"More than 40 years ago, in 1963, I attended a meeting of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors at which the Alweg Monorail company outlined a plan to construct one or more monorails crossing L.A. north, south, east and west. The company said that if it were allowed to build the system, it would give the monorails to us for free - absolutely gratis. The company would operate the system and collect the fare revenues.

It seemed a reasonable bargain to me. But at the end of a long day of discussion, the Board of Supervisors rejected Alweg Monorail.

I was stunned. I dimly saw, even at that time, the future of freeways, which would, in the end, go nowhere.

At the end of the afternoon, I asked for three minutes to testify. I took the microphone and said, 'To paraphrase Winston Churchill, rarely have so many owed so little to so few.' I was conducted out of the meeting."
Ray Bradbury

Alweg

The Viewliner with Disney at the helmJuly 23rd, 1957: Disney misses seeing a test of the Alweg monorail in Cologne. Because of this, Disneyland keeps the "Viewliner" - moving the tracks rather than replacing them with the monorail - when construction begins on the Matterhorn in 1958.1 Thus, the monorail - and Alweg in particular - does not get tarred with the "it's only an amusement park ride" brush.

Alweg's original test vehicles 1958-59: Alweg builds a short (two mile), but relatively successful, monorail line in Cologne. It won't be extended until 1969, but it puts Alweg's name on the map.

1962: Alweg builds the Seattle's World Fair Monorail. It is a big success.

November 12th, 1963: For reasons as unknowable as why they rejected the offer on OTL, the Los Angeles County supervisors accepts a modified Alweg proposal to build their monorail from Century City to El Monte, with a further line up into the Valley. MTA has been bullish on monorails since the early 50's and Alweg's plan would build what they've been calling their "backbone route," plus some. One problem, however, for some reason the MTA's got it in their head that the section of the route along Wilshire has to be in a subway - and that they will in fact reject any plan that does not include this!

This will cause problems later.

Beamway plans1964: Alweg begins their basic engineering planning for the monorail. Due to the ease of construction and the fact that the right-of-way is already fully in RTD hands (the MTA's new name. More fully the "Southern California Rapid Transit District"), the eleven-and-a-half mile El Monte to Downtown section of RTD's "backbone route" is targeted for the initial work. The fact that they're still arguing with the RTD board about the necessity of it being a subway on the rest of the route through the Wilshire District encourages this decision. In fact, Alweg just barely convinces the RTD that there's no reason to go subway for the last mile into downtown from El Monte.

February 5th, 1965: Construction begins on the monorail (or "finally begins after much delay" as the Herald Examiner puts it). The majority of the route will be along the center divide of the 10 freeway, paralleling the old Pacific Electric "San Bernardino line" (now a massively underused Southern Pacific track). In fact, in an innovative plan, Alweg uses the line to deliver and (with the help of a special flatcar mounted crane) set up both the pylons and the "beamway" on top. Construction goes quite quickly, with fully half the beamway set up by mid-April. The RTD promises to have the line up and running "by Christmas."

Proposal for Figueroa BlvdIt should be noted, though, that while the physical beamway is there, no electrical or control connections have been mounted and actual stations are only just being started. Which is perhaps why some cynics point out that the RTD didn't specify which year's Christmas...

El Monte Station - and the "beam-yard" - are in fact already slightly behind schedule. Meanwhile, Alweg is having trouble arguing with the owners of the old Pacific Electric 6th Street Station building. They've sold the land that the elevated structure stretched out on behind it to Greyhound, to use for their new downtown terminal and this - to put it mildly - has screwed plans up.

Their original plans had the line heading southwest (and underground) from the Mission Station and then curving west (after a station at Alameda and 3rd) to a station to be built on the site of the P.E.'s elevated section - where now the Greyhound terminal was going to be built. Convincing RTD to go above ground with this section had already created changes to this route and now the loss of the property caused a further problem - where should be main station go?

Finally Union Station managers offered space for the main downtown station, which Alweg and the RTD quickly accepted. It's rather farther from the center of "downtown" than the 6th Street building, but the RTD spins it as it being the start of "a new transportation hub" - while some midnight oil starts being burned as to how, exactly, this hub is going to connect into the rest of RTD's bus system and how they're going to route the line from there to Wilshire now. It doesn't help that the RTD is still stuck on it being underground for that part of the route.
The 'Backbone Route'

August, 1965: The beamway between El Monte and Union Station is completed and electrical has been installed over the first three miles out of El Monte Station. Testing begins with three two-car trains over this section. On August 12th, Mayor Sam Yorty and most of the city council take a heavily publicized ride on the new monorail from El Monte Station to the San Gabriel Blvd station (just short of the limit of live track) and back while cameras click and the Mayor makes pronouncements on how "Los Angeles is building the transportation system of the twenty-first century."

