Downtown Los Angeles

 The remaining lines in downtown Los Angeles, from Los Angeles Union Station to the junctions at the Los Angeles River bridges and the lines along both banks of the LA River, are all now part of the Metrolink River Subdivision. Assembled from segments of lines once owned by, and used by the passenger trains of, the three major railroads entering Los Angeles, these tracks now provide access between LAUS and the various lines into and out of the city while continuing to provide freight connections for the UP and to a lesser extent, the BNSF. One of the accomplishments of Metrolink has been to combine segments of routes owned by the three railroads and to increase the quality of track and speed of operation on the River Corridor. This work is not complete; the next step in this improvement strategy is to extend Union Station tracks 3-4-5-6 south across the 101 freeway and connect directly to the West Bank line. These “Run Through” tracks will save several minutes for many trains and will relieve congestion at the north end of Union Station.  It is not yet known what will happen if and when High Speed Rail comes.

The Metrolink River Subdivision includes the following segments:

Mileposts are from LAUS except on the southern part of the East Bank Line, where they are a continuation of old SP mileposts from San Francisco, and the southern part of the West Bank Line, where they are the original ATSF mileposts from Barstow via Pasadena.

The various routes possible on this lines are described from the perspective of trains leaving LAUS to head for each of the variety of lines that can be reached from these tracks. The former ownership of each segment is covered in each of these descriptions,

Los Angeles Union Station

Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal (LAUPT) opened in May, 1939, replacing the Santa Fe’s Station (located along the west bank of the LA River) and the Southern Pacific’s Central Station (located on the west side of Alameda Street in downtown Los Angeles. Union Pacific used the SP station after its own station at 4th Street on the east bank of the river had burned down a few years earlier.

The station originally comprised six concrete platforms, each serving two tracks, one on either side of it, for a total of twelve passenger loading and unloading “tracks” or “platforms”. The platforms were (and are) connected by a driveway across the south end of the station, along the north side of the trench containing US 101. Each platform has an umbrella shelter covering the vast majority of its length, protecting passengers from the weather but leaving space over the tracks for smoke and steam to escape. Each pair of platform tracks has an additional track located between them, once used for locomotives to escape, but latterly used for car setouts and the like.

The mission-style station buildings are located to the west of the elevated tracks, and connect to the platforms by means of a pedestrian subway from which ramps extend in both directions on each platform. In recent years, the ramps to the south were reconstructed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and a stairway was added to each of the southerly platform ramps to facilitate access for large crowds of (typically dashing) commuters.  (Bringing the north ramps into compliance with ADA is planned as a part of the run-through track project, currently in design but not funded.)

The advent of Amtrak in 1971 vastly reduced the usage of the station, and for two decades only a few of the platforms were in active use. The platforms nearest the station buildings were demolished some years ago, but one of them has since been replaced by the station from the Gold Line light rail line to Pasadena. In 2004, Amtrak uses the furthest four tracks from the station buildings, and Metrolink uses the ones between there and the Gold Line station.

In the late 1980s segments of the station were removed from service while the Red Line subway station “box” was built beneath the platforms and tracks.  In 1995-96 most of the remaining track was rehabilitated, however there are a few segments of 1939 ties and original (1919 90-lb rail) in service.

The pedestrian subway was originally open only at the western end, with its access completely controlled by the various “gates” between the station concourse and waiting room, to the west, and the subway to he tracks, to the east. In Amtrak’s first two decades, passengers were essentially escorted from the gates to the appropriate tracks, even though the track-level layout of the platforms and connecting driveway across the end permitted the knowledgeable to access any platform without having to pass through a “gate”. The advent of Metrolink service, with the concomitant need to connect passengers onward to buses and subway trains rapidly, to distribute them in the city, caused a fundamental change in this setup, as did the arrival of the Red Line subway with its western entrance ‘behind’ the line of gates, and its eastern entrance at the newly-opened eastern end of the subway. The construction of the Gateway Tower as the MTA’s headquarters, along with the bus station located in the Gateway Plaza in front of it, at the eastern side of the station has made the pedestrian subway a wide-open public thoroughfare, to the constant frustration of some of the control freaks among Amtrak’s staff who want to keep passengers off the platforms at least until the red caps (porters) have delivered those willing to pay for the privilege to the platforms ahead of those who want to walk out there.  As of 2001 this free access to platforms has alarmed security officials, however no workable plan of passenger control that accommodates prompt movement of thousands of passengers has been proposed.

