Blue Line At 20: Welcoming The First Metro Rail Project And Its Continued Success

"Past The Banner Threshold Into A New Rail Era For Los Angeles" (Click for more information)

As we discussed last week during our look back at early rail links between Los Angeles and Long Beach, Wednesday is the 20th anniversary of the Metro Blue Line.

When the light-rail cars began rolling on Saturday, July 14, 1990, nearly 30 years had passed since the last Pacific Electric Railway car went out of service.

In that time, the population of Los Angeles County had grown by approximately 50%.

The congestion, reduced travel times, air quality, and other factors contributed to a warm welcome for renewed service between 22 stations on a 22-mile long route between the two largest cities in the County.

Officials from both the SCRTD and Los Angeles County Transportation Commission had predicted daily ridership at about 5,000 during initial stages of operation.

During the first two weeks after the grand opening, more than 600,000 people rode the Blue Line, including 32,000 on the first day of service, and nearly 70,000 on the second day (a Sunday).

Five years after groundbreaking, the Metro Blue Line began moving people along its 22-mile route.

The inaugural run left the tunnel under Flower Street in downtown Los Angeles and pulled into Pico Station a few minutes later.

The dignitaries on hand included California Lieutenant Governor Leo McCarthy; Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley; Los Angeles County Supervisors Ed Edelman and Kenneth Hahn; SCRTD Board President Nick Patsaouras; SCRTD General Manager Alan Pegg; and Los Angeles County Transportation Commission members Christine Reed and Jacki Bacharach.

That first Blue Line train picked up additional dignitaries along the way.

At 103rd Street Station in Watts, Los Angeles City councilwoman Joan Milke Flores and County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn were featured speakers.

Mayors Walter Tucker of Compton, Robert Henning of Lynwood and Thomas Jackson of Huntington Park boarded the train at Compton Station.

Carson’s mayor Vera DeWitt joined the festivities at Del Amo Station, while Long Beach mayor Ernie Kell and Long Beach councilman Ray Grabinski joined in at Willow Station.

1991: Good Morning America interview with Neil Peterson, Executive Director of the County Transportation Commission regarding the Blue Line’s first anniversary, the long-range transportation plan, and the mythology of General Motors’ involvement in dismantling the Pacific Electric streetcar network.

The “Blue Line” was also the name given for a light rail line between Los Angeles and Pasadena. Work began on this line as early as 1994, but was suspended following a County ballot initiative, which banned use of taxpayer money on subway construction.

After legislation passed creating a separate construction authority to continue work on this line, it was dubbed the “Gold Line.”

For the 10-year anniversary in 2000, Metro Blue Line rail cars were disguised as modern-day Pacific Electric “Red Cars,” in a nod to the historic rail service that ran through the region in the early 20th century.

After 10 years, the Blue Line had served more than 135 million passengers with sustained average weekday boardings of 63,000.

The Metro Blue Line remains the longest rail line in the Metro system, and the one with the most stations.

The Blue Line not only paved the way for the rest of the Metro Rail system, but had its own starring role in at least two movies.

In the 1995 film Heat, the opening sequence shows one of the main characters alighting at Firestone Station.

In the 2003 film The Italian Job, the main characters drive their BMW Mini Coopers into the 7th/Metro Station and manage to cut all power in order to stop an oncoming train.

The vision, hard work and dedication of countless transportation advocates, employees and elected representatives created the Blue Line and made it a success.

Its entire $877 million in funding came from state and local sources.

Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley at Blue Line Groundbreaking at Carson Shops, October 31, 1985 (Metro Transportation Library Flickr)

Rail Operations Team prepares for Blue Line Opening (Current Metro CEO Art Leahy is standing at far right) from August 1990 Headways

Additional Resources:

Metro Transportation Library Blue Line Flickr Photo Set

Metro Transportation Library YouTube Channel

Employee News Magazine Stories
Headways, August 1990
Headways, September 1990

Planning Documents
Concept Design Report: Executive Summary (September, 1983)
Concept Design Report: Volume 1 (September, 1983)
Draft Environmental Impact Report: Summary (May, 1984)
Draft Environmental Impact Report (May, 1984)
Draft Environmental Impact Report: Design Appendix (May, 1984)
Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (December, 1984)
Final Environmental Impact Report (1985)