Meanwhile, while complete enough for photo-ops, both the El Monte and San Gabriel Blvd stations are no where near complete enough for actual use.2 Other stations are even sketchier - the Union Station facilities are just a set of pylons and concrete forms at the moment. Alweg concentrates on finishing the facilities at the El Monte and the Union Station sites, leaving the eight stations in between to languish for the moment.

September, 1965: While construction on the El Monte division switches to work on stations and yard work, Alweg decides to move the now idle beamway crews to start another section of the route. Because the route of (and above/below groundness of) the Wilshire route is still up in the air at the moment (or under the ground), they decide to start on the line running from Van Nuys (in the San Fernando Valley) south, in the hopes that by the time they get to the Wilshire Blvd area, this whole thing will be worked out and they can actually connect it to the rest of the line. Without a handy (and wildly underused) rail-line to use to transport materials as they did on the El Monte division, construction goes about twenty-percent slower than it had before. Still, by the end of the year, they've passed Burbank Blvd and are heading fairly quickly towards the Cahuenga Pass.

December, 1965: The RTD and Alweg declare the first stage in construction "completed." And it is - to an extent. Trains can now run the full length of beam from El Monte to Union Station and both of those sites now actually have stations finished enough to use. However, only five of the eight in between are in a similar state. Mission, CalState L.A., and Fremont stations are still at the "passengers need to use the ladder" stage. CalState L.A. Station, with its tall elevators and walkways up to the campus, is particularly incomplete.

Still, what work that needs to be done can now be done while monorails pass back and forth, so RTD states that the line will open in January.

On the design front, RTD is still clinging to it's "there must be a subway on the Wilshire Route" delusion - a stand that is driving Alweg engineers crazy. Finally, in a desperate move, they produce a study that shows the seven or so miles of subway the RTD demands will add between four and seven years to the project and, in an end run, send this study direct to County supervisors.

January 9th, 1966: Opening ceremonies start at 9 a.m. and over twenty-three thousand people take their first ride on the monorail by the end of the day - this in spite of two-hours of downtime during the afternoon when train number four breaks down just past Atlantic. After about an hour of trying to fix it where it was, Alweg engineers use number three to slowly push the disabled monorail to a siding next to the CalState L.A. Station.

However, apart from this one incident (and some doors on number two that had an unfortunate tendency to close, then open, then close again every time it got ready to leave a station) the system worked flawlessly. L.A. residents had stars in their eyes about their new "transportation system of the future."

January 10th, 1966: Monday - and the first actual working day for the monorail. This time, things didn't go quite so flawlessly. Trains arrived late or early - or both - when matched to their newly printed schedules. Number six bumped the train in front of it, causing no real damage but knocking several riders in both trains over. People transferring to or from buses often found themselves watching their next ride pull away just as they were pulling in.

In short, it was a confused mess.

To be fair, though, almost none of the problems were caused by the monorail itself. Most of the RTD's new Monorail Operators had less than a month of training by this time and some as little as eight days. Also, an undiscovered error in the hastily printed schedules gave westbound arrival times for New Ave. Station that were physically impossible to do, unless the train hit ninety out of the San Gabriel Blvd. Station (difficult, when a "Mark I" would be red-lined at sixty-two mph and rarely would exceed fifty in normal operation).

The first scheduleWorse, RTD was only a third of the way through the process of rearranging all its bus schedules (and occasionally routes as well) to improve their linkage to the new monorail and few passengers had those new schedules anyway. This, of course, spread the confusion and missed rides out over half the San Gabriel Valley. The problem was so great that, by the end of the week, the confusion was hardly any lower than at the beginning.

At least the schedules didn't list the three unopened stations yet - an earlier set had, but were fortunately pulled before they got out into the public.

News reporters found themselves both praising the cool, new monorail - and damning how the RTD was running it.

The RTD had other PR problems. They found themselves in front of the Board of Supervisors, trying to explain just why the monorail had to go through a subway on Wilshire.

