How do they do that? Ship rail cars to L.A.

How do they do that? is a new 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.

How does Metro transport rail cars from manufacturing sites around the world to L.A.?

Metro operates five rail lines that include three light-rail lines and two heavy rail (subway) lines. Train cars running on the lines are thus far manufactured by three companies: AnsaldoBreda (made in Italy), Nippon Sharyo (made in Japan) and Siemens (made in California).

Obviously, cars made in Italy and Japan can’t just be rolled here on rail. But the same is true of cars manufactured in California. Unless the cars are made adjacent to the Metro rail lines on which they will run (none are), they must be transferred via some means.

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Shadow retires: Service planner's Guide Dog was also systems tester, poster girl, hospitality greeter, tour guide for Metro

Photos courtesy of Access Services, Inc.

  • I myself have known some profoundly thoughtful dogs. – James Thurber, humorist and cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine and a great lover of dogs.

Here at Metro, that would be Shadow, the 10-year-old black Labrador who recently retired as a Guide Dog to Agustin Moreno, a systems analyst in service planning who’s been totally blind since the age of 16.

Shadow

Shadow wears her Metro employee badge for the last time.

A constant and unerring companion, Shadow seemed always at Moreno’s side since taking up the post in 2004.

At first, Shadow’s job description was strictly within the scope for a Guide Dog.

Whether it was on the elevator, in the cafeteria, on trips to bus or rail divisions, taking transit home to Highland Park or napping in Moreno’s cubicle on the 7th floor of Metro’s HQ, Shadow’s presence was calming, giving all of us a reassuring pause that grace and ease will get us to where we’re going.

It didn’t take long before Shadow’s attention to detail and expert assistance to Moreno caught the attention of managers looking for an eager upstart who could handle whatever they threw at her.

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How do they do that?: Metro's solar program

“How do they do that?” is a new 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.

How much energy does Metro’s solar panel program generate and what’s it used for?

Solar panel collectors at facilities in Chatsworth, Sun Valley, Carson and downtown L.A. reduced Metro energy costs by approximately $1 million and its carbon footprint by about 16,500 metric tons in 2010, the equivalent of removing 3,200 private cars from L.A. roadways.

At one facility alone – the Support Services Center in downtown Los Angeles (Metro’s central maintenance facility for buses) — 6,720 individual solar panels generate 1.2 megawatts, or 1,200 kilowatts of renewable, emission-free power. Along with other energy-efficient improvements, the Regional Rebuild Centers project is cutting its annual $1.1-million energy bill in half to approximately $550,000.

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Urban Land Institute advisory panel shares vision for Union Station area

A crack team of urban design and development experts from the Urban Land Institute (ULI) descended on Los Angeles last week to help Metro and the city of L.A. develop its vision for the area surrounding Union Station. After several packed days of interviews and site visits, the panel presented its findings this morning to a crowd of community members, local elected officials and planners who gathered at the Tateuchi Democracy Forum in Little Tokyo.

Attentive readers will recall that Metro bought Union Station earlier this year, along with the rights to build roughly six million square feet of development around Southern California’s largest transit hub. Since then, Metro has begun soliciting concepts from a number of design firms for a master plan for the Union Station property itself.

The ULI panel’s job, then, was to help Metro envision how a present and future Union Station can better integrate with the surrounding areas of Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Olvera Street, the Arts District, the Civic Center and the Los Angeles River.

Each of the panelists presented different components of the vision, so rather than summarize what each said, here’s a distillation of some of the key points, and hopefully we can post the PowerPoint presentation later on:
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New Metro Motion TV show explores attractions along Expo Line

With finishing touches being applied to the Exposition light-rail line, the just released winter edition of Metro Motion takes a trip to Exposition Park — one of the first stops on Expo south of downtown L.A. There it discovers a variety of world class museums and attractions. And just in time for Metro Motion, Space Shuttle Endeavour Commander Mark Kelly dropped by to celebrate the arrival next year of Endeavour to the California Science Center, where the shuttle will make its home.

Winter 2011-12 Metro Motion also explores the changing habits of 20 somethings who may be the first generation in recent years to turn away from cars and toward mass transit to help the world’s atmosphere heal itself while they invest in pursuits they see as more interesting than driving.

There’s an interview with artist Sonia Romero, whose beautiful porcelain mosaic mural installation at the Westlake/MacArthur Park Station has been named one of the best public art projects in the United States. Romero talks about her work and explains what inspired her.

