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Railways on the Move: The History of Trains in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s

The 1950s and 1960s witnessed a transformative era for trains in Los Angeles. During this period, the city experienced significant changes in its transportation infrastructure, including the expansion, decline, and revival of rail systems. By exploring the historical context, the impact of suburbanization, and the efforts to rejuvenate rail transportation, we can gain a comprehensive understanding of the role trains played in shaping Los Angeles during this dynamic period.

Prior to the 1950s, Los Angeles boasted an extensive railway network that connected various neighborhoods and facilitated commerce and commuting. However, the post-war era saw the rise of the automobile culture and the rapid expansion of highways, which gradually overshadowed the prominence of trains as a preferred mode of transportation. As a result, rail lines began to decline, and many tracks were dismantled to make way for roadways.

One of the significant factors influencing the history of trains in Los Angeles during the 1950s and 1960s was the phenomenon of suburbanization. As residents increasingly migrated to the suburbs in search of larger homes and more tranquil lifestyles, the demand for efficient transportation options to and from the city center grew. This shift in population patterns prompted the need to reconsider the role of trains in accommodating suburban commuters.

Recognizing the potential of rail transportation in alleviating traffic congestion and promoting sustainable mobility, several initiatives were undertaken to rejuvenate the railway systems in Los Angeles during the 1950s and 1960s.

One notable endeavor was the establishment of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) in 1951. The MTA aimed to modernize the city's public transportation infrastructure by introducing new technologies and expanding existing rail lines. One such project was the construction of the Red Line, which connected downtown Los Angeles with neighborhoods like Hollywood and North Hollywood. The Red Car system, originally popular in the early 20th century, was revived to provide a viable alternative to automobile travel.

Furthermore, the 1960s witnessed the emergence of regional planning efforts, leading to the creation of the Southern California Rapid Transit District (SCRTD) in 1964. The SCRTD aimed to develop a comprehensive mass transit system, incorporating both rail and bus services. The development of the Blue Line, connecting downtown Los Angeles with Long Beach, marked a significant milestone in the revival of rail transportation.

The efforts to revitalize train systems in Los Angeles during the 1950s and 1960s laid the groundwork for the future expansion and diversification of rail networks in the city. While the full realization of an extensive rail system took several decades, the initiatives undertaken during this period served as a foundation for subsequent developments.

The revitalization of rail transportation in Los Angeles in the 1950s and 1960s had a lasting impact on the city's urban landscape and commuting patterns. The introduction of modernized rail systems not only provided alternative transportation options but also contributed to reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality.

The history of trains in Los Angeles during the 1950s and 1960s reflects a transformative period in the city's transportation infrastructure. While the decline of railways initially gave way to the dominance of automobiles and highways, efforts to revive and modernize rail systems eventually emerged. These initiatives, driven by the need for efficient transportation and sustainable mobility, have laid the groundwork for the extensive rail networks that exist in Los Angeles today.

The legacy of the 1950s and 1960s in Los Angeles serves as a reminder of the dynamic nature of transportation systems and their ability to adapt and evolve in response to changing societal needs. The revival of trains during this era marked a pivotal moment in the city's history, underscoring the importance of diverse transportation options in creating a more livable and connected urban environment.


Pic 1: Old streetcars being shipped to South Korea for use in Seoul and Pusan - 1956. Photo from the USC Archives.

Pic 2: The Pacific Electric spanning Riverside Dr. being dismantled - 1959. Photo from the USC Archives.

Pic 3: Terminal Island - 1957. Photo from the Huntington Archives.

Pic 4: An old disused PE depot in Sierra Madre - 1951.

Photo from the USC Archives.

Pic 5: The last train to run on the Monrovia-Glendora route - 1951. Photo from the USC Archives.

Pic 6: The Fletcher Dr. Viaduct being removed - 1959.

Photo from the USC Archives.

Pic 7: Sold streetcars being shipped off to Alexandria, Egypt - 1965.

Pic 8: A streetcar leaving the Belmont Tunnel heading towards oblivion - 1955. Pic from Martin Turnbull's blog.

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