Since the El Monte Route showed quite clearly that it didn't need to go underground to avoid tying up surface traffic and the beamway was being described in papers as "attractive" and "elegant"3 - killing RTD's aesthetics arguments - the RTD was forced to fall back on their proposed use of the tunnel as a giant fallout shelter in case of nuclear war as the primary reason for building the subway. This may have made sense in the fifties, when nuclear war seemed both inevitable and (with preparation) survivable - and everyone and his brother was building a fallout shelter in their backyard - but that time had passed. As one supervisor put it "the RTD is supposed to be in the business of transporting people now, not preparing for their post-apocalyptic future!"

Meanwhile Alweg was still trying to finish the last three stations while building towards the Cahuenga Pass on the Valley Route.

March, 1966: Things settled down as Operators got more practice with their vehicles and as schedules were finished and distributed more widely (and, of course, corrected!). Two of the last three stations4 were now open for business, even if they were still installing signs and the occasional door at them.

Which is not to say everything was working perfectly; Breakdowns happened on average of twice a week, the switch to storage track four in the El Monte beamyard died and left a train stranded there for almost three weeks, lighting along the beam and stations was found to be inadequate - at least, if you wanted to read the now distributed schedules - and the doors on number two still did their extra open and close at each station.5

Meanwhile the beamway for Valley Route had passed what would be the Moorpark Ave. Station and was preparing to start climbing the pass towards Hollywood. Ironically, though, progress on this route now slowed to a near halt.

More sketchesBecause - prodded by the Board - the RTD had sullenly told Alweg that they would not need to build a subway section on Wilshire after all "except for areas of the route where not doing so would cause congestion or other problems below" - which was basically just a sop to their pride, as both they and Alweg knew that the route as planned wouldn't cause a bit of trouble on the ground and Alweg had no plans for any tunneling at all.

However, this meant moving most of their beamway construction crew from heading south on the Valley Route to heading west on the "Backbone" and this brought work in the Valley to its near halt. This started a lot of uncomplimentary opinion pieces in the Daily News...

Meanwhile, the first pylons and beams out of Union Station west were set up on March 19th and by the end of the month, they had already turned down Figueroa, heading for Wilshire Blvd.

Alweg's plan for the route included the idea of renting upper floor space on several buildings to use as the stations on this section of the line - rather than building them all from scratch. Of the fourteen stations from Union to Century City, five of them were to be these "built ins."6 Sites for the other nine (including the important Century City Station7 at the end of the line, which would also need a small beam yard) were in the process of being found, acquired and designed for.

May, 1966: The beamway finished its run down Figueroa and was now heading west on Wilshire itself. Because they were "built ins," both the 3rd Street and Downtown stations are actually ready for business as well and on May 16th, operations are extended the mile and-a-half from Union Station to Downtown Station.8 This causes a full fifteen percent increase in riders,9 much to Alweg's delight.

Construction on Wilshire was moving along at a steady, but slower pace. Heavy traffic on the road made delivering and setting up the pylons and beams a much longer and more complex process than the relatively easy setting up along the freeway had been. Much of the work had to be done at night simply to avoid completely shutting down this major thoroughfare. The crew came to hate every mile of the nine they had left to reach Century City.

August, 1966: A year to the day after declaring the El Monte to L.A. section finished, the beamway reaches La Brea Junction. With only four miles left to go on the "Backbone" - and with someplace to actually connect to now, Alweg shifts some of the beamway crew back to the Valley line and construction resumes on the beamway south.

Alweg is waiting on the arrival of four more trains so that it can open the Wilshire Route as far west as the Vermont Station. The stations themselves are ready, but apart from a couple of PR specials, Alweg lacks the ability to service them without lengthening the schedules for the currently operating section - something neither Alweg nor the RTD wants to do.

Alweg figures it will need at least eighteen of the four-car trains to properly cover the "Backbone" with another twelve for the Valley Route - thirty in all. And they would like to have at least another twelve to cover breakdowns, specials, and times when more capacity is needed. Their current eight (soon to be twelve) is therefore just a start.

October, 1966: The four new trains arrive and service west as far as the Vermont station begins.

November, 1966: The final beam is lowered on the Wilshire Route while construction continues on the stations. Meanwhile the Valley Route has crossed the Cahuenga Pass, bored through Hollywood, and is now passing what will be the Melrose Station.

December 22nd, 1966: The Valley Route beamway connects up with La Brea Junction. While much work needs to be done to get it (and the rest of the Wilshire Route) ready for business, Alweg has completed all the beamway in its original proposal back in 1963.

