Friday 28 June 2013

LA by Rail

An interesting discovery on my recent visit to Los Angeles was the existence of a passenger rail network.

As LA is often seen as the quintessential car-oriented Western city, you might not expect it to offer much public transport beyond buses. Yet, since the 1990s, the city's authorities have been responding to ever-increasing road congestion by building a subway system.

Ironically, in doing so they're having to reinvent the wheel (so to speak). For before World War II, the city had an extensive rail and tram system.

Infamously, it was largely purchased in the postwar years by a company with backers in the car, tyre and oil industries, then closed down in favour of buses. Vested interests, anyone?

As I had some spare time one day, on a whim I decided to test out the system. First I jumped aboard the light rail Expo Line to Culver City, which runs west along a former railway corridor.

The newly laid tramway (they call these vehicles trains, but I know a tram when I see one) will eventually reach Santa Monica when completed.

It's a very good piece of infrastructure, with neat, clean vehicles using dedicated track to serve attractive stations (see pic above). Palm trees are dotted along much of the line, which is occasionally elevated and thus delivers interesting views.

When I returned to 7th Street Station, I switched to the older Red Line. This looked a bit grittier, more one's idea of a subway, and ran underground to its terminus at North Hollywood.

I had heard that the terminal station hosted some interesting public art, and I wasn't disappointed. The first kaleidoscopic image I saw on the platform wall was this:

The El Camino referred to in the text was (I later learned) a utility vehicle introduced in the late 1950s by Chevrolet. I was pleasantly suprised to discover it had an Australian connection, having been indirectly inspired by the similar "utes" which had existed in Australia since the 1930s.

Nearby, this image referenced the Lankershim Arts Center and the recent emergence of the local arts district known inevitably as NoHo:

The meaning behind this image was easy to divine - paying homage to the orange groves which once filled the San Fernando Valley before giving way to residential districts:

I took the escalator up to the surface, then down again in order to view the art above the moving stairway. The first piece depicts the building of those new postwar suburbs:

The next image down the escalator goes back in time to reference the Mexican era of two centuries ago:

And finally, the time travel journey is completed via this reference to the crafts of the Native American people who preceded everybody else:

There were more images dotted about the station's platforms, but the last one I snapped before boarding a train back to Downtown was this portrayal of Amelia Earhart.

The aviator lived in the area before departing on her ill-fated round-world flight in 1937. Disappearing somewhere over the Pacific, she was never seen again. A loving tribute to her lives on here, ironically, underground:

Disclosure time... On this trip I was hosted by the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. You can discover more about exploring Los Angeles by rail at the Car Free LA site.

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