The A Line (Blue) turns 30

The A Line (Blue) opened to the public on July 14, 1990, marking the return of mass transit by train to Los Angeles for the first time since 1963. Since then, it has carried millions of people between Los Angeles and Long Beach, undergone a major facelift (New Blue Improvements Project) and continues to serve as a lifeline for those who need access to essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Take a look at the photos below for a brief trip down memory lane.

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19 replies

  1. 1988 for merger talks: that was a fantasy to never happen had each agency had its way. The LACTC was building Blue Line to terminate at Flower and Pico while the RTD was constructing its subway (Red/A line) along 7th Street. Those of us who were around then saw the stupidity of a huge gap if one wanted to transfer from one line to the other. It was not until years later in the late 1980’s that a Times article educated the non-transit watchers and published a story going into length about how the LACTC and RTD agencies hated each other (at the time, we all knew this; the differences were LACTC forcing RTD to come hat in hand begging for its MANDATED share of the 1/2 cent sales tax revenue passed in the late 1980, being political opposites, pro and anti union, and LACTC seeing subways as massive wastes of money, and on and on) and it was so bad, the Times pointed out, both agencies were spending billions of tax payer money for two lines that would end up being a mere SIX blocks from each other with no planned connection to either line. It was ONLY after that public embarrassment and the exposure to countless citizens and spooked politicians (politicians knew ALL this since years before) by the Times article that forced the two agencies to merge with a bill proposed and passed by then assemblyman Richard Katz (who would go on to be an influential and Machiavellian figure at both the new MTA and Metrolink for decades after leaving the state Assembly).

    The next problem was filling the gap between Pico and 7th street. LACTC and RTD claimed they didn’t have the money in their budgets for such a project. IIRC, it was money that came mostly for the State of California that funded the cut and cover tunnel that is in use today to link Pico and 7th Street/Metro Center (Sacramento could still find some money behind the cushions of the sofas in those days).

    Then the next problem was HOW the Blue line was going to integrate with then named 7th Street Station. Final station design had already been completed and even early stages of construction were underway. The solution had to CHEAP and EASY since, again, the State was coming up with most of the money, and not much of it, so a crude solution of just shoving the tracks onto the mezzanine on top of the subway level that created the inefficient and difficult access and impediments to getting to the desired track from the different portals and the lousy platforms for standing for Blue/A and Expo/E we suffer with today. And, BTW, IIRC, the result of the rushed re-design of 7th Street station to accommodate Blue line tracks was that they somehow forgot to put into the new design new drains for the floor of the mezzanine, which were added AFTER construction at some cost.

    Thankfully, the Times article and Richard Katz did what really needed to be done: a proper merge of the two feuding agencies that has resulted in at least two good things as per Katz’s legislation:

    1. ALL transit and transportation, most significantly including roads, were now the responsibility of a SINGLE agency with such roads, rail, and bus “departments” now in concert and cooperation and with a unified in vision of ONE agency. Although at the start, even AFTER the merger the RTD staff inhabited the lower floors of the MTA building at Union Station, while the LACTC staff were located on the upper floors, but those days of stupid separation have long passed. Today, the LACTMTA really does function as ONE agency.

    2, A board comprised of, mostly, the top elected official/representatives (the Mayor–along with his appointees–and LA County Board of Supervisors) meant that the politicians had to go on record and VOTE for fare increases and take direct responsibility for transit and transportation planning and decisions in LA County, and they can be held accountable for their actions at the MTA by a vote of the next election for Mayor or Supervisor. The old model, at least at the RTD, was for politicians to appoint members of the RTD board, and then those politicians would hide behind the appointees by claiming that they, the politicians didn’t vote for a fare increase nor made the decision to cut service, rather it was “they” “them” the RTD board “not me, the politician” making those decisions. “Blame them”. The current MTA board of elected high ranking politicians has resulted BETTER accountability to the people by the board of the agency then the old RTD and even the obscure but powerful LACTC, speaking as someone who lived through the old era of the RTD and LACTC feuds and fiascoes with little accountability of to the people.

