When The Streetcars Return

On the Left: An old streetcar from the Pacific Electric Railway, On the Right: A new streetcar from Washington, D.C.

If all goes according to plan, streetcars will return to Downtown Los Angeles in four years. But, what will they look like?

I’ve argued before that they should be historic replicas of the Red and Yellow Cars that used to traverse this city when it boasted the largest street railway system in the world. I championed a streetcar that would complement the architecture of our city’s Historic Core instead of mimicking trains you would find in Portland or Seattle or Whereverville. One that says Los Angeles.

That is most likely not going to happen. But, what about a compromise?

The new D.C. streetcars were just unveiled this past December. They already bear a slight resemblance of Big Red. Perhaps L.A.’s newest streetcar could at least pay homage to the past with a clever paint scheme.

19 thoughts on “When The Streetcars Return”

  1. Gawd, I’d actually go downtown if they were historic replicas or refurbed originals. Don’t they have a bunch of the old ones warehoused somewhere? Or did they all get scrapped & melted down?

  2. San Francisco runs some of its old cars on the Market street service, may have a couple from other places as well. Because they’ve been declared historical something (sorry, I don’t know the correct term) they don’t have to meet all the modern requirements–and seem to work just fine.
    I’d love to ride a Red Car…

  3. SF has two vintage streetcars from LA on their F Market line. One yellow car from the LARy system, and one red car from the PE system.

    Some of the original cars have been restored and can be ridden locally at Port’s O’ Call in San Pedro, and Orange Empire Railroad Museum in Perris.

    Doubt that enough cars are left to create a new working line. It would be great if the Broadway line could use a mix of vintage and new cars.

  4. Want to ride a Red Car?

    If you go down to San Pedro, you can.

    The Port of Los Angeles Waterfront Red Car Line runs an original (but refurbished) 1907-vintage 1000-class PE Red Car (which survived because it was fitted with rubber tires and a motor in the ’60s, before being re-converted to a an electric trolley for the POLA line), and two handmade reproductions of 1909 500-class cars.

    One thing you’ll notice is the the POLA Red Car line uses elevated boarding stations with ramps, to make the trains ADA-compliant.

    And, no, there aren’t any warehouses full of old Red Cars. Some of them were sold to Buenos Aires, and still operate there – I believe that’s where San Francisco got the LA Red Car specimen they run on the Market Street line – but most of the old cars were either sold to other agencies or scrapped.

    It’s not only hugely expensive to replicate those old cars and operate them, but they wouldn’t be ADA-compliant without platform stations like the ones at the Port. And the Red Cars were heavy standard-gauge rail, not narrow-gauge like modern light-rail street cars.

    (An interesting way to get to the Red Cars in Pedro is to take the Blue Line to Long Beach, then take the LADOT Commuter Express 142 (which, unlike other Commuter Express lines, runs all day long, 7 days a week, as a circulator for the Port of LA) over to San Pedro.)

  5. Oh, and – for the nostalgists – there are still cars running on the Blue Line cars painted in the PE Red Car car livery from the Blue Line’s 10th anniversary celebration several years ago. There’s a picture of one such trainset here.

  6. There’s a Yellow Car hidden in plain sight Downtown… underneath a parking platform at Metro 417. It’s on the south side of the building, underneath a blue tarp. You can’t miss it.

    I wouldn’t mind historic replicas, though I lean toward a more modern aesthetic. Either would be fine by me.

  7. I thought they’d moved that Yellow Car. No?

    You realize of course that ‘Metro 417’ is the old PE Subway Terminal, right?

    That Yellow Car is sitting on the tracks that entered the old Hollywood Subway, which once emerged at what are now the ‘Belmont Station’ apartments at Second St. and Glendale Ave..

    The old tunnel portal and substation, once a favorite site for graffiti artists, still exists in the ‘dog park’ area behind the apartments. It’s open to the public. There’s also a very nice display of historical photos in the building’s lobby.

    (Of course, it’s a bit odd to have a Yellow Car under Metro 417, since the subway tunnel was only used by the PE Red Cars, not the LARy Yellow Cars.)