Also in the show, Caltrans District 7 Director Mike Miles has plenty to say on the essential unified focus of highway and transit planners and the importance of coordinating the two for the good of regional mobility.

Metro Motion runs quarterly on cable stations throughout Los Angeles County. Check local listings for dates and times in your area.

How do they do that?

Metro bus wash; photo by David Daniels/Metro.

How do they do that? is a new 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.

How do they wash those tall buses?

It’s a good soap-water-and-wax cleaning for Metro buses, which pass through massive bus washers followed by blow dryers like those we use for our cars. But that’s where the similarities end. For one thing, the buses are washed daily. For another, their very size makes hand drying impossible. A typical 45-foot bus is 11 feet high and weighs 19 tons. A 60-foot bus is 11 feet high and 21 tons.

Each of Metro’s 11 bus maintenance facilities has at least one bus washer, maybe two, depending on the number of buses assigned there. Maintenance facilities are sprinkled all over L.A. County to make them more accessible to the 2,000-plus buses in Metro’s fleet as it navigates 1,400 square miles of service area.

Kings center Anze Kopitar gets a facewash, courtesy of a Metro bus wash. Photo by David Daniels/Metro.

The special bus washing machines are constructed on the spot, just for Metro. Most have bristle brushes — so out of fashion for our cars but so good for buses, which are constantly out in sun, wind, weather and traffic. Buses are washed once a day. And every four months or so they go in for a detailed cleaning, sort of like the detailing we get for our cars.

To clean the interiors, service attendants use high-pressure air to blow out the debris. The debris is then sucked into a giant vacuum and deposited into a trash compactor that makes a large paper ball out of what can be a significant amount of refuse … despite the fact that no food or drink is supposed to be consumed inside the buses.

The attendants hand clean the bus interiors with soap and water and towels, with window cleaner for the glass and stainless steel cleaner for the metal surfaces. It takes approximately 20 minutes to fuel, blow and wipe out the interiors, drive through the bus wash and park. And it means an average of 120 Metro employees on any given day are working to keep the buses clean.

How do they do that?

Metro bus with full wrap

How do they do that? is a new 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.

How do they cover the buses with those giant ads?

It’s all done by hand and it’s a time consuming process. Installing a full wrap ad covering the sides and back can take four to six hours per bus.

No paint is applied. Designers work from a template of the bus that will carry the ad to create the design, which is then printed on pressure sensitive vinyl like a giant sticker — but one that strips off easily so the bus surface is not damaged on removal.

Two or three people may work on a single bus installation. They start at the top, drop a wide vinyl roll down the side and then press it into place with a hard plastic tool. The pressure releases tiny balls of glue in the vinyl that attach it to the bus. Once a roll is posted the installers move over and post another until the bus is completely covered. They have to carefully trim the vinyl around windows, doors, vents and other features of the bus. A scant four to six hours later, they’re done.

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Happy trails: Metro poster recalls iconic Chatsworth

Artist Danny Heller signs iconic "Chatsworth" poster commissioned by Metro in the "Through the Eyes of Artists" series.
Artist Danny Heller signs iconic “Chatsworth” poster commissioned by Metro in the “Through the Eyes of Artists” series.

In the bright neon glow of Northridge Cruise Night’s convergence of muscle cars and classics, artist Danny Heller was autographing Metro posters for lines of Chatsworth fans lining up at the West SFV Bob’s Big Boy restaurant this past Friday night.

In the poster, Heller paints an iconic Chatsworth scene in photographic detail: a two-toned 1955 Chevy Bel Air cruises past a trio of grazing horses alongside the landmark Stoney Point.

And, there, among the car buffs and local historians and residents laying claim to birthrights, was Joe DiFatta, a Chatsworth resident and owner of the very same 1955 two-toned Chevy Bel Air featured in Heller’s artwork.

Artist Danny Heller, right, greets Joe DiFatta in his '55 Chevy Bel Air featured in Metro's 'Chatsworth' poster pictured here.

Artist Danny Heller, right, greets Joe DiFatta in his '55 Chevy Bel Air featured in Metro's 'Chatsworth' poster pictured here.

The Chatsworth poster is part of the “Through the Eyes of Artists” series commissioned by Metro Creative Services. The posters depicting various neighborhoods served by Metro are displayed on Metro trains and buses.