February 14th, 1967: Service on the full Wilshire Route and the Valley Route officially opens. And there is much rejoicing!

In actuality, Alweg and the RTD were trying very hard for a January opening date - January 10th, if possible - in order to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the opening of the El Monte Route. And in fact they did manage to do some PR runs with various politicians and celebrities on January 10th. But once again, delays in getting the necessary trains put the opening on hold for another month.

Still, in just over two years, Alweg had built - and opened - over forty miles of beamway (all double-beamed), finishing all of its original proposal more or less on budget, and was now running a very successful new transit system for the City of Los Angeles...

...and everyone was asking "now what?"

1967: Most of 1967 was occupied by Alweg simply catching its breath. In spite of the success of the project, building the Los Angeles monorail system had been a huge project for the company and while receipts from riders were in fact actually paying the company back for the huge costs, they weren't paying it back very quickly, which left them cash-short. Apart from some discussion with Seattle over extending their line and some very tentative talks with San Francisco and Madrid, very little was done construction-wise by the company (though they delivered the fortieth train to Los Angeles in July of that year).

However, their engineers had some ideas...

Alweg's 1967 proposalNovember, 1967: Alweg engineers show up at a County Supervisor's meeting with a new set of plans for "round two" of the system. Based off of RTD wishes, they propose three extensions - Century City to Santa Monica, North Hollywood to Burbank and El Monte to Pomona - plus three entirely new lines - Los Angeles to Long Beach, Los Angeles to Pasadena and Los Angeles to LAX. Unlike the first proposal, these are not to be "free" to the county, but will be built at cost by county funds.

Long deliberations commence.

March, 1968: Long deliberations finally finish. The Supervisors basically sign off on two of the three extensions - dropping the El Monte to Pomona one - and just one of the new lines - the Long Beach Route. Alweg and the RTD argue that the dropped routes are important for the whole system, but the Supervisors really aren't in the mood to spend all that much and only accepted the Long Beach route because it would be a nice offering for Watts - hopefully helping to calm down all those potential rioters...10

July/August, 1968: First known use of the term "The Al" to describe the monorail system - a pun both on Chicago's "El" and Alweg. Sometime in the late 70's, this name would shift to "Big Al".

Long Beach RouteOctober, 1968: Construction began on the new Long Beach Route and the Burbank and Santa Monica Extensions.

The Long Beach Route would be a continuation down Figueroa to Washington from the present line at Downtown Station, then east on Washington to the old Pacific Electric right of way (like the old P.E. line on the 10, now owned by Southern Pacific) as far as Long Beach Blvd where it would then continue down that to Ocean Blvd in Long Beach - a total of twenty-one and-a-half miles from its start at the Downtown Station. A further six-mile single-beamed line would continue from where the route hit Long Beach BlvdSanta Monica Extension - again, along an old P.E. Right-of-way - south and east to the county border, ending in Naples, just before Seal Beach.11 This one line would as long as the whole of the original "Backbone" Route, not even counting the Seal Beach cutoff.

The five and-a-quarter mile Santa Monica Extension would start at the Century City Station on the Wilshire Route and head west along Santa Monica Blvd, terminating at Lincoln in Santa Monica.

Burbank ExtensionThe shortest of the new routes would be the Burbank Extension at just four and-a-half miles. Starting at the North Hollywood Station on the Valley Route, it would head almost due east, ending up at Magnolia and Glen Oaks in Burbank.

Initial work on the Long Beach and Santa Monica Extension was slow due to the need to build through some fairly dense city (and the need not to interrupt service at the busy Century City and Downtown stations), while the Burbank Extension advanced relatively quickly. With only three new stops and a rail right-of-way to build on for most of the route, this extension would be finished in record time.

January 3rd, 1969: The Burbank Extension opens. Thanks to this addition, the Valley Route becomes the most heavily traveled line in the system, heavier even than the "Backbone."12 Interestingly, Alweg's studies show that slightly over half of the riders do not use the line to travel to downtown Los Angeles, but instead debark at other stations outside of the downtown area. Fully twenty-two percent, in fact, never leave the Valley! This will cause them to do a rethink on their "downtown as a Central Hub" strategy.

Meanwhile, the Santa Monica Extension is still at least two months away from being finished and the Long Beach Route has just reached the old Pacific Electric right-of-way at Washington Blvd. and Long Beach Ave. Alweg moves the crews from the completed Burbank Extension down to Long Beach to begin work on the Willow St Junction Station (where the Seal Beach Cutoff will...cut off) and then set beamway from there down Long Beach Blvd for the main line and along the P.E. Right-of-way to (nearly) Seal Beach. Alweg's hope was that they could finish this section with some of the densest "in town" work, having it ready by the time the main beamway crews finished the route from Downtown L.A. to the junction.13

March 19th, 1969: The Santa Monica Extension is finally complete. Riders can now ride the twenty-seven plus miles from El Monte to the sea in just under an hour. A special "Beach Runner" train is planned for the summer which will feature allowing riders to bring bicycles, surfboards, and other "beach gear" aboard and which will use three specially painted (in "Summer Fun Colors") monorails to provide the rides.

The number of riders has more than tripled since the initial line opened three years ago and both Alweg and the RTD see nothing but increases in the future as the system is extended.

1969 '605' proposal Work on the Long Beach line, on the other hand, is still going slowly. While the "Willow Crew" has built a mile down Long Beach Blvd and is almost halfway finished on the Cutoff (just shy of the future 7th Street Station), the main crews have just reached the Slauson Junction site. Alweg had planned to have the line finished by October, but schedules now don't show it finished until at least December.

July, 1969: The beamways from Willow to both Naples ("Seal Beach") and Ocean Blvd are complete, while the pace has picked up on the main crews's work. In fact, Alweg is able to open the line as far as Slauson Junction.

Meanwhile, Alweg and the RTD once again put forth the Pomona Extension to the board - along with a new route paralleling the 605 from El Monte to Long Beach - and is once again voted down. However, the board does agree to a study on the Pasadena Route.

November 30th, 1969: Well, it was just finished it before December, but finished it was. At a special Sunday morning run, Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty and Long Beach Mayor Edwin Wade became the first Official Passengers on the new Long Beach Route.

1970 Pasadena proposalJanuary, 1970: In spite of the success of the system - including the new line - the Board is still reluctant to sign off on any new expansion. Still, Alweg finishes up the proposal for the Pasadena Route. This mostly abandoned the proposed 1967 routing and instead showed the line going up the Pasadena Freeway (State Route 11) and even added in an extension to Glendale - though this was mostly in the hope that the Board would satisfy themselves by rejecting it and let the main Pasadena line be greenlighted.

Unfortunately, the Board - while rejecting the Glendale Extension as planned - also suggested that the Pasadena proposal needed "more study." Specifically, they felt there should be some sort of arrangement to continue the line eastwards from its current terminus at Colorado Blvd.

This was a bit of a problem, however. Alweg's plans deliberately had the line end just before Colorado Blvd because of a problem particular to Pasadena - the Rose Parade. For obvious reasons, unless they built very high in the air, going down Colorado Blvd - or even just crossing it - came against the need for the parade to have sufficient clearance. A block south of Colorado was Green Street, which would do for just under a mile, but then it dead-ended into Pasadena City College, at which point they were back to having the Colorado Blvd problem again.

Engineers went back to the drawing board.

February 8th, 1971: A year of fiddling, redrawing, and talking to Pasadena later, Alweg finally gets the approval it needs to build the Pasadena Route. Substantially the same as they proposed a year before, it now sported the addition of the "high crossing"; a section of beamway four blocks in length which crossed over Colorado Blvd almost sixty feet above the pavement, then over a park, before coming down to a more normal height and curving east onto Walnut where it would run for just a block before stopping in a futurely extendable manner at Marengo. With luck, construction would start in about three months...

February 9th, 1971: At six a.m. This fine Tuesday, the "Sylmar Earthquake" hits and puts thoughts of new extensions right out of the Alweg engineers minds. All operations on the system are shut down while engineers inspect the nearly seventy miles of beamway that composes it. Limited operations will begins by Friday - though full operations won't be restored for nearly two weeks - as engineers are heartened to discover that except for some minor damage to some of the Valley stations, the system has weathered the quake quite well.

In fact, they system proved so robust after the quake, that the Board graciously suggested that the Glendale Extension might well be back on the board - and that the LAX Route really could use a good proposal.

August, 1972: Orange County Transit District (OCTD) is created, and Alweg begins talks with the new agency with regards to their proposed Santa Ana and Newport Beach Routes - and any other lines they might want to consider.

