By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Staff Writer
Although the six-mile Metro Gold Line Extension officially opened Sunday, the offer of free rides all day translated into an endless crush of passengers, as everyone from the idly curious to rail conoisseurs filled the trains and stations throughout the day. It was anything but business as usual.
Since I regularly ride the Gold Line to work from my home in South Pasadena, I am thrilled that I can now make use of the Little Tokyo/Arts District Station, a mere block from our Rafu offices. Monday, to get a taste of what a normal day of operations might be like, I rode the length of the new extension, which runs from Union Station to Atlantic Blvd. in East Los Angeles. What I found amongst several of my fellow patrons were some safety concerns and a scant amount of confusion, but overall, a feeling that more trains in the City of Cars can only be a good thing.
“Taihen benri (terrifically convenient),” said Yumiko, a Monterey Park resident who, along with her friend Yoshiko, tested the new line by making a grocery shopping run to Little Tokyo. She said that until now, she would take a bus, which wasn’t a very time-consuming ride, but often she would endure a lengthy wait for the bus to arrive.
“This only took about 15 minutes or so,” said Yumiko, who declined to be identified further. “I don’t drive and I go to Little Tokyo to do my shopping, so this is really wonderful.”
In addition to providing easier access from East L.A. to Little Tokyo, trains on the new extension serve Boyle Heights neighborhoods that still bear cornerstones for generations of Japanese Americans who have lived there over the decades, including Tenrikyo Church and Rissho Kosei Kai Buddhist Church.
There are eight new stations along the new, $898 million leg of the Gold Line, which now connects East L.A. with Pasadena. The former southern end was Union Station, where passengers can connect with the Metro Red Line, as well as Metro Link and Amtrak trains. The fare for the Gold Line only remains unchanged, at $1.25.
MTA has information about new stations, fares and connections on their website, here: http://beta.metro.net/project/eastside/
Unlike the grand designs employed at stations along the Red Line subway and to a certain extent on the Gold Line, the stops on the extension are fairly basic and utilitarian. The Mariachi Plaza Station in Boyle Heights makes use of the band gazebo and other pre-existing features to give it a link to local character.
Perhaps the thrill here is not in the ride, simply in the fact that it can be taken. On Monday, most of the folks I saw on board appeared to be the inherent reward in the journey itself; a group from a special needs home in Pasadena was enjoying the sunny day on the rails and a pair of train buffs from Northern California were disembarking at each stop to snap artistic photos. A man walking on First Street near the Pico/Aliso Station stopped and watched with a look of proud amazement as the new train rumbled past.
At the Atlantic station, the eastern terminus of the new line, a pair of MTA officials Mark Simpson and David Coffey were answering questions and helping to point confused passengers in the proper direction.
In addressing some complaints that were expressed Monday morning by a group of residents in East L.A. that the MTA neglected to install an adequate number of crossing guards at rail crossings, Simpson said the agency is working on it but that a reasonable amount of common sense on the part of the public is essential to any public transit system.
“They should have put more crossing guards in, and I think they’re working on getting more in,” said Simpson, who works in revenue collection for MTA. “You would think people would hear the horns and see the lights flashing, but we still see people walking up the tracks.”
“This blows my mind,” said Coffey, a revenue audit supervisor who has been with the MTA for 33 years. “Years ago they were talking about this and now it’s here.”
On Sunday, Coffey was helping with the crush of riders who took advantage of the fare-free day. He said from the more than 50,000 who rode the new extension, there was little, if any, grumbling.
“Not one complaint of any sort,” he said proudly. “Everyone was in a good mood, the kids were having a blast. It was great.”