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Gold Line Revisited

November 19, 2009

The lead-up to the Gold Line extension versus its actual operation can be likened to the candidacy versus the presidency of Barack Obama: a clear improvement over what was there before, but not without unpleasant practicalities. I stand by my initial optimism about the line, but a subsequent ride reveals a few quirks, flaws, and roughnesses-around-the-edges that Metro would do well to avoid in the future.

The line could be significantly better if it had included two minor improvements. First, a straighter section between Union Station and Little Tokyo. It’s almost painful how slow trains are required to run across the bridge crossing the 101. Compare it to the section immediately north of Union: not much less curvy, but the trains run significantly faster. How hard would it have been to straighten that mothersucker out? That’s not a rhetorical question, I suppose that if a better bridge would have cost an extra billion, it wouldn’t have been worth it. But it’s a huge nuisance, especially in a part of town where speedy travel can be crucial.

Second, the eastern end of the tunnel should have been just a teensy bit longer. Currently, the train has to turn across 1st, 3rd, and Indiana streets right after it leaves the tunnel. If it were only .35 miles longer, it wouldn’t have to make street level turns in that area at all, which would improve speed dramatically. The Indiana station could have been placed just east of Indiana on Third, above ground to save money. Extra tunneling isn’t cheap, and it’s a blessing that at least part of this line was made below ground. But a bit of strategic tunnelage would have made the line a whole lot better by removing two difficult turns. In the future, Metro should look to keep its street-level sections as straight as possible.

The Gold Line extension cost nearly a billion dollars. But it would have been worth the full billion to make those two minor improvements. The good news is Metro seems more and more receptive to the idea of building better train lines. Hopefully, the quality of train construction will continue to improve. Nevertheless, the train is a great improvement over what was once there and will be an asset to the community.

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