Sat, Dec

The Easiest Solution for LA’s Train to Nowhere


LEANING RIGHT - Al once defined "Insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results" and Al was no slouch. 

In the 80s I was working away from Los Angeles County and when I returned home learned that the Los Angeles Metro Green Line serving the Los Angeles Airport (LAX) suddenly veered south when it got to within 2.5 miles of the airport in a parking lot. It left the airport commuters high and dry and they had to transfer to a shuttle to reach their departure terminal. 


In 2012 I prepared the article at this link for CitywatchLA.  

There was no train access to LAX. There was a metro train, The Metro Green Line, connecting to the Southern California transit system that zooms toward LAX then suddenly, a mile from the airport, veers south toward Manhattan Beach. It is called the Train-To-Nowhere. Ten people a year ride the Green Line to Manhattan Beach while 60,000,000 people a year arrive/depart through LAX.

I once spoke to someone instrumental in building the Green Line and they were proud that the needs of 10 people are being met. One morning I rode the Green Line to the end and got off at the Marine Street station. The object was to talk with one of the commuters and learn how their needs are being met. Only problem was that I was the only commuter left at Marine Street.

Los Angeles can correct this colossal snafu and run an elevated train around the LAX terminals. The Frankfurt International Airport should serve as a model. There is a flurry of metro train building right now.

Beginning about 5 years ago I began attending many presentations at the downtown Metro headquarters at the Union Station complex and presentations at various churches and other venues up and down Crenshaw Boulevard and in Inglewood. At each presentation I championed the importance of both the new Crenshaw Metro Line and the existing Green Metro Line being modified to wrap around the terminals of LAX. 

On the morning of 12 August I was heartened before reading an article by Laura Nelson of the Los Angeles Times that the initial design of the Crenshaw Line is being finalized. I envisioned that only design of the train terminals had to be finalized.  I envisioned the metro wrapping around the LAX terminals and conveniently serving arriving/ departing travelers at their respective terminals. 

I was disappointed to learn that nothing has changed. Laura describes the utter consternation of vacationers trying to leave Los Angeles: 

“Wrapping up a Los Angeles vacation and an hour long, two-train trek from downtown, Benjamin Levert and his slightly harried wife and daughters just wanted to check in for their flight back to France. Exiting the Metro Green Line at the Aviation/LAX station, they towed their four suitcases down a long escalator. 

To a parking lot. 

"Where is the terminal?" Levert asked his wife inFrench, looking around and raising his voice over the whoosh of overhead traffic on the 105 Freeway. "What kind of an airport is this?" 

The Leverts had stumbled into what critics consider one of L.A.'s great planning failures: a $1-billion train that stops 2.5 miles from passenger terminals of the nation's third-busiest airport. 

Now, 40 years after the Green Line earned the nickname "the train to nowhere," planners in the midst of a multibillion-dollar rail boom are preparing to break ground on a second LAX-adjacent train that is facing similar issues — and offering a new opportunity to complete a key missing link in the region's sprawling 87.7-mile commuter rail network.


In recent decades, most major cities — including Chicago, Atlanta and Washington — have built transit lines that deliver travelers into airport terminals. New York City, Denver and San Francisco have built intra-terminal people-mover systems.


"Comparably speaking, LA just doesn't meet large metropolitan standards, never mind major metropolis standards," said Genevieve Giuliano, director of Metrans, a transportation research center at USC. A smoother rail link to LAX would particularly benefit tourists and business travelers, she said.


The $2.06-billion north-south Crenshaw Metro Line will connect the Mid-City Expo Line with the South Bay's Green Line. When it opens, now slated for 2019, it will pass 1.5 miles east of the LAX terminals, with a stop at Century and Aviation boulevards. It will not have an LAX connection, other than shuttles, for up to nine more years, depending on how a series of design and financing issues are resolved.”


I have had many conversations with Roderick Diaz and in her article Laura describes his frustration as follows:


"People often tell us, 'Just build it, already,' " said Roderick Diaz, project director for the Airport Metro Connector."But they all disagree on what 'it' is. It's not a simple thing to do."


“The original Green Line design drafted in the 1980s included an LAX extension. But Metro officials couldn't decide where the station should go inside the terminal complex and cut the project from their 20-year plan. Ultimately, the project ran out of money when the price tag on the 20-mile Norwalk-to-Redondo Beach line tripled.


“Echoes of some of the same issues can be heard in the current debate on the Crenshaw Line. It will run east of the airport because planners can use a right-of-way from an abandoned freight train line,” said Metro's Deputy Chief Executive Paul Taylor.


"What's best is what's most seamless," Giuliano said. "I don't think people care what they're riding on, but what they really don't like is transfer, transfer, transfer."


The easiest solution would be to wrap an elevated track around the LAX terminals. The track could enter LAX in a westward direction and pass terminals 1, 2, and 3 in the diagram below. It would exit LAX in an eastward direction and pass terminals 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 in the diagram.


The vacant land west of the complex between LAX and the ocean could be used for the train to reverse direction from heading west to heading east. An alternative is that the track could be built to loop around using the vacant land west of the airport. This way the train would not even have to reverse direction.


This track could be used by both the Green Line and the Crenshaw Line with entry/exit platforms at each of the terminals.




“In the Aviation/LAX parking lot last week, the Levert family boarded a shuttle bus and reached the ticket counter 20 minutes later than planned. They were the only air travelers on the shuttle, surrounded by airport and airline employees in crisp navy blazers, white chef jackets and fluorescent vests.”


After 40 years it is of interest that no progress has been made and no viable solution has been reached.  Nothing has changed. LAX is the visitor’s first exposure to Los Angeles and their last before getting the hell out of here.


Oh, by the way, the formal name of the Al referenced at the beginning of this article is Albert and he was indeed no “slouch.”


(Kay Martin is an author and a CityWatch contributor. His new book, Along for the Ride, is now available.)







Vol 11 Issue 66

Pub: Aug 16, 2013