A Look at Metro Rail’s 25 Years

In the middle of building five train lines, the transit agency takes a look back

Metro Rail is celebrating its silver anniversary this week: it’s been a quarter-century since modern rail travel returned to Los Angeles after the streetcar era ended in the 1960s.

After dismantling its rail system in the middle century, L.A., as many of us know, was without any subway or light rail service for most of the 1960s, and the entirety of the ’70s and ’80s. Things started to change in 1980, when voters passed Proposition A, which increased sales taxes to help expand transit, including train service; similar initiatives passed in 1990 and 2008.

With that money, Metro got started working and the Blue Line opened on July 14, 1990 to much fan-fare (Metro just reenacted the ribbon-cutting; see below, along with a 1990 video). Originally the rail line connected Downtown Long Beach with Pico and Flower streets in DTLA’s South Park district; soon it was expanded to the Financial District when an underground tunnel was completed.

As the L.A. Times pointed out, the Blue Line has been a success… and a disappointment. It’s ridership is impressive; with over 80,000 daily riders it’s one of the most utilized light rails in the nation. But it has failed to spawn development in areas desperate for growth, like Watts and Compton. The line can also be painfully slow when it hits numerous traffic lights. There is also a safety issue, both inside and outside of the trains, though many of the Blue Line’s accidents stem from suicides.

On a positive note, the Blue Line did start a new era for L.A., one that began to wean us off our addiction to the automobile; a dependence increasingly unsustainable as our population expands. Metro can now claim 87 miles of subway and light rail track, with 80 stations stretching from Culver City to East Pasadena. The transit agency is also in the midst of a building boom, with five rail lines under construction that, when completed, will make Metro Rail more expansive than Chicago’s famed “El” service. What will L.A. be like then? We have our ideas.