each Service Council include:

San Fernando Valley (6:30 pm, Wednesday, 9/4) – Recognition of San Fernando Valley Service Councilmember Dina Garcia, Report on Line 161 Proposed Changes, Review former Chair’s Recommended Service Reallocations for Proposed Line 588X Creation.

San Gabriel Valley (5 pm, Monday, 9/9) – Receive update on Line 485 Regional meeting, Update on I-710 North Study.

Westside/Central (5 pm, Wednesday, 9/11) – Receive report on Expo Bus/Rail interface – one year later, Update on Expo Line Phase II Construction, Receive Corridor Study Update.

Gateway Cities (2 pm, Thursday, 9/12) –Receive report on Integration of the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station, Update on Florence Avenue Corridor Study, Update on Norwalk Green Line Station Improvements, Discussion on Potential Gateway Cities Service Council Meeting Dates, Times and Locations, Report on July 26 ADA Anniversary Activity at Union Station.

South Bay (9:30 am, Friday, 9/13) Receive Report on Integration of the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks Station, Receive Report on Harbor Gateway Transit Center Working Group.

For a detailed listing of all Council meeting dates, times and locations, click here. As always, the public is encouraged to attend and share their comments with the Service Councils on improving bus service throughout LA County. If you would like to provide input to a Council but cannot attend a meeting, you can submit your comments in writing through the Service Council web page or send them to service If your comments are for a specific Council, please make sure to indicate which one you are addressing in your e-mail.

Then & Now: in L.A. getting rid of streetcars easier than getting rid of billboards

008 - Old - LATL 5 Line Car 1423 Northbound At Prw. & Crenshaw Bl. 19550507 (2)

Looking west from Crenshaw Boulevard, just south of 67th Street. Photo by Alan Weeks, via the Metro Transportation and Library’s Flickr stream. Click above to visit.

008 - New - Metro ROW now

Photo by Metro.

005 - Old - LATL 5 Line Car 1402 Southbound On Crenshaw Bl. At 60th St. 19541215 (2)

Looking north at Crenshaw Boulevard from 60th Street. Photo by Alan Weeks, via the Metro Transportation Library & Archive’s Flickr stream. Click above to visit.

Photo by Metro.

Photo by Metro.

Two observations from this set of past and present photos along Crenshaw Boulevard:

1. It’s a shame that there are so few food outlets remaining that serve both donuts and chili dogs.

2. Those set of three ugly nearly street level billboards in the bottom set of photos: They were there when Alan Weeks took captured his image on Dec. 15, 1954, and they were there last year when Metro staff took the bottom photo. Billboards in L.A.: once there, always there, eh?

Many thanks to Alan Weeks for capturing the two images from the 1950s and Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Line construction staff for taking the modern photos.

About Alan: He worked for many years as a transit scheduler first with the RTD and later the MTA, now known as Metro. He is retired and very proud of his many years of public service — as he should be. Many of his photos of L.A.’s transit scene can seen on the Metro Transportation Library & Archive’s Flickr page, which as of this morning had 8,915 images and is still growing.

If you’ve enjoyed our Then & Now posts, then you are morally obligated to check out the Metro Library’s Historypin page, a sophistacted mapping tool that allows you to overlay historic photos with current street views. It is, trust me, epically cool. Here’s a Source post from last week explaining Historypin; check out the photo from Crenshaw and 60th on Historypin. Very cool.

Calling all transit and history fans! Hundreds more “Then & Now” historic L.A. transit photos available here!

Broadway at 6th

Broadway at 6th Street, 1938 vs. today (Click for more information)

It’s a beautiful thing when Southern Californians take pride in their fascinating and diverse history.  This past weekend the Metro Transportation Library & Archive logged its 3,000,000th view on our online Flickr photo gallery (yes, three million in less than five years).

Over here at The Source, the reaction to “then and now” photos has prompted the Library & Archive to share its own version of historical images compared to the street scene today.

Our Library has selected and uploaded over 200 photos to Historypin, a social media site that maps images and mashes them up with a chronological data layer so you can view photos of a particular place AND time.  With the local transportation conversation ramping up month by month, we know this is a great way to engage our community in the past AND present.

Most of our images on Historypin and concentrated in and near downtown Los Angeles.

Metro Library on Historypin

Zoom in or click a photo cluster to see more detailed photos

Fortunately for us, most of our photos are of streetcars and buses.  Good thing: Historypin has partnered with Google to leverage powerful mapping tools with “street view” imagery.  This serves us well in providing an “augmented reality” effect — superimposing views of yesteryear on the streets of today. We have taken pains to position many our images onto Street View so they match up as well as possible.

Hollywood Boulevard Christmas decorations

Hollywood Boulevard, decorated for Christmas,1953 compared to today (The “fade” slider is below the historic image)

But Historypin isn’t limited to just our collection. Metro is a leader in helping other local archives and libraries in our LA as Subject network to get their photos digitized and onto Historypin.  Los Angeles Public Library’s collection is particularly interesting, as well as other transit agencies, including the wonderful history shared by San Francisco Muni.

Even better, Historypin images feature a slider at the bottom of the photo allowing you to fade in and out the historical image compared to today’s street scene.

When you find an image in our collection (or any other!) with the little yellow man indicating “Street View,” click “Street View” in the bottom right and then slide the “Fade” button below the centered historical image to see the effect.  Get ready to spend hours getting lost in historic Los Angeles…or elsewhere in the world!

1st & Alameda, 1918

Los Angeles Railway “P” Line, 1st Street at Alameda, 1918 with today’s view 95 years later

Historypin is also available as a mobile app, so you can check out historical views of your location wherever you go!

We were a global launch partner for Historypin when we began in July, 2011. But Historypin isn’t limited to just our collection. Metro is a leader in helping other local archives and libraries in our LA as Subject network to get their photos digitized and onto Historypin.  Los Angeles Public Library’s collection is particularly interesting, as well as other transit agencies, including the wonderful history shared by San Francisco Muni.

Still not sure what it is or how it works?  This video provides an overview of the Historypin concept in just over a minute: