Sat, Jul

Subway/Metros are obsolete? Really?


LA TRANSPO - Anyone who drives through the Sepulveda Pass on the 405 Freeway knows the soul crushing commute it is to be locked behind the steering wheel of the vehicle, strapped into the seat, glaring ahead, trying travel through the thick mud of gridlock.

An alternative to driving by using transit instead is being considered. The Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor is under review by Los Angeles Metro for rapid transit by either the standard two rail, heavy rail trains of subways, which could travel above ground for a portion or the route, and then by tunnel travel underneath the Santa Monica Mountains in which the Sepulveda Pass sits. This is the type of transit trains currently used by Metro in Los Angeles for its B and D Lines.

The other type of train is the single rail, hence monorail. The monorail would travel down the middle of the San Diego Freeway. Metro currently  does not have any monorail line.

Metro’s plans, from their website:

Metro is currently in the environmental review phase which began with scoping meetings held in late 2021/early 2022. Metro is currently advancing technical studies in support of the development of a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), to evaluate project alternatives that address the transportation needs of the Sepulveda Corridor. Metro is also developing a Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study to engage federal agencies early in the environmental process and identify potential issues that will be further studied during the development of the project’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

The environmental review phase will consist of three components: 1) preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in accordance with CEQA; 2) preparation of a PEL study as a collaborative approach with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA); and 3) preparation of an EIS in accordance with NEPA. 

During the environmental review phase, Metro is also working with two private-sector teams, LA SkyRail Express and Sepulveda Transit Corridor Partners, under a first-of-its-kind pre-development agreement to develop a design for project alternatives. 

There have been wooden train types on rails dating back to the mid-17th century. In Leeds, England, the first railroad was built which later became the world's oldest operational railway. What is considered as the first passenger railroad rail line was built in 1825 when George Stephenson in England connected two towns on a two rail track with a steam generated locomotive.

The first monorail prototype is said to have been built by Ivan Elmanov in Russia in 1820. The first passenger carrying monorail was built in 1825.

Neither two rail, or mono rail, for trains is modern in design nor construction.

The first subway, or metro, was constructed in London in 1863, called “The Tube,” with continuous services starting in 1890.

Subway systems are also called “Metros,” and currently there are 255 Metros in 195 countries. In 2019 the worldwide Metro system carried 190 million passengers a day.

For monorails the information is murky. There are suspended monorails where the train car hangs underneath a support. One website, Structurae lists eight suspended monorails. There are also straddle-type monorails which straddle the single rail line. This website Kamajura-enoshima lists seven. That makes fifteen. A Wikipedia search lists twenty one monorails in the world. There are 255 Metros. With the long histories of two rail and one rail trains, it is evident that world favors.

A number of monorials are in amusement parks, zoos, world expos, which are not exactly the type of monorail needed to handle the high number of potential passengers through the Sepulveda Pass. A quick internet search with the daily world wide passenger count of monorail passengers was fruitless.

Wikipedia list the oldest monorails in operation are from 1901. One is the charming suspended monorail in Wupertal, Germany, which is slow, hence charming. The other is in Dresden, 899 feet long. It has one train car, pulled by a cable, which as it climbs a bucolic hillside. It is connected to the other single train car as it descends-a funicular . Another charming monorail. Neither has the carrying capacity or speed of the 1890 London Tube.

A recent CityWatch article on the proposed two rail, heavy rail subway/metro through the Sepulveda Pass labeled subways as obsolete: “In addition, this fixed rail alternative (subway/metro) will be obsolete before it is finished and require massive annual subsidies.”

The CityWatch article does not explain how or why subways/metros will become obsolete. How will the 190 million daily world wide metro passengers, and the cities and countries which fund and operate the metros, react once they find out they will soon become obsolete? What will happen to this so-called obsolete heavily used mode of public transportation? Will these 255 metros just one day close shop and disappear? 

Subway/Metro systems have been remarkably stable. As mentioned, the London Tube has been in continuous use since 1890.

Subways are able to withstand tremendous forces of nature thrown at them. Subway systems have gone through major earthquakes throughout the world without major structural damage. Indeed, subways after earthquakes have been able to operate within days of the quakes while the world around them crumbled.