Beyond the north end of the platforms is the usual maze of terminal station trackage permitting access to all of the platforms from each of the approach lines. All of the approach trackage was renewed in 1995-96 in a series of 13 weekends whereby access to all tracks was restored each Sunday evening and access to about half of the tracks was available on the weekends.)  Trackage in the terminal itself was controlled by Terminal Tower, on the east side of the tracks, for many years, but is now controlled from the Metrolink Dispatching center in Pomona.  On the west side of the tracks, north of the platforms, are some stub-end tracks known as “the garden”, on which private cars are stored during visits to LA or between trips out of LA. The Gold Line rises onto a viaduct that crosses above the tracks leading into the ‘garden’ area and turns west along the middle of Vignes Street. On the east side of the station are tracks used for loading mail and express into the cars Amtrak uses to carry these commodities on the rear of some trains.

North of Terminal Tower, the approach tracks turn eastward onto the alignment once used by the Southern Pacific’s eastward approaches to its Alameda Street trackage and Cornfield Yard, passing beneath a signal bridge with a comprehensive array of signals, to reach the locations once controlled by Mission Tower (in the midst of the approach tracks), which has also been replaced by the Metrolink Dispatching Center. From the Mission Tower area, connecting tracks lead to all of the lines to and from downtown. Both tower buildings are still extant in 2004. (The mechanical interlocking machines at Terminal and Mission Towers are intact and in place however all of the connecting relays and circuits are removed.) In 2006, the terminal throat has been expanded from four tracks to five between Terminal Tower and Mission Tower, around the turn to the east.

Cesar Chavez Avenue (formerly Macy Street) passes under the platforms themselves, with a concrete underbridge almost resembling a tunnel. Beyond the end of the platforms, Vignes Street also passes underneath using a similar underbridge. Terminal Tower is located next to the Vignes Street bridge on the southeast corner.

Today’s Terminal Lead starts at Los Angeles Union Station at MP 0.0, with Yard Limits extending to three separate Control Points near the ends of the platforms (MP 0.3), whence there are five main tracks controlled by CTC. The Garden Tracks split off to the west at MP 0.4; there are crossovers at CP Terminal (MP 0.5) and crossovers at CP Mission (MP 0.7), where the Northwest, San Gabriel and Southwest Connecting Tracks split off. There is a flat crossing with the West Bank Line at CP West Diamond (MP 0.8), a single track through truss bridge across the Los Angeles River (the original SP main line), a flat crossing with the East Bank Line at CP East Diamond (MP 0.9), where the Coast Connecting Track splits off to the north, and an end-on junction with the UP Alhambra subdivision at CP Yuma Junction (MP 1.3), which is also where the Northeast Connecting Track comes in from the north.

Amtrak and Metrolink to the former Santa Fe Fullerton Line

The vast majority of the West Bank Line originated as the Santa Fe Pasadena (formerly 2nd Sub) subdivision trackage through Los Angeles, extending from the bridge across the LA River used by the erstwhile main line through Pasadena (where the Gold Line’s concrete cantilever bridge now is), to the north, to Redondo Junction to the south, where the main line turned east towards Fullerton and the Santa Fe’s line to the harbor headed south and then west to Redondo Beach (and later to the LA/LB Harbor). Santa Fe’s station was located between First and Fourth Streets, approximately where the MTA Red Line Shops now sit.

Trains from LAUS headed south on the West Bank Line leave the Terminal Lead at CP Mission (MP 0.7) and traverse the two main tracks of the Southwest Connecting Track to CP San Diego Junction (MP 140.2), where there are crossovers. Train consists being moved between station and coach yard that must reverse in the process leave the Terminal Lead at CP Mission (MP 0.7) and traverse the two main tracks of the Northwest Connecting Track to CP Chavez (MP 1.0), where there are crossovers, then continue north on the two main track West Bank Line until they have cleared the switches at CP Chavez. They then reverse and head south on the West Bank Line’s single track through CP West Diamond (where they cross the Terminal Lead) to CP San Diego Junction.

South of CP San Diego Junction to CP Olympic there are again two main tracks. The line runs along the LA River, passing under Cesar Chavez Avenue, the US 101 freeway, and First Street, all of which cross overhead on bridges. The first four tracks west of the main line are BNSF 4th St. yard tracks, primarily used to store overflow intermodal cars.  The fifth track is the “roundhouse lead” used by Amtrak to connect their 8th St. coach yard to CP San Diego Jct.  Everything east of the roundhouse lead is MTA property. The MTA Red Line east of its LAUS terminus on the way to its shops comes out of its tunnel alongside the line on the west and passes under the Fourth Street bridge alongside the West Bank Line. The Red Line Shops lie between Fourth Street and Sixth Street, on the west side of the Metrolink tracks. The south leads of the Red Line Shops pass under the massive Sixth Street bridge still alongside the Metrolink Tracks, which then pass under the Seventh Street bridge.

Amtrak’s coach facilities are on the west side of the line south of Seventh Street, including a carriage washing machine through which the train consists pass as they are moved from the station to the coach yards. Main line and coach yards pass under the I-10 bridge. There are crossovers at CP Olympic (MP 142.6), adjacent to the Amtrak locomotive facilities and fuel rack, the lines pass under the Olympic Boulevard Bridge and then rise up on the Metrolink flyover to turn east, crossing above the UP lines to the Alameda Corridor, Washington Boulevard, the LA River and Soto Street in the process before descending on the south side of the BNSF San Bernardino subdivision, which they join at Soto (MP 144.0), the end of the West Bank Line. The flyover was constructed in 2000-2001 to eliminate both the at-grade crossing of the Alameda Corridor and to eliminate the 10-degree (15 MPH) curves.  It is an interesting mix of concrete box girder, steel deck girder, through steel girder, and steel deck truss designs, each chosen depending upon the length of the spans and the amount of clearance needed beneath the bridge.  The steel parts are made of “weathering” steel that contains a trace of copper so that the first bit of oxidization results in a protective coating that halts further corrosion.  (A good engineering solution but not a very handsome bridge.)

Metrolink to the UP Riverside Line and the Metrolink San Gabriel Line

South of the San Gabriel Connecting Track bridge at Mission Tower (formerly UP’s access track to Union Station), the East Bank line was the Union Pacific (formerly Los Angeles and Salt Lake). The original LA&SL station (and their milepost zero) was at 4th Street. North of this point was the UP Pasadena Branch, south was the main line to Riverside and beyond.  Beginning in the 1920s the California PUC and the City of Los Angeles arranged trackage rights for SP trains on this line in order to reduce the number of trains operating on the SP San Pedro Branch in the middle of Alameda Street.  Dozens of UP trains currently use this line daily, both en route to the Alameda Corridor and to the UP East Los Angeles yard

Passenger trains headed for either San Bernardino via Metrolink’s San Gabriel Subdivision or for Riverside via the UP leave the Terminal Lead at CP Mission, cross the West Bank Line on a flat crossing at CP West Diamond (separate from the flat crossing between the Terminal Lead and the West Bank Line), cross the LA River on a girder bridge and join the East Bank Line at CP Pasadena Junction (MP 0.9), adjacent to the UP Los Angeles Transportation Center (Shops Yard), where there are crossovers. Trains headed for the Metrolink San Gabriel Subdivision leave the East Bank Line immediately, still at CP Pasadena Junction, curving away east and uphill around the south side of Shops Yard. In addition to Metrolink’s San Bernardino trains, Amtrak’s Sunset Limited uses this route out of LAUS.

Trains headed for the UP Riverside line continue south on the East Bank Line, on which CP Pasadena Junction is MP 482.3, under the Cesar Chavez Avenue bridge, the US 101 freeway bridge and the First Street bridge. There are crossovers at CP First Street (MP 483.1, with some very busy spur tracks and the UP 4th St. Yard along the east side of the line. The urban fabric at this point is one of the grittiest areas of the city (unlike the gentrifying warehouse district across the river, where warehouses have been converted into upscale loft apartments). On the east side of the river at this point is Boyle Heights, location of the Los Angeles Police department’s infamous Hollenbeck District, with the highest crime rates in the city.

The line continues under the Sixth Street and Seventh Street bridges, under the I-10 bridge, and then under the Olympic Boulevard bridge. There are signals north of the latter, and crossovers underneath it, at CP Ninth Street (MP 484.9). Here, the line turns east, away from the river, and the connection to the UP’s bridge across the river to the Alameda Corridor departs to the south to form the west leg of a wye. Around the curve to the east, at Soto Street Junction (MP 485.2), the East Bank Line ends as it joins with the UP tracks coming across the LA River from the Alameda Corridor on the UP Los Angeles subdivision (the UP Riverside line).

Amtrak (formerly) to the ex-SP Colton Line

Southern Pacific’s exit from Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal crossed the bridge at Mission Tower. Trains heading east continued directly ahead onto the line to Colton.

This trackage is entirely encompassed by today’s Terminal lead, discussed above.