December, 1972: Construction begins on the Pasadena Route and the Glendale extension.

1973-1979: Alweg gradually extends the system, completing the Pasadena/Glendale Routes in late 1973 and starting on the LAX and Pomona extensions late that year (completed in mid and late 1974, respectively). Following a two year lull in any new construction - though not in proposals to the board - pressures brought about by the "Gas Crisis" allowed Alweg to get approval for a baker's dozen of new routes, several of which extended the system into Orange County.

By 1979, the system had over three hundred miles of beamway covering two counties, with plans to expand into two more (Ventura and San Bernardino) over the next few years.
Alweg in 1979

1980-1989: Unfortunately, with the "Gas Crisis" fading into history and the recession grabbing the headlines as the 80's roll around, Alweg finds itself having difficulties getting new lines approved. An extension of the Santa Ana line to Irvine and the Pomona line to San Bernardino are all that are completed in the first half of the decade and the plans to extend into Ventura County are put on hold.

Some of the last beamway constructionWhile construction fades in Southern California, however, Alweg continues to expand in an even two-dozen cities around the world. Seattle's beamways exceed one hundred miles in 1983 with the completion of the line to Tacoma. Cologne's system (the first) after decades of no change suddenly finds itself quadrupling in size. Brand new systems are started in San Diego, Atlanta and Denver during this time as well. In late 1984, Alweg merges with Canadian company Bombardier, forming Alweg-Bombardier Industries.

Finally, after 1985, though, ever increasing traffic on the 101 from Ventura, the 14 from Palmdale and Lancaster, and all roads from Riverside County once again provides the pressure to allow Alweg-Bombardier to begin expanding again in Southern California. The long delayed Palmdale, and Ventura lines begin construction and plans are begun to link the Santa Ana/Irvine line with the new San Diego Monorail System (SDMS) now in operation.14

April 17th, 1986: The Ventura Route is completed.

July 4th, 1987: The Palmdale Route is finished and with this Alweg-Bombardier shifts to building into Riverside County, to tap the newly expanding cities there. The Riverside Route from San Bernardino to Riverside is first on the schedule. By 1990 and the completion of the San Diego Route, Alweg-Bombardier will have nearly doubled the amount of beamway under the Greater Metropolitan System.15

Santa Monica Blvd at night1990-1999: Alweg-GMS continues to expand, though at a much slower pace. The emphasis is now less on big lines to far off places and more on increasing the interconnectedness of the already existing routes, lowering wait times, and in general insuring that you could get from point "A" to point "B" without having to pass through the increasingly congested "C" that was downtown Los Angeles.

The largest expansion was the Simi Valley Route, which ran from the end of the Northridge extension, through Simi Valley, over the hills, and then all the way to connect with the existing Ventura Route.

In 1993, Los Angeles's MTA16 (under which the Alweg system ran) was named "World's Finest Transit System" by Newsweek. And there was much rejoicing...

January 17, 1994: Northridge earthquake occurred on at 4:30:55. Within minutes Alweg engineers discovered that - unlike the Sylmar quake over a decade before - this time they system had taken some major damage on some lines. Beamway had cracked and fallen near Northridge itself and the old Wilshire/Santa Monica Route had several miles of track that, while intact and with only minor cracks, no longer ran level and straight. Alweg would later run trains over this section at a reduced speed for three months until the warped sections could be replaced. The Northridge section was actually repaired sooner (it's easier to work on something where traffic has been halted completely, after all), but until it was, Alweg was forced to make major changes in train routes on the Simi, San Fernando and Ventura lines.

Wilshire BlvdAugust, 1994: The last official repairs are done to restore the system to it's pre-quake state.

2000-2005: The expansion era (at least for Alweg-GMS17) is over. While improvements continue to be made, no major new beamway construction has occurred since 1995. Alweg operates a smooth, well liked system, providing for millions of riders a year. In 2005, reflecting the increasing connections between the major metropolitan transit systems in the state, all Alweg companies in California18 were merged into Alweg-California to be operated as a single entity.19

January 9th, 2006: Fortieth anniversary of the Alweg System in Los Angeles and along with other festivities (including all rides free on the 7th, 8th and 9th), representatives of Alweg-California, the MTA, BART, and CalTrans turn the first spade of earth on what will be the Los Angeles to San Francisco maglev line - a monorail capable of reaching San Francisco in the same time current riders took to travel from Los Angeles to just Palmdale.

