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October 10th, 2008
America in Gridlock
[TIMELINE] Driven to Despair: Los Angeles -- City on the move

1873-1875 1875-1897 1911-1945 1953-present
1873 Main Street Railroad Company
The Los Angeles City Council authorized the maintenance of two railroad tracks. The Main Street Railroad Company began, but nothing ever came of the project.
1874 Spring and West 6th Street Railroad
The Spring and 6th Street franchise started, serving the downtown Los Angeles area. This single track horse car line began public transit in Los Angeles.
1874-1875 Main Street & Agricultural Railroad
The Main Street and Agricultural Railroad was the first suburban line in Los Angeles.
1875 East Los Angeles & San Pedro Railway Company
Due to low patronage, the railway company went under in just four years.
1875-1899 Los Angeles & Aliso Street Railroad Company
Regular service began in 1877 and as ridership increased a second line, the East First Street line, was built. In 1899, it became a cable railway.
1883 City Railroad Company
The first line dedicated exclusively to public transit; other lines had been largely focused on real estate promotion.
1885 Second Street Cable Railroad Company
Operated on a single track system.
1886 The Central Railroad Company
Developed in 1883 to be a part of the Los Angeles & Aliso Railroad. It eventually merged with City Railroad.
1886-1888 Temple Street Cable Railway Company
Carried more passengers than any of the other lines at the time.
1896-1897 Many of the major horse and cable cars operating in Los Angeles converted to electrical power.
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1911 Pacific Electric Railway Company
Eight separate companies merged into the Pacific Electric Railway Company.
1925-1955 Pacific Electric Subway
The Subway opened on November 30, 1925, running 1,045 feet underground. In 1955, the last line using the subway was converted to buses.

By 1933, Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Railway also began bus passenger service, but patronage of both rail and bus had been hurt by the wide-spread use of the automobile.

1945 Los Angeles Transit Lines
The controlling interest in the Los Angeles Railway was purchased by National City Lines, which was run by the five Fitzgerald brothers and had support from the oil industry. They renamed it the Los Angeles Transit Lines, substituting buses on most of the street car lines.
Further reading on the death of the trolley in L.A.:

Did Auto, Oil Conspiracy Put the Brakes on Trolleys?” (Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2003)

The Fitzgeralds Go. West.” (Time, December 18, 1944)

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1953-1958 Metropolitan Coach Lines
Pacific Electric sold its passenger rail cars and buses to the Metropolitan Coach Lines bus company.
1951-1964 Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority
This agency was created by the California Legislature to develop a monorail system along the Los Angeles River. In 1958, the Transit Authority purchased Metropolitan Coach Lines and Los Angeles Transit Lines. Paid for with state dollars, operation of transportation in Los Angeles was public for the first time.
1964-1993 Southern Rapid Transit District
Mandated by the legislature to improve bus systems, and design and build a transit system for Los Angeles.
1976-1993 Los Angeles County Transportation Commission
The California legislature created the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) to oversee public transit and highway policy in the nation’s largest county.
1992-present Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority
Metrolink operations began. The new MTA was created by Legislature, merging the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and the Southern California Rapid Transit District.
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Sources: Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Electric Railway Historical Association of Southern California

Photos: Courtesy of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Archive

  • Streetsblog » PBS Exposes the Joys of Transit

    [...] described as a 25-minute ode to the time- and money-saving benefits of transit, complete with a brief history of the Los Angeles streetcar system and a rueful suggestion that the Presidential candidates should address transportation more [...]

  • Philip Ciaffa

    It is encouraging to see more people using the light rail and commuter railroads. When the extensive rail and light rail infrastructure of 1926 LA was displayed, one can imagine what the metropolitan area and the lifestyle would be like today, if that vision were maintained.

  • Angela Davis

    Growing up in Germany we never owned a car. I found it difficult 20 years ago to cope with the lack of public transportation. I live in the South where this concept is almost unheard of. Whoever gets elected president will have to address the development of public transit, starting with an adjustment in the peoples’ psyche that owning and using a car is the end all and be all of American life

  • Andrew Dawson

    I find it a shame that in the broad cast James Moore was given any air time, he constantly talks about how great private sector is, but then turns a around to ask Uncle Sam for a hand out.

  • Streetsblog » PBS Exposes the Joy of Transit

    [...] described as a 25-minute ode to the time- and money-saving benefits of transit, complete with a brief history of the Los Angeles streetcar system and a rueful suggestion that the Presidential candidates should address transportation more [...]

  • john laue

    I agree that James Moore’s commentary in the program was pitiful–I guess the show’s producers felt they had to provide the “other side” an opportunity to voice their opinion, but what he said didn’t make much sense.

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