Amtrak and Metrolink to the ex-SP lines in the San Fernando Valley
            (routes on both banks, with the East Bank rarely used any more)

The northernmost stretch of the West Bank Line, north of the Gold Line bridge and including the crossing of the LA River at the north end of the line, originated as the Southern Pacific’s original main line from the north to its freight facilities in the Cornfield yard, located between Spring Street and Broadway and its passenger station further south on Alameda Street. The northernmost segment of the East Bank Line comprised the direct connection between the Southern Pacific’s original line from the north and its easterly extension out towards Colton. Southern Pacific’s exit from Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal crossed the bridge at Mission Tower. Trains going north or west (all went west according to the railroad itself) turned north on what is now the Coast Connecting Track and continued up the East Bank Line on UP trackage rights as far as the ATSF bridge, where SP ownership began.

Trains headed for the north via the West Bank Line leave the Terminal Lead at CP Mission (MP 0.7) and traverse the two main tracks of the Northwest Connecting Track to CP Chavez (MP 1.0), where there are crossovers, then continue north on the two main track West Bank Line. North Main Street is crossed at grade at the west end of the North Main Street bridge across the LA River, North Broadway and Spring Street cross over head on bridges, the Gold Line crosses overhead on its bridge where the Santa Fe Pasadena subdivision once crossed the LA River, the Gold Line shops are on the west side of the tracks adjacent to the crossovers at CP Capitol (MP 1.6), built on the site of the former SP “Midway” yard, The line passes under the twin bridges at different heights of the Pasadena Freeway and crosses the LA River itself to reach CP Dayton (MP 2.2), where there are more crossovers, the junction with the East Bank Line and the entrance to Metrolink’s Central Maintenance Facility.

Trains headed for the north via the East Bank Line leave the Terminal Lead at CP East Diamond, traverse the single track Coast Connecting Track to CP Main Street (MP 481.9) and continue north on the two main tracks of the East Bank Line. The line crosses North Main Street at grade at the east end of that street’s bridge across the river, passes under the North Broadway and Spring Street bridges, under the Gold Line bridge, and then under the Pasadena Freeway bridges. The West Bank Line, coming across the river from the west, joins at CP Dayton, whence there are three main tracks under the Figueroa Street and I-5 bridges. North of the latter, the Metrolink shops are alongside the line to the west, between the line and the river, as far as CP Metro (MP 3.3), where the number of main tracks reduces to two. After a short stretch alongside the river and a grade crossing with an access road, the former SP Taylor Shops are alongside on the west side of the tracks at CP Taylor (MP 3.5). (Note that the popular name for this area was “Taylor Yard” however it was never so designated by the SP.  The name “Taylor” came from a feed mill on San Fernando Road served by the SP.)

The whole area from CP Dayton (where there was a tower until the mid 1990s that now sits preserved but unused at the San Fernando Road entrance to the Taylor Shops.) to CP Taylor was once the site of SP’s massive Taylor Yard, the hub of SP’s general merchandise operations in the Los Angeles area. Replaced by the West Colton Yard and the move to intermodal operations, Taylor Yard has been completely removed from the area, the main lines have been slewed west, away from their former location alongside San Fernando Road, the land has received an environmental cleanup and is now available for development as an industrial and warehouse park. Even the Taylor Shops are now largely unused and falling into dereliction.

North of CP Taylor, the line continues as the Metrolink Valley Subdivision.

Union Pacific Freights along the East Bank Line

Freight trains heading from the lines northward from LA (via Tehachapi Pass or the Pacific Coast) use the East Bank Line to connect to their onward routes. Under the UP-SP merger plan for directional running, most westward trains from Colton and City of Industry use the Alhambra line to Yuma Jct. then go south on the East Bank to CP 9th St. to go to the Alameda Corridor or go back east to the UP yard east of Soto Street.  From CP Main Street, trains from the north heading east use the two main track Northeast Connecting Track to reach CP Yuma Junction and the UP Alhambra subdivision (the Colton line). Trains heading to the harbor continue south on the two main tracks from CP Main Street across CP East Diamond (MP 482.2) to reach CP Pasadena Junction, where the San Gabriel Connecting Track trails in from the west and the Balloon Track, used by freight trains moving from the UP Alhambra subdivision at CP Yuma Junction towards the Alameda Corridor, trail in from the east. North of CP Main and south of CP Pasadena Junction, the line is as described above. At CP Ninth Street, most UP freights take the west leg of the wye to head across the LA River to the Alameda Corridor.