Alweg-Bombardier tops the celebrations by officially handing over the "keys" to the original "Backbone" and Valley Routes, with the completion of their forty year contract to receive all fairbox revenues on those lines. In actuality, the payments from this only just paid off the investments the original Alweg company made to build and maintain them, but with the foothold it provided, first in Los Angeles and then in over fifty other cities all over the world, it helped to transform a small German company with "funny ideas" about how to move people around to one of the largest transportation companies in the world.

Alweg-Bombardier
"...on New Years Day 2001, let us pour 10,000 tons of cement into our never-should-have-been-started, never-to-be-finished subway, for final rites. Its concept was always insane, its possible fares preposterous. Even if it were finished and opened, no one could afford to use it.

So kill the subway and telephone Alweg Monorail to accept their offer, made 30 years ago, to erect 12 crosstown monorails--free, gratis--if we let them run the traffic. I was there the afternoon our supervisors rejected that splendid offer, and I was thrown out of the meeting for making impolite noises. Remember, subways are for cold climes, snow and sleet in dead-winter London, Moscow or Toronto. Monorails are for high, free, open-air spirits, for our always-fair weather. Subways are Forest Lawn extensions.

Let's bury our dead MTA and get on with life."
Ray Bradbury



Afterthoughts: This is a POD that changes a lot and yet doesn't change very much at all. Mind you, it has got to have knock-on effects throughout the world, but I suspect they're so unpredictable as to be almost anything.

With apologies to Ray Bradbury, a monorail system in L.A. won't do much to clear the freeways most of its riders will just be people who on OTL ride the bus or the trains/trolleys. Okay, it will probably be more popular than the trains/trolleys we have, if only because it goes more places, but you could quintuple their ridership with monorails and still not see more than twenty-five, thirty seconds of difference in driving to work on the freeways.

Mind, this might change in the future - but this is an alternate history, not a speculative future..

And in spite of Bradbury's enthusiastic support - and those of people at websites like "The Monorail Society" - not everyone is convinced that monorails are the be all and end all of transportation system. A common statement is that they're nothing but "buses in the sky" and don't offer any advantages over buses on the ground (at least, not any affordable advantages) and certainly none over light rail.

You'll notice that the "build it for free/be paid out of revenues" contract only got made for the original "Backbone" lines. All the other construction was built on a more "pay as you go" system, with Alweg getting country funds both for construction and for operations. From a practical standpoint, the Alweg system will be dependent on county funds to at least make up the shortfalls in revenue - unless they want to price their tickets out of reach (like - apparently - the MTA plans...).

Anywho, a lot of the Alweg expansion depicted here would be impossible/hideously expensive to do today even if it is cheaper than two-rail. If it wasn't obvious enough in the timeline above, I'll point out here that I had a lot of their right-of-ways set up along the old P.E. right-of-ways that still mostly existed then. Up until the late-70's - and I should know, I traced them20 - anywheres up to 70% of the "main line" ROWs were still there.

Oh, less than half of that still had tracks (though that's not a problem with this scenario) and they were broken up by sections of construction, or freeways, or even just roads that now had center divides where they'd had their P.E. tracks, but they were still there.

But starting in the 80's those ROWs got chopped up, built over, or just plain filled in by something else. Now, well, it's more like 10% surviving - maybe 15% - and what's left is either the El Monte Busway, the Blue Line, or going fast, ...

As far as its effect on L.A. driving habits...with a couple of exceptions, all of the Interstates in the Los Angeles area are up and running before Alweg stacks the first beam. Heck, they build the first line right in the middle of Interstate 10! There is some more interstate construction going on over the years, but I kinda timed things so that it is (almost) all in areas outside of Alweg's construction - at least, at the time.

It might affect some of the feeder and more local freeways a bit - for instance, the 105 certainly isn't going to have a trolley running down its middle! - but the routes for those were set in stone pretty much back in the 50's and almost all the big construction was over by the early 70's - just when Alweg's beginning its big push. So the freeway map for L.A. is going to look pretty much the same as on OTL.

Besides, even if the Alweg is hideously successful by Los Angeles standards, as I said, it's still barely going to put much of a dent in car travel in the area. At best, maybe five, ten percent less auto traffic. That still leaves a lot of need for those freeways...

...of course we would now be asking how green this system is - how is it improving LA's carbon footprint? Probably remarkably little.

