Future Stations Of The Past: Downtown’s 1968 “Metroport” & Express Service To LAX

Los Angeles' City Airline Passenger Terminal, or "Metroport," as proposed in 1968. Click to enlarge

After profiling past plans for both a subway and aerial station at Wilshire & La Brea earlier this month, we turn our attention to Los Angeles International Airport and efforts to transport passengers there from downtown more than 40 years ago.

LAX currently ranks 6th among passenger airports in the world in terms of passenger traffic (it had been as high as 3rd in 2001),  behind only Atlanta, Beijing, Chicago, London and Tokyo.

However, it has the dubious distinction of carrying the most passengers of any on the planet without a direct passenger rail link.

On the 20th anniversary of Metro Green Line groundbreaking in January, we reviewed the story of  how passenger rail service between Norwalk and Redondo Beach didn’t quite make it into LAX as envisioned in the initial planning.

But plans for a rail link into the airport go back decades earlier — before the Green Line was ever constructed or even conceived.

In May, 1968, the Southern California Rapid Transit District presented its Final Report To The People Of The Los Angeles Metropolitan Area Regarding A First-Stage System Of Rapid Transit (128p. PDF).

SCRTD's 1968 Airport-Southwest Corridor Map, which proposed 14 stations from downtown to LAX.

Four years after the California State Legislature passed the Southern California Rapid Transit District Act in 1964, this was SCRTD‘s proposed comprehensive rapid transit solution for Los Angeles County.

The Master Plan Concept And Recommended Five-Corridor System formed the initial backbone which would be enhanced by feeder bus routes.

The 1968 report notes that one pressing requirement for the Los Angeles area is access to the Los Angeles International Airport.

With 17 million air passengers in 1967, the Department of Airports projected that LAX would more than triple in passenger traffic to 57.5 million in 1975.

A special study was initiatied to determine how the requirement for quick, reliable, and efficient means of movement to and from the airport could be met under the Master Plan Concept.

Detail of rendering from SCRTD's 1968 proposed Rapid Transit Rail Plan.

It was determined that it was feasible to operate special “Airport Express” service in addition to regular rapid transit on the Plan’s Southwest Corridor Line.

The Airport Express was to provide high speed travel between the proposed City Airline Passenger Terminal (also known as the “Metroport” at Union Station) and Los Angeles International Airport with only on intermediate stop at 7th & Flower Streets.

The plan proposed that the Department of Airports provide the facilities beyond the limits of local service lines at the Metroport and the Airport.

The study also found that it was feasible to provide for the transportation of containerized mail for the United States Post Office on the Airport Express service between the Terminal Annex Post Office (adjacent to the Metroport) and LAX.

Such service would have required permissive action from the State Legislature.

Aerial view of 1968 proposed five-corridor for Los Angeles County rapid transit system. Click to enlarge

As planned, the Airport-Southwest Corridor route would have followed a complex route composed of multiple curves as well as being constructed with on-grade, subway and aerial structures.

It was proposed to begin on-grade at Union Station, going underground through much of downtown with four stops at Civic Center, Bunker Hill, 7th & Flower and at the Convention Center.

Chart listing travel times between the downtown "Metroport" and other stations along the Airport-Southwest Corridor.

Continuing southwest, aerial stops included Exposition Park, Western, Crenshaw & 54th, Inglewood, Manchester, Century, El Segundo and Rosecrans.

An Airport-Aerospace Area Century Boulevard Station map in the report depicts the areas which a passenger could reach within 45 minutes of that station, using rapid transit, feeder bus, or walking.

The report goes on to discuss several benefits to airport service patrons, especially with express service from the Metroport downtown.

The Metroport never saw the light of day.

Incorporation of “passenger helicopters” in the illustration at the top of this story, however, look suspiciously similar to the 1965 proposed “Los Angeles Airways” model for flying buses.

Three years prior to the Metroport proposal, the City of Los Angeles was hoping to receive federal funds for a demonstration project to test skybuses between downtown and the airport.

1965 prototype "flying bus" -- a jet-fueled helicopter with attached pod, proposed to fly passengers between downtown and LAX, courtesy of Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, UCLA Library. Click to enlarge

The idea was to secure passenger trailers to giant jet-powered heavy-lift helicopters downtown and whisk passengers directly to LAX.

In 1967, the Los Angeles City Council even condemned a 13-acre site next to Union Station for the Metroport.

The concept of flying buses was abandoned sometime after 1969, when Los Angeles County Supervisors voiced concerns over impacts to the recently-completed L.A. Music Center.

Meanwhile, the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Airports had other ideas.

City of Los Angeles Department of Airports 1968 Proposal for Intra-Airport Circulator System.

In its 1968 Intra-Airport Transit System Study, the Department proposed its own “People Mover” intra-airport transit system: 10.6 miles of route alignment connecting 12 passenger stations in the central terminal and 18 stations in five peripheral parking lots.

Nearly half a century later, Measure R ensures we will likely see Metro Green Line enhancements with passenger rail service into LAX, with a people mover system linked to the existing Aviation Station or one of a number of proposed Green Line extension alignments.

But for now a circulator within the airport remains beyond the horizon.

Today, Metro offers this handy guide to transit access to LAX, Burbank and Long Beach airports. It features not only Metro bus and rail routes, but options using other transit agencies in Los Angeles County as well.