Why Abandoned Railroads Still Matter 🛤
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Why Abandoned Railroads Still Matter 🛤

August 14, 2019


Hey everybody thanks for tuning in! Today I want to zoom out a little bit so to speak and talk about the much larger and broader idea that led me to propose a hydrogen-powered streetcar in Long Beach. Ever since I was a toddler, every time my family would drive by some abandoned railroad tracks, I would crane my neck and try and get a good look. Where did the train used to go? Why did it fall into disuse? Would it benefit the public if it was brought back to life? Once I was old enough to go exploring on my own, I would follow overgrown railroad tracks for hours trying to imagine where they used to go and how long ago they stopped being used. This fascination, this obsession with lost railroads has stuck with me to this day, but new reasons for it have developed as I’ve learned more about the history of passenger rail in the United States and as of late becoming increasingly excited about the possibilities that exist for such rail in the future cities like Long Beach. Long Beach like most other Southern Californian cities, was built around passenger rail lines financed and built by real estate tycoons such as Henry Huntington. But… Voiceover: For the tremendous development and progress of this amazing area coupled with its usually pleasant climate is but a never-ending stream of population pouring into Los Angeles and the surrounding communities, mass production of modern houses with liberal financing arrangements enabled many thousands of young Americans to own their own homes for the first time! Near the lake there now arose a city, built by subdividers who had planned it, planned it as no other American city had been planned since L’Enfant laid out the District of Columbia 170 years ago. Me: We lost those very arteries connecting different neighborhoods with one other in the years of the postwar building boom, the time when middle-class GIs returning home from the war purchased cars and homes in the suburbs of our cities, creating urban sprawl while an excessive reliance on the private automobile began to characterize urban and suburban life throughout the country. Voiceover: Congress responded with the federal aid Highway Act of 1956 providing the staggering sum of $51,000,000,000 to be spent by the states on highway construction by 1971. The most talked-about phase of the act is the interstate highway system, a 41,000 mile network of our most important roads. Most of these roads will be four, six even eight-lane expressways constructed for through traffic. They will take the over-the-road driver from city to city, coast-to-coast at highways speeds, even through large population centers. Me: Both politicians and the public came to yield the automobile as a silver bullet for the transportation needs of Americans, leading to alternative forms of transit being underfunded and largely neglected in infrastructure spending all throughout the 1960s, 70s and through to the present-day. Even now federal transit funding for government owned passenger railroad Amtrak is outweighed by federal highway spending more than 50 to 1. Part of this is a consequence of the freeway system’s massive expansion in the postwar years to a road network of over 4 million miles, all of which must now be constantly repaired and maintained. While roads are generally less expensive to build than railroads, they cost far more to maintain per mile than railroad tracks, and with the exception of a small fraction of highways that require a toll be paid in order to use the road, generate no revenue. Railroads on the other hand, while often at least partially subsidized with tax dollars, those subsidies are actually generally offset by ticket sale revenue, ultimately saving the taxpayer money over highways. Build trains spend more now, pay less later. Build roads and save money now, pay MORE money later, it’s that simple. With the decline of the private railroad industry in the 1970’s cumulating with the bankruptcy of the Penn Central Railroad and numerous other privately owned railroad throughout the country, many lines that had been required to provide passenger service by law were abandoned when their respective railroads went bankrupt due to a combination of poor management, excessive tax burdes and the rise of the automobile. And these abandoned, mostly disused or otherwise maligned relics of pre WWII America are everywhere. Depending on how long ago a line was abandoned, and the subsequent decisions made once under public ownership, abandoned lines like this can be more or less visible. The tracks may be present, rusting away in neglect, or they may have been removed entirely leaving only an intact strip of undeveloped or partially developed land. Many of the landscaped medians often found in the roads of Long Beach and throughout Southern California, little useless parks that look nice but nobody walks their dog in due to their strange sizes and locations, were actually once rail lines. This is true for the medians of 2nd Street in both Belmont Shore and Naples Island. Some were simply paved over in their entirety and turned into roads for cars, such as the lower eastbound lanes of Livingston Avenue. Whether or not the tracks remain following abandonment generally depends on how wealthy an area is. Poorer areas tend to retain the rails themselves, while richer neighborhoods often remove them and landscape the old routes, but they remain at least for now so quite clear to see with the benefit of some historical knowledge and a bird’s-eye view. So, you might be wondering what that bigger picture is that I brought up in the beginning of this video, while others might have already guessed what I’m getting at here. Those old lines? We should use them for transit! Right? Despite the total loss of the actual railroad infrastructure in some cases, these strips of disused right-of-way which litter the American cityscape are usually at least partly publicly-owned, and therefore would be a bargain to bring back to life saving the taxpayers hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars over the cost of building a line between the exact same two points only a few hundred feet away from the existing line. There is no more prohibitive cost in developing a new transit line than real estate. And we can actually do something with this knowledge and develop these as light rail transit lines NOW, before the rights-of-way are sold off and subdivided saving ourselves billions over the costs of developing similar lines a few decades down the road. Does anybody really think people are going to stop moving to sunny, nearly winterless Southern California anytime soon? I didn’t think so. I know I’m not going anywhere. So we have to be ready to welcome our new neighbors from the cold northern states of the U.S. and throughout the world, and we’re not gonna be able to do that without developing an expansive world-class light rail transit network, otherwise nobody not even those of us who want to will be able to practically own and drive a vehicle around here once the population density reaches its inevitable breaking point. So, building a reliable fast and comfortable light rail alternative to total automobile dependence is going to be an inevitability as population density soars throughout Los Angeles, Long Beach, Orange County and all throughout Southern California, but it is only going to be cheap if we do it now, before things get out of hand. We can avoid the problems now being confronted in densely settled areas like West Hollywood, where residents are only now finally going to get a subway extension paid for with several billion dollars in funding from Measure M. Unlike West Hollywood, though, we here in Long Beach and the surrounding communities actually still have a few intact light rail corridors that have not yet been divided piecemeal for housing. If we were to turn only a few of these into regional light rail lines, our transit map could quite swiftly go from looking like this, to looking like this, then this, then perhaps this and beyond. A lot more if you might consider using mass transit than do now if it could get you right to your destination is a similar amount of time as driving, would you not? What if could get you there in less time? Some of you might now be thinking “what’s wrong with our bus system?” and the answer to that question? Nothing! There’s nothing wrong with the public buses operated by Metro, Long Beach Transit, Torrance Transit, OCTA and other municipal agencies in the area. In fact, they’re great! Our local bus systems are clean, safe, super affordable and on-time more often than not, although not quite as often as Metro rail, but they cannot be the entire picture of mass transit in Southern California or even in Long Beach simply because they take so, so much longer than driving. Time is money, man. Buses work best for short hops to destinations that are a bit further than you would want to walk or bike from a train station, but the further you travel on a bus the more one will find that the overall speed of the journey becomes hampered by the compounding factors of frequent stopping picking up and waiting for passengers to pay the fare, and the fundamental vulnerability of buses to be delayed by the same traffic congestion as suffered by private motorists, only exacerbated by the enormous size and lack of maneuverability of a bus. As a result, and you can check this on your phone yourself if you think I’m exaggerating, interurban bus journeys during peak hours often take more than three times as long as driving between the same two locations in a car. But the best approach to these fundamental shortcomings of bus transit is to use buses properly within a larger framework public transportation infrastructure. Buses on shared city streets simply don’t work well for interurban journeys and buses work better when they’re used only for that last stretch of travel from the train station to your destination. Public transit works the best when these networks are developed with a strong efficient and fast arterial foundation of a solid rail network is complemented with reliable bus service from the train station to anywhere the train can’t go due to either a lack of demand and density in the service area, or simply geographic obstacles that have not yet been overcome. That’s all for now! Thanks again for tuning in and please do like and subscribe to my channel for more videos like this one! Do you hate driving on the 405 as much as I do? Join me next time as we explore the possibility of developing direct rail service for a massive bargain between downtown Long Beach and Lomita, Torrance and perhaps even Los Angeles International Airport by using the existing disused rail line already bought and paid for by the county.

27 Comments

  • Reply Scott Ackman January 15, 2017 at 1:19 am

    Just to be clear, these are YOUR proposals and not legitimate official proposals.

  • Reply nnnicht April 19, 2017 at 10:35 pm

    Board of Directors | Board Members & Executives – of LA Metro take thier cars away make ride the bus? then maybe they can see your street car deal

  • Reply nnnicht April 20, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    http://la.streetsblog.org/2017/04/19/metro-west-santa-ana-branch-light-rail-alignments-narrowed/

  • Reply nnnicht April 20, 2017 at 9:49 pm

    Planning and Programming Committee approved four specific West Santa Ana Branch light rail alignments to be used for environmental studies.

    The West Santa Ana Branch is a historic Pacific Electric Streetcar right-of-way that runs diagonally through southeast L.A. County cities including Paramount, Bellflower and Artesia. Measure M includes funding for two phases of light rail on the West Santa Ana Branch, with the line ultimately expected to run from Union Station to the city of Artesia.

    In September 2016, the Metro board approved a four-year $12 million contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff to complete environmental clearance work for the line. The environmental clearance studies follow several earlier preliminary studies by the Southern California Association of Governments and Metro.

    The southern portion of the line runs on a very clear off-street rail right-of-way. The alignment for the northern portion, connecting to Union Station, has not been finalized. With various options including extensive aerial tracks and subway tunnels, the northern portion looks like it will be relatively expensive

  • Reply B G July 1, 2017 at 10:55 pm

    I agree with you, especially on using old rail lines for transit ways. Even though this solution appears obvious to you and me convincing the public of this is often challenging. Just this past November voters in Virginia Beach, Va voted to not allow public funds to extend their light rail (the tide) between Norfolk and the VA Beach Ocean front. This killed the project and they have already begun decommissioning their plans. In a northern suburb of D.C. A new light rail line (the purple line) is planned to be built on an old and unused railroad. This project is shovel ready and can start being built in a month, but NIMBYs living old railroad have been successful in holding the project up in court and now federal funding is at risk of being lost.

  • Reply MrSquareart August 6, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    good video!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Reply Hayato Mitzukata August 7, 2017 at 11:49 pm

    I can see also a possible change that Rail can benefit the public, even a chance for some can be a subway line

  • Reply Nexis4Jersey August 12, 2017 at 4:19 am

    Nice proposal , although I think it would be better if you went with a more proven ground level power supply which draws its power from a small strip in the center of the tracks when the train passes over it.

  • Reply Frank Wells October 20, 2017 at 3:50 am

    They tried to bring back light rail on the P&E greenbelt belt through the heights and signal hill, but it was rejected by the residents because they were afraid of the noise… Then it was an express busway… same problem… so metro abandoned the idea. The majority of the r.o.w is memorial parks now, they likely hood of that r.o.w is very slim now.

  • Reply Christopher S. O' November 8, 2017 at 4:35 am

    Very informative video. I lived in Long Beach at 830 Chestnut St. in 1976 when I was in the Navy when my ship was being overhauled. Many times I seen little used rail lines, even abandoned right of way that could have been used for light rail, commuter train travel. When I’m home in the San Diego area on visits up to a week, I ride the San Diego trolley to the San Diego Amtrak Santa Fe Depot where I board the Pacific Surfliner & ride it to Los Angeles & Oxnard alternating my visits between the 2 cities. In Los Angeles when I visit the San Fernando area, I take Metrolink to the Sylmar/San Fernando Station where I catch the 239 Metro bus that takes me within a 15 minute walk of my final destination. When I travel to Oxnard, I get off in Oxnard & take the Gold Coast Transit number 6 bus to my final destination in Ventura, my trips are comfortable, restful & very relaxing, I don’t have to deal with the traffic on the I-405 parking lot, the Ventura Parking lot & the I-5 parking lot.

  • Reply Raymond Leggs December 23, 2017 at 10:19 pm

    I saw an early big lots sign! neer thought they had been around for that long.

  • Reply Nathaniel Lionheart December 30, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Tails and trolleys were abandoned and not preserved (the right of ways not kept anyway) in order to benefit oil companies and companies like General Morons, Err, I meant Government Morons.

  • Reply Walter Clark March 2, 2018 at 10:57 pm

    Excellent production value on most of your videos.
    I too love abandoned lines, but more for the history than the future. I have explored all in Fullerton and Brea. I've written up the history of one. . .
    http://www.fullertonwalks.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Electric-Trains-Through-Fullerton.pdf
    Have you heard of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy?
    Their primary interest is turning abandoned lines into trails, but one idea that pops up there is allowing the railroad to own the right of way indefinitely but to put trails on it as a way of preserving it. When it is being used it is less tempting to sell it off to developers.

