Metro podcast: Ethan Elkind's "Railtown" about L.A.'s emerging transit scene

I had the chance recently to speak with Ethan Elkind, whose new book “Railtown” does an excellent job of telling an important story: the history of rail transit in Los Angeles County over the past half-century. Our conversation can be heard by clicking above.


Ethan Elkind, at Union Station. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

And it’s quite a story, replete with multiple failed ballot measures of the 1960s and ’70s, political infighting, competing transit agencies, and financial struggles. And, yet, many of those issues were resolved (or resolved enough) by 2008, when two million-plus voters in L.A. County approved Measure R, a half-cent sales tax increase to fund a new slate of transit projects.

Measure R is the reason that five rail projects are currently under construction (Expo Line Phase 2, Gold Line Foothill Extension, Crenshaw/LAX Line, Regional Connector and first phase of the Purple Line Extension) while several other transit projects to receive Measure R funds are in the planning stages. It’s quite a remarkable story and I think we cover the basics in the above podcast and Ethan offers all the details in his book.

Some of you may have also seen Ethan at a Zocalo Public Square event earlier this month when he and Tom Zoellner, author of the book “Train,” discussed the history and future of railroads in Southern California. Please click here to read Zocalo’s article or listen to a recording of it.

Thanks for listening and, as always, your comments, thoughts and ideas are appreciated!

3 replies

  1. Listened to the entire podcast. Interesting conversation.

    I first learned about the book “Railtown” from a comment posted to the Los Angeles Times story about the groundbreaking ceremony for the Purple Line extension. Bought it through Amazon. Just got it on Monday. I haven’t really gotten into it yet, but what I have managed to read was quite good. Definitely not Mike Davis, if you know who I am referring to. And not at all a dry read like “The Fragmented Metropolis”.

    Regarding the 1960’s and 1970’s, Los Angeles was still very much an autocentric urban metropolis in those years. It wasn’t until Jerry Brown became Governor in 1975 that there was a slowdown to freeway construction in Los Angeles County. Of course, constructing new freeways today in Los Angeles County is impossible.

    One “semifamous” picture missing from the book “Railtown”, that probably explained the victory of Proposition A in 1980 better that anything, is a picture of Kenny Hahn and Baxter Ward on a freeway on-ramp passing out bumperstickers to motorists in their cars as they were waiting to get on the freeway. Kenny Hahn is glaring at the camera and holding a bumpersticker that read “STAMP OUT DIAMOND LANES YES R/T” (rail transit?, rapid transit?). Diamond Lanes were the freeway carpool lanes/bus lanes created by Cal Trans during the 1970’s that were not at all popular at the time because it meant the loss of freeway lanes and more freeway congestion for drive alone motorists.

  2. I read “Railtown”…..must say it was a great book and I could not put it down.