In the 1984 Mexico City earthquake its subway/metro was used as an emergency command center. In the 1989 Loma Prieta/San Francisco earthquake, its metro, BART, was back in service quickly whereas the Bay Bridge suffered major damage and forty-two people died when the Cypress Freeway collapsed. Los Angeles has gone through earthquakes with its Metro systems back in operation quickly while parts of freeways and overpasses collapsed or were damage. The 2011 New York/Washington DC earthquake did not damage New York’s famed subway system into non-operation. Even Superstorm Sandy of 2012, which flooded NYC’s subway systems, caused enough damage to take it out of service for more than a few days.

Subway tunnels were used as shelter during the blitz of London in World War II, and now in Ukraine during the continuing Russian assault on the freedom loving people of Ukraine.

Hiding under a monorail, the single rail will not provide much protection.

With the collapse of freeways in Los Angeles and San Francisco, an aerial monorail system, proposed to run in the middle of the freeway, does not seem to acknowledge the potential damage or collapse from earthquake. There would also be the steady decay of the concrete used for the support columns and single rail from weathering and air pollution. How would those columns withstand an accident when rammed by a car, truck/SUV or 18 wheeler semi-trailer, which happens now to freeways?

The very wide, multi- lane 405 through the Sepulveda Pass currently takes up all of the space between the sides of the pass. Where would the support columns for the monorail be drilled? How many freeway lanes would have to be removed for the support columns of a monorail? What would happen to freeway lanes during construction, or if there is a breakdown (All machines break down.), or there is an emergency and a monorail train is stuck in the middle of the gridlocked 405?

The 405 in the Sepulveda Pass would not compromised by a subway.

The City Watch article calling subways obsolete states the costs for the subway would be $25Billion, while the monorail would be $8Billion. With so few monorails in the world compared to subways, especially one that would be required to carry a large number of passengers for this project, are there any comparison reports of costs for a monorail project comparable to the Sepulveda Pass? And if the projects were not built in the U.S., a conversion to U.S. dollars, including organized labor and costs of materials in the U.S., is warranted.

The building of the Sepulveda Pass monorail LA SkyRail Express is comprised of Chinese and American corporations. On their website under About Us, there is no information on how long they have been in business, nor their history of major constructions projects, which this project is definitely is, or monorail building.

The two rail, heavy rail is proposed by Sepulveda Transit Corridor Partners. On their website for the “About Us” they propose very short times between trains: Alternatives 4 & 5 would move passengers end-to-end in 20 minutes because of the direct route they follow as well as through the use of innovative technology that would enable trains to arrive every 2.5 minutes. Trains could arrive as fast as every 90 seconds when needed.

Moreover, this project would connect seamlessly to the other Metro subways/metros. The monorail from LASkyRail is a stand alone from other Metro systems and would require entirely different skillsets, parts, equipment and so forth outside of the existing rolling stock of Metro’s subways. A monorail does not fit into the Metro types of transit modes. That stand alone monorail could be costly for Metro and tax payers.

For the two rail, heavy rail subway/metro project, companies listed for the   Sepulveda Transit Corridor Partners, Team, include American construction company Bechtel. Bechtel has experiences worldwide in major projects, and has been in in operation since 1898. Its website lists twenty five thousand projects completed.

While people on both sides of the Sepulveda Pass support monorail, as stated in the City Watch article, from studies and surveys cite more people support the two rail, heavy rail subway.

Metro currently operates two subways/metros, the B and D Lines. B/Red Line opened January 29, 1993. The Metro B/Red Line for years, up to today, and into the obsolete years, has been running underneath downtown Los Angeles, Mid-Wilshire, and the Hollywood Hills without the earth opening up. In my walks through those areas never have I experienced vibrations from the subway underneath. Again, subways have proven to be safe and reliable during and after earthquakes.

Two sayings come into mind when comparing the project costs for the supposed $8Billion monorail and the $28Billion subway/metro: You get what you pay for, and if it sounds to good to be true, be careful.

(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native, a composer whose works have been performed nationally, and some can be found here.  He is the past President of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Marina del Rey Symphony. His dedication to transit issues is to help improve the transit riding experience for all, and to convince drivers to ride buses and trains to fight air pollution and global warming. He is an instructor at Emeritus/Santa Monica College and a regular contributor to CityWatchLA.)