Missed the signing?  You can pick up a free print of the Chatsworth poster at the Metro Library, on the 15th floor of the Metro headquarters building next to Union Station in downtown Los Angeles. There’s also a few remaining copies of the Whittier, Compton and Azusa posters, but supplies are limited until the next round of commissioned posters go up in 2012.

Here’s a fun photo gallery post  of the event from the Chatsworth Patch.

How do they do that?: earthquake edition

Subway at Union Station; photo from Metro Library via Flickr

How do they do that? is a new 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.

Following an earthquake, how does Metro check the rail lines to make sure they’re safe?

In Los Angeles we live in a world of nearly constant earthquakes. Most of them are too small to notice but seismic detection equipment along all of Metro’s rail lines is constantly tracking temblors and reporting movement to staff in the rail control center, which monitors train activity throughout the Metro system.

When a quake is thought to be strong enough to cause damage, rail control center staff will radio the train operators and tell them what to do. Orders can vary from line to line, depending upon where the quake is strongest. If a weak quake is centered in the San Fernando Valley, for example, trains in Long Beach may not be affected.

If the quake is deemed potentially damaging, operators may be told to stop where they are and begin sweeping the track, which means that they proceed at about 15 mph to the next station or to the point where the train ahead of them stopped and began its sweep. (In that way, every inch of the track can be examined.) While the operators are proceeding they carefully watch the track looking for damage. Everyone reports back to rail control, which determines if the line or lines can reopen. Decisions are based on the common sense of humans, rather than seismic machines.

Should a significant event occur, the entire rail system would be shut down and not reopen until all lines have been thoroughly checked and determined to be safe. The term “significant” does not refer to Richter scale strength but to a variety of factors including strength and location of the quake and the judgment of rail control staff.

Should operators feel an earthquake (not that obvious in a moving train), they must immediately stop where they are and then proceed slowly to the next station. Or they may be given specific instructions from the rail control center, which generally will tell them to begin sweeping.

So the system is watched over by both machines and humans but the most important element — as in many things — is common sense and caution.

Metro’s poetry bus card commemorates centennial of Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz

Consul General of Poland in Los Angeles Joanna Kozińska – Frybes, at left, unveils commemorative "Poetry in Motion/LA" poster honoring poet Czeslaw Milosz. At right, Malgorzata Cup, Consul for Culture. Photo by Gary Leonard

Consul General of Poland in Los Angeles Joanna Kozińska – Frybes, at left, unveils commemorative "Poetry in Motion/LA" poster honoring poet Czeslaw Milosz. At right, Malgorzata Cup, Consul for Culture. Photo by Gary Leonard

Poetry can soothe the soul of many a traveler. The poetry cards on Metro Buses – you’ll find them scattered about in that indented ledge above the windows – have become a welcome respite from a busy day and a pause for reflection, which is not a bad thing when it comes to rush hour.

Launched in partnership between Metro Art with the Poetry Society of America in 1998, “Poetry in Motion/LA” places poetry posters on board Metro buses for the enjoyment of more than one million Metro Bus riders daily.

Czeslaw Milosz

Poet Czeslaw Milosz (1911-2004)

The latest poetry bus card is a gift, literally, from the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles, commemorating the centennial of the birth of the great contemporary poet Czeslaw Milosz, a Nobel laureate (literature, 1980) and California resident whose professorship at UC Berkeley spanned 20 years.

It is in Berkeley where he was inspired to write “Gift,” the poem selected for the poetry card..

Consul General of Poland in Los Angeles Joanna Kozińska-Frybes, in recognition of Poland’s Presidency of the EU Council and in celebration of the 2011 Milosz Year,  unveiled a poster of the bus card inscribed with the poem at a public reception held Nov. 8 at the Central Library in downtown Los Angeles.

“Thanks to L.A. Metro and the Poetry Society of America, we have been able to achieve a great success and to bring Milosz closer to people in Los Angeles, all that in such wonderful ambiance of common undertaking,” the Consul General noted in her remarks at the reception.

Produced by Metro Creative Services, the poster is being installed this week in Metro buses for a two-month run. The poet’s centenary has inspired a global reflection and literary festival in more than 30 countries.

Here is Milosz, in his own words:

“Gift” by Czeslaw Milosz

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw the blue sea and sails.

Click here for the news release.