No, scratch that, it would be an improvement over OTL, it just wouldn't be a large one. Cool as it is, I strongly suspect that most of the riders of it would be ones that - on OTL - ride buses. Since buses are already reasonably efficient on a per-person carbon output basis, the additional savings by going electric (especially since most of L.A.'s power comes from coal and natural-gas fired plants) won't be that big.

And only about 10% of Los Angeles commutes by mass transit of some kind (as compared to 30% for Chicago and 50% for New York). Again - cool as it is - Alweg's probably not going to change that all that much. Especially since unless you're lucky enough to live and work within walking distance of a station, you're still going to end up on at least one bus somewhere during your journey.

Therefore - if that ATL is lucky - the added speed and coolness of the monorails will encourage a few extra percent of riders to come out of their cars. Call it a boost up to 15% mass transit. That will make for a little savings, CO2-wise (though less than you'd expect if California has to import the juice for all these monorails from coal-fired plants), but it certainly isn't going to be that big a deal - unless, of course, you're a politician, and you make it a talking point in your "How Good I'm Doing" statements come next election...

Mind you, if California (and the rest of the U.S.) decides to power all these neato monorails by building more nuclear plants than they do on OTL (and this would have to be a very early - and quickly made - decision, given what a bad odor they'll be in in the 70's), then it'll make for a big carbon footprint change - though as a side effect rather than a direct one.

The main problem with public transit - at least in L.A. - is that, unlike cars, unless you're very lucky, it doesn't run from your front door to the front doors of every place you end up going to. A secondary problem is that it runs on its schedule, not yours. Third, it almost always requires taking more than one vehicle. Finally, it's not too forgiving if you want to load ten, twelve sacks of groceries into it.

Basically, even the best public transit in L.A. takes at least twice as long as a car...and time is at least as valuable a commodity as money. So, as long as people have enough money, they'll (essentially) buy time with it.

Using me as an example: In 2006 (the last time I calculated it), driving costs for me were twenty-five cents a mile (and, yes, that's the correct amount - I have graphs! Mind you, this is with a car long paid off - it could be up to double with a new car) and I averaged about thirty-six miles a day (with a big chunk of that caused by vacation trips - which is another thing that would be hard to do on the MTA...) which makes for total costs of about $9 a day, or $275 a month.

A monthly pass at the time, meanwhile, cost $62. Except that I'd have to buy one for Dee Dee too, so now we're up to $124 - or almost half of what driving the car costs. Still, it sounds okay.

But the shortest trip to work on the bus takes three buses and two-hours, or over four times as long as the car (twenty-five minutes)! Even were I to move so that I only needed a single bus, it would still take twice as long...because that's the nature of a transport system that you first have to wait for...and then it has to keep stopping and starting every few blocks.

Now current Minimum Standard Wage says my hours are worth $7 a pop (my job says it's more like $22, but I digress...) and taking a bus adds an extra three hours per day (plus) to my four-times a week commute. Three hours I could be doing other things (like sleeping) that basically are lost to me.

Three hours times my average eighteen workdays a month times that Minimum Standard seven dollars equals $378! Add in the cost of the bus pass (just mine, not Dee Dee's as well) and suddenly it costs me the equivalent of $440 to take the bus, versus that $275 for the car. Mind you, gas prices have been a lot higher since 2006 - but they'd have to hit nearly $7 a gallon before a bus becomes as "cheap" as a car to me!

And note that I cheated heavily in the bus's favor here by comparing just the bus cost for the commute to work vs the entire month's driving cost for the car - which is another five-hundred miles a month or so. That adds at least another $70-$100 of "bus time" to the costs - plus Dee Dee's bus pass, as much of those miles have both of us in the car - for a total more like $600 a month. Gas prices have to climb over $10 a gallon to match that...

...except that with gas prices over $10 a gallon, MTA bus passes will be more along the lines of of $150. They've already said they want to raise it first to $75 and then to $140 - and that what with $3 a gallon gas - so at $10, well, $150's probably wildly conservative. Which means gas prices would have to rise another two-bucks a gallon to match bus costs...which of course would cause bus prices to increase again...

This is beginning to look like one of those races where the two competitors get forever closer, but the one behind never passes the one in front. So in this case, by the time I literally cannot afford to put gas in a car (or scooter, for that matter), I won't really be able to afford the bus either...

...hope my bike holds out.

Anywho, the sum of this is that while Los Angeles would be a lot cooler with monorails everywhere...it wouldn't be a lot different otherwise.