Helen Heads West Collage by Julie V. Garner, Artist: Julie V. Garner (www.julievgarner.com)

Helen Heads West Collage by Julie V. Garner, www.julievgarner.com

I love taking the train. It’s a romantic notion and since I work out of a home office, my enthusiasm isn’t frayed by facing public transportation daily. The Amtrak line along the coast from San Diego to the historic Union Station in Los Angeles is one of my favorite rides. Speeding along the beach on a sunny day, passing Disneyland’s Magic Castle and crossing industrial neighborhoods highlighted with graffiti, makes for a memorable ride. Plus the bonus of stepping out of the coach, rested and free from commuter stress is huge.

I make excuses to take the train.

Perhaps my rail romance began with my mother’s stories. Helen moved out to Pasadena from Minnesota during World War II and talked about how much fun it was, “to take trolley cars all the way to the beach for a quarter!” Then they were torn out to make room for freeways.

Long Beach had the first Pacific Rail Red cars on a line running from the coast to downtown Los Angeles. Years later I found myself living there and taking the train one morning with my toddler to the Los Angeles Children’s Museum. Today the Blue Line still runs from the Long Beach Transit Center, through some reportedly rough neighborhoods, but you end up in LA without the hassle or expense of driving and parking.

The cartoon feature, ” Who Framed Roger Rabbit” made the myth popular that the rail line was torn up to end competition for the freeways (and make big bucks for it’s builders) but like so many things, there’s a much more complicated story. Here’s some great details in a Huffington Post article about how much of Los Angeles was covered by Pacific Electric Rail lines.

Why the electric rail system was torn out of Los Angeles*:
  • Buses were cheaper than repairing old wire and rail cars and replacing aging power substations.
  • At the time there was no government funding for capital or operating costs.
  • Cars were sexy and appealing to the growing workforce.
  • Freeways were being built in abundance. The new routes were empty and touted as a “high speed” alternative.
  • Buses were being updated for more comfortable seats and importantly, air conditioning.
  • Smog was a new phenomenon and the diesel engines were not yet identified as part of the problem.
  • *According to Los Angeles Metro
You can vicariously ride along

Take the train on the last full route of the Pacific Electric Red Car to Long Beach in this short documentary (a little under fifteen minutes).

Today taking the train is trending again.

In San Diego there are trolleys, the Coaster and Amtrak. The Metro Line, which runs west to Riverside and up to LA reaches Oceanside on the northern end of San Diego county. While the Amtrak lines along the west coast may not have WiFi, many have electrical outlets for charging your iPads, phones and more. There’s a high speed line sprouting in central California but it’s a long time coming for major commutes. Still don’t put off taking the train when you can. You won’t be disappointed.