Metro’s Regional Connector Will Change Everything

Steadily moving towards completion, DTLA’s newest subway line will require big changes

One of the three subway stations being built for the downtown Regional Connector rail project reached a major milestone recently by finishing nearly all above-ground construction, Metro reported this week. When it opens in four or five years, the underground Little Tokyo station will replace the current above-ground iteration and allow trains to travel directly from Santa Monica to East L.A., and from Long Beach all the way to Azusa.

The two-mile, $1.5 billion RC—which includes stations near the Civic Center and directly behind the new Broad museum—should be a boon to ridership by reducing transfers and allowing trains to speed through the 7th/Metro station, where they currently slow to a crawl before stopping. The RC will also completely alter the way the current Metro rail system looks and operates, as well.

Metro has hinted that their current system of rail lines—a color system—will likely be rebranded with the RC’s opening, resulting in a letter-based rail system, similar to New York’s (A, C, E trains, etc.). L.A.’s current color system will endure on maps, though. When the RC opens, the current Expo Line will extend to East L.A., and be given a Gold color. The current Blue Line will no longer end in DTLA, but continue on to Azusa—so instead of a Gold Line through Pasadena, it will appear blue on maps.

the Regional Connector map
the Regional Connector map

Image courtesy Metro

A draft concept map of the forthcoming rail system
A draft concept map of the forthcoming rail system

Image courtesy Metro

It’s all a bit confusing and will require extensive explanation from Metro, not to mention an overhaul of maps, signage, and pylons throughout a huge chunk of the rail system. Those kinks are likely temporary, but there are other complications that the RC will bring. By combining the current Expo, Blue, and Gold lines into two north-south, east-west lines, Metro will have two very long rail lines in its arsenal. The Santa Monica-to-East L.A. line will be nearly 23 miles long; certainly no stub, but about as long as the current Blue and Green lines. But the Long Beach to Azusa line will be a staggering 49+ miles.

Will rail lines that measure the length of entire counties (or small European nations), Metro may be forced to adopt a fare zone model, something used in the Bay Area. Currently, Metro’s fare is $1.75—charging that for a 50-mile journey would be the opposite of cost-effective. While, Metro has made no indication they’re considering evolving their fare structure, it seems impossible that a ride from Long Beach to Azusa can cost under two bucks (and there are preliminary plans to bring the rail line even further east, into San Bernardino County).

Another consideration for Metro is the long travel times the RC will make possible. The new Blue Line will likely take close to two hours, if not longer, end-to-end; does that mean folks will camp out on trains? Are there safety concerns when trains are unsupervised for such a long time? Metro may need to employ more cops or security personnel to patrol such a sprawling system.

Metro certainly has time to find answers to these questions; the tunnel boring machine hasn’t even been dropped into the ground yet. But with at least 17,000 new people riding the rails every day, the benefits should far outweigh any new hiccups.

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