  • Reply :Ramon : March 24, 2018 at 2:03 am

    haha I'm the same exact way lol

  • Reply :Ramon : March 24, 2018 at 2:05 am

    I love how this channel goes about the old Pacific electric rairoad and other new train line from metro Los Angeles

  • Reply Shawn Sörbom May 27, 2018 at 8:12 am

    yeah, but on our current networks the train is still slower than a car. Don't get me wrong — I love (and depend on) the train network, but it isn't comprehensive enough in its current state to compete with cars. A trip between Torrance and Pasadena takes 3.5 hours by train compared to 40 minutes by car in non-peak traffic. That said, I wish I could do more to fix the rail time problem myself. Would love to do policy work on the subject.

  • Reply Gammareign October 25, 2018 at 9:33 pm

    I am fairly confident people will leave sunny, nearly winterless southern California for the sunny, nearly winterless southeastern U.S.

  • Reply rredhawk February 8, 2019 at 2:25 am

    I was wondering what eventually happened to Martin Fry, former lead singer of ABC. 🙂

    My favorite railroad from childhood is now a freeway bypass (Harrisburg Bypass 13) in Southern Illinois. It used to be a coal/freight line. Only 2 blocks from my grandparents' house I would run down and count the cars every time a whistle sounded the passing yet another train. Good memories.

  • Reply microbusss February 26, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    oh I blame the demise of the streetcars on the Streetcar Scandal where GM, Standard Oil & Firestone were buying out lines & replacing them with buses!!
    Sometimes the trolley tracks in cities are just paved over!! When road construction happens on that road rails. ties & spikes are often found!

  • Reply Albert Carello February 28, 2019 at 5:53 am

    Chicago being the rail. center of the nation has yet to have a light rail line. There are 2 abandoned interurban rights of ways that could easily have light rail lines built on them. Also abandoned freight rail rights of ways could have light rail lines built on them. The two abandoned interurban lines are the Chicago, North Shore, and Milwaukee and the Chicago, Aurora, and Elgin which should be revived. Chicago's expressways have seem to have run out of capacity and are forever gridlocked.

  • Reply Mark Turner March 9, 2019 at 12:30 am

    Not to shoot holes in the theory? I actually am with you on these thoughts! But here are the problems,and you mentioned these in your video.
    First. Take a look at the "high speed rail" they tried and failed in California to build,the government was involved!
    Whereever government is in and part of a business deal,it will die. Croni-capitalism(not spelled correctly I am sure) is the biggest killer of any project,especially rail! The government regulations and permits,killz it everytime! There are things like "no show jobs" that remove money that is actually needed and bid to complete the jobs,but the poloticians steal from the people,and nobody pays,except the taxpayer!
    Government is knee-deep in any rail endeavor and that is intentionally done! Other railroads want no competition, and bargan/lobby to keep them out! And the state and federal reps are complicit in holding progress back!
    Second problem.
    People hold vehicles as a static symbol, and the folks that have money,will not ride public transit.only the commoner will ride,if it saves money?
    As I say. This is not to shoot holes,or be a smart butt,but these are just a few problems where there are more.

  • Reply Kevin Krostosky March 11, 2019 at 5:45 am

    Very Articulate, Dude ! ! !

  • Reply Jeannette Hillert March 19, 2019 at 4:05 am

    This just goes to show u how much people like to waste things. No reason for this. Why do people do this? It's hard on all of us, not just a few. Just saying…..

  • Reply George Counciill March 25, 2019 at 9:36 am

    Highways are generally paid for by users, Major rail lines are owned and maintained by the railroads. Passenger rail systems are not self supporting and must get money from taxpayers. The alternate fuels don't pay gasoline or use taxes so they are getting free use of the highways. Most states either put their highway taxes into their general funds or spend them on airports or ports' Make everyone using each system pay for what they use and not carry all the different systems.

  • Reply savilo53 March 31, 2019 at 6:15 pm

    cars gave us freedom

  • Reply eVeNSteVeN G to the arrad June 29, 2019 at 6:26 am

    It would probably run over thousands of homeless they are already everywhere except Maxine Waters neighborhood

  • Reply Stoneyburke July 21, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    It`s all about the MONEY.

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