  2. Since living in DTLA I love the blue line just wish they b earlier departures from 7th/Metro station. Bcuz I wrk n Compton and start at 5am. Like 4am departures from dtla station be very appreciated.

  3. The Metro tweet says that the Blue Line marked “the return of passenger rail to Los Angeles for the first time since 1963.” I don’t think this is accurate, since Amtrak served Union Station, and thus Los Angeles, throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Perhaps you meant the return of local rail transit service?

    • Hey Stephen —

      You are correct, Amtrak was around in 1970s and ’80s and that’s why we edited that line to read return to mass transit by rail.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

    • That’s what they meant. Local rail service. Before the blue line. If you didn’t have a car, You had to ride the bus everywhere in LA. They wasn’t talking about Amtrak. That’s intercity rail service not inner-city rail service.

  4. Does anyone know, by any chance, why Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority was established on 1 April 1993 even though there were apparently already Metro projects in 1990? Thanks!

    • Metro is the successor to the LA County Transportation Commission, which completed the Blue Line project. LACTC and SCRTD were merged into Metro in 1993.

      • I understand that — but if Metro wasn’t created until 1993, why was the Blue Line branded as the “Metro Blue Line” three years earlier in 1990? Why, at the ribbon cutting, were all of the suits were wearing “Metro” hats? Why did the trains bear “Metro” insignias.

        I’m afraid that my tone might come across as conspiratorial — we’re through the looking glass and all that — but I assure you I’m merely curious how an agency can be founded three years after its first project.

        • Hi Eric —

          That’s a perfectly okay question. The agency that built the Blue Line was one of the agencies that evolved into Metro and we’ve called it our own line since the agency was founded in 1993.

          Steve Hymon
          Editor, The Source

        • In 1988, the two boards of directors of the two predecessors SCRTD and LACTC adopted the “Eight Point Plan” and one of the 8 points, besides agreeing to merger talks, was to call the system Metro and specifically to rename the original Metrorail subway and the Los Angeles Long Beach Light Rail project as the Metro Red Line and Metro Blue Line. –Metro Library & Archive staff

        • Hi Eric:

          Unfortunately Mr. Hymon’s answer is not correct. The answer is quite simple. “Metro Rail” was the name of the project, not the name of the agency. “Metro Rail” was a project planned and constructed by the agency known as LACTC, which was the funding, planning, and construction arm of transportation in Los Angeles. SCRTD, a separate agency, managed operations.

          The need for a “Metro” system actually dates back to reports as early as 1960, as is discussed in this article from the Metro Primary Resources blog:

          The truth is that the naming order is the opposite of what you are suggesting. “Metro Rail” was the name chosen for the rail construction projects that began in the 1980’s, and later in 1993 when LACTC and SCRTD were ordered by the state to merge, they agreed to name the new, combined agency “Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority,” originally branded as MTA, and later re-branded as “Metro” in the early 2000’s.

          Courtney Lam
          LA Metro Archivist

    • There were 2 agencies that were combined to make MTA. It inherited all of their projects.

  5. Such a wonderful article and the memories associated with the A Line. I had worked in the County Hall of Administration when the ground breaking took place for the B Line in the Civic Center which I attended. Mayor Bradley pushed for rail and was one of the best Mayors we had in Los Angeles and he did so much for the people in the city. In addition, Kenneth Hahn also pushed for rail service and he was also a great Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor. He is another individual which did a lot for the people of LA County.

  6. Great photos and memories. Should have happened closer to the time of the demise of Pacific Electric. And….Metro should have kept the Pacific Electric color scheme on the trains as they had used for the 10th Anniversary celebration.

  7. The photo showing the LA City Hall in the background was taken on Long Beach Ave, not Long Beach Blvd, which is several miles away.