On Transportation column: May 30 edition

The Central Pacific and Union Pacific meet at Promontory Point, Utah, in 1869. Photo: U.S. National Archives.

TRANSCONTINENTAL RAILROAD: There’s a good exhibit at the Huntington Library though July 23 on the planning and construction of the 1,776-mile railroad between Sacramento and Council Bluffs, Nebraska.

To be more specific, that’s 1,776 miles of rail built between 1863 and 1869. To put that in perspective, it took about five years to build the first phase of the Expo Line between downtown L.A. and Culver City. The planning process for both the Westside Subway Extension and Regional Connector took about five years and was recently completed. The 1.9-mile Connector is scheduled to open in 2019 and the first 3.9 miles of the Westside Subway to La Cienega is targeted for a 2020 opening.

Hmmm.The above numbers don’t exactly suggest we’re building things faster these days, eh?

Of course, the Transcontinental Railroad didn’t just happen in six years. There was talk of it going back to the 1830s, many different routes were explored and advocated and the project was only made possible with massive federal help in the form of money and property grants as well as cheap labor.

Workplace safety — or the lack thereof — was not much of a concern and an unknown number of immigrant and minority workers died building the railroad. Not-in-my-backyarders along the route — i.e. Native Americans — were killed or cruelly relocated. The Union Pacific was driven to bankruptcy in the Credit Mobilier scandal, causing great harm to the American economy for years. In the rush to get the project done, much of the work was sloppy and had to be re-done.

Still, the project was finished and by the early 1870s a trip that once required weeks or months to get from one side of America to the other was reduced to as little as four days.

Back to the big question: Are we a lesser nation now because of the time it takes to plan and build transit projects? I think so.

Funding is a constant issue, of course. The other problem is the exhaustive environmental impact studies required under state and/or federal law for most projects. Would the Transcontinental Railroad have been built if the railroads had to study “growth inducing impacts? — which was exactly the point of the endeavor.  And is it really necessary in the modern era to try to calculate how many vehicle miles won’t be driven if such-and-such project is built? And isn’t that also beside the point, given that the very premise of public transit is to simply provide an alternative to driving?

Look, people. A project’s impacts on citizens and natural resources should absolutely be studied, whether it’s a planned clear-cut in a national forest or a local light rail project. At some point, however, unless these studies are reigned in, we’ll be stuck in paralysis-by-analysis mode, never actually building anything because there will always be someone asking for more study. There has to be a way to compress the planning process and inform the public on the impacts of a project and the expected mitigations.

I’m not sure you can say the Transcontinental Railroad reflected the best of American ideals. I do think it’s fair to say that it still was quite an achievement and one that should raise this question: have we become a nation of planners rather than doers?

(Note: The Huntington is not super convenient to mass transit, situated in a residential neighborhood in San Marino. It is, however, a short 1.5-mile bike ride from the Gold Line’s Allen station or, a little farther, from the Fillmore station. The nearest bus line is 78/79/378, which stops at Huntington Drive and Sierra Madre Boulevard, about a .5-mile walk uphill to the Oxford and Stratford entrance to the Huntington. The 264/267 stops at Del Mar and Allen, about a mile north of the Huntington).

MEASURE R EXTENSION: The Metro Board’s discussion of a possible Measure R extension didn’t happen at last week’s meeting because several other items ran long and a quorum was lost.

That means the discussion will occur in June on whether to ask Los Angeles County voters to extend Measure R to accelerate transit and road projects. If the Board should decide to put the issue to voters in this November’s election, they would need to act by their July meeting.

EXPO LINE’S ONE-MONTH ANNIVERSARY: Regular service began a month ago today. I’m curious to hear observations from readers who have using the line on a regular basis. Use the comment board please.

On a related note, we should know soon when the line will open to Culver City. Stay tuned on that one.

STANLEY CUP PREDICTION: Kings in five games, with many Kings fans using Metro to reach Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center.

Here’s video of the Kings playing the Blackhawks in Oct. 1967 in their first season in the NHL.


7 replies

  1. It also helped that it was simple as stealing Native American land instead of facing lawsuits.

  2. After a month, I’m loving the Expo Line. I’m not sure if the timing of signals has gotten better or I’ve just gotten used to it, but it seems to be pretty smooth most of the time. I use it every morning and evening for work in Culver City from home in DTLA.

    As the weeks pass, more and more people (bikers especially!) are using it. Today, I got off the train with what seemed like a small army of bikers to head further west or to the Ballona Creek Path (that’s my route). The older cars really don’t have enough space for bikes and people/fare inspectors often have to weave their way through the aisles, knocking into bikes all along.

    I’ve been checked for valid fare more times on the Expo Line this month than the last few years combined on the rest of the Metro system.

    It seems station announcements in trains are a station or two behind sometimes, or will announce Blue Line stations instead of Expo.

    In general, very happy with the line. Looking for more improvements coming into DTLA, which definitely has more stop-and-go than heading outbound.

  3. It’s the 79 on Huntington Drive and the 267 on Del Mar, respectively, which are the branches which serve the Huntington. And get there before July, since they raise their admission to $23 on weekends on July 1.

  4. “It also helped that it was simple as stealing Native American land instead of facing lawsuits.”

    Quite irrelevant to today. It’s a long drawn out process to build anything even on right-of-way that Metro owns outright.

    What is relevant is that the Transcontinental Railroad, just after it was completed, was, to put it lightly, a piece of junk. It was improved as time went on. I do agree that the study process is too long, but it should not be hastened so much that we build projects that can barely stand up on their own.

  5. “At some point, however, unless these studies are reigned in, we’ll be stuck in paralysis-by-analysis mode, never actually building anything because there will always be someone asking for more study.”

    Thanks to the beloved leaders of my city, Beverly Hills, the Westside Subway project will end up costing so much in litigation and delays that it will NEVER be built..at least not under our one and only high school. You think Neighbors For Smart Rail were bad? Just wait – We have so much more money to exhaust and we have the best lawyers in the state to fight this ridiculous subway.

  6. ABHM,

    And this litigation will also end up costing taxpayers, which may I need to remind INCLUDES residents of BH as they are also LA County taxpayers, more money.

    It’s essentially using your legal fund that in the end, will cost everyone in LA, INCLUDING BH residents, higher taxes.

    The better thing to do is come to an agreement with Metro to use the money in your legal warchest to buy Metro shares and own a partial stake in Metro. That way you can put your concerns across as a shareholder, not as a taxpayer.

    Hopefully such an agreement will open the doors for Metro to become a publicly listed company that anyone can start to buy Metro shares as well to avoid such legal headaches in the future.

  7. Very much enjoyed the the piece about the Transcontinental Railroad, especially the segue into how our present culture of dithering and delaying is choking our efforts to have clean, efficient transportation.