Los Angeles: One City's Story

Back around 1925, Southern California had the most extensive transit system in the country.

The Pacific Electric’s “Red Cars” covered more than 1,000 miles, serving 125 communities in four counties. Pacific Electric was an “interurban” system – with streetcars going between urban areas (Los Angeles and San Bernardino, for example) and between urban and rural areas.

(Interurbans were especially popular in the first two decades of the 20th century, before most Americans had cars. Interurbans served as transportation for commuters and non-commuters alike.)

Los Angeles, in addition to its Red Cars, had a separate system of “Yellow Cars” operated by the Los Angeles Railway. These streetcars, on 20 lines, ran throughout much of the city itself.

Unlike eastern cities such as New York, and Boston, Los Angeles in the early 20th century had no subway or traditional system of full-size commuter trains.

As more Southern Californians bought their own cars, the streetcars became less and less popular. Tracks were torn out, and many routes were discontinued or converted to bus routes.

Pacific Electric ran its last Red Car in 1961 (from Los Angeles to Long Beach), and the Los Angeles Railway ran its last Yellow Car in 1963.  Southern California commuters were left with only automobiles and buses for commuting and other local travel.

A Pacific Electric "Red Car"

But, it only took 29 years for rail transit to make a comeback in Los Angeles. In 1990, Los Angeles County Metro Rail opened the Blue Line light-rail route between Los Angeles and Long Beach, mostly on the old Pacific Electric right-of-way.

In 1993, Los Angeles opened its first subway. Today, the city has three light-rail lines and two subway lines, covering a total of 73 miles.

Also, in 1992, Metrolink began operating commuter trains in the Los Angeles area. Today, Metrolink serves six counties and has more than 500 miles of track, mainly in areas that were once served by Pacific Electric.