  8. a correction to some of the comments posted above…
    first, if u wanted to see the two cars painted in the PE scheme that were part of the 10th anniversary of the blue line, you are too late. they were repainted back in 2007 (into the new all silver scheme metro was trying out).

    second, the two cars that operate on the F-line in San Francisco (1061 in PE paint, 1052 in LARy paint) are not from Los Angeles. they were originally built for a transit system in Philadelphia and were acquired by MUNI in the early 90s from SEPTA.

  9. The problem with historic cars is that not all are ADA accessible without a lot of permanent infrastructure in the sidewalk and removal of interior seats, losing capacity. That makes them also difficult for people with strollers to access.

    I too was of the opinion that they should be historic until I traveled to Portland with my wife and 15 month-old daughter. Having easy access from the sidewalk was preferred and did not take up any valuable sidewalk space. As soon as we walked out of baggage claim at the airport, we were able to board the Trimet, and exit across the street from our hotel without too much trouble. The same rang true for the streetcar.

  10. What type of trolleys we use will have a huge effect on how the service will operate.

    There aren’t enough authentic Red Cars around to do anything practical, so a “historic” Red Car line would consist mostly of replicas, just like the line down in San Pedro. Frankly, the San Pedro line seems to run very slowly and is mostly just a tourist attraction.

    The key to understanding San Francisco’s vintage trolley line is that they use mostly PCC cars, which are newer but still historic, and are able to move around with a bit more zip.

    My preference would be modern streetcars, PCC cars or both — something that could be used by both the tourist crowd and could be a practical way to get around downtown.

    We shouldn’t get too hung up on rebuilding the past.

  11. They could build modern streetcars with a “vintage” look.

    Not exactly like the PE or LARY models (many of which were actually built by the railroads themselves) but they look like cars built by the Brill company of Philadelphia, which were very popular up until the PCC cars came out in 1937.

    The Gomaco Trolley Company of Iowa has already built many of these cars, which are running in Little Rock, Tampa, and a few other cities, and have been for several years. They do have modern amenities like air conditioning and wheelchair lifts. Paint those in a livery similar to the old PE, and you’d have the best of both worlds: vintage looking streetcars with modern features.

  12. I am extremely excited about Downtown LA getting a streetcar system back in!

    Pasadena is also working on the Feasibility Study right now to determine if a streetcar can be implemented into Pasadena’s downtown districts (Old Town, Paseo Colorado, Playhouse District, South Lake Avenue, Caltech/PCC).

  13. I wish these new streetcars would have a single headlight and a streetcar pole, instead of a pantograph, like the streetcars of old. These so called new streetcars with two headlights and pantograghs are simply light rail vehicles. I would love to see the resurrection of an old streetcar route. Preferably the “P” car that ran from East 1st Street to Pico Bl. unitl 1963.

  14. Unfortunately to manufacture street cars that have the “vintage look” would take money. With all transportation expenses being scrutinized for cost, that probably isn’t going to happen. Also are there any street cars made in the US anymore? The ones in DC are made in the Czech Republic, and bravo to the former Soviet satellites states foresight in maintaining their manufacturing prowess, but it seems we as a nation have lost our ability to produce mass transit vehicles. Which means our move towards a more sustainable transportation system will not benefit US companies or workers.

  15. as I understand it, the old Red Cars from the 50’s were not scrapped but sold to Brazil or perhaps Argentina where they are still in use today…. I would google and reference this but… why take the fun out of it for y’all.

  16. Thanks for the corrections, derek – I could swear I saw one of the PE Red Car paint jobs on the Blue Line just a couple of months ago, but I confess my memory ain’t what it used to be. :-)

    The Market Street Railway’s web site has pix of the cars in LA-area livery: In addition to the two PCC streamliners aquired from SEPTA, No. 1061, in Pacific Electric Red Car livery, and No. 1052, in Los Angeles Railway Yellow Car livery, there’s also No. 1080, in the yellow, green and white livery of Los Angeles Transit Lines. It was built for Minneapolis’s Twin City Rapid Transit, and subsequently sold to Newark, NJ. New Jersey Transit sold it, in turn, to San Francisco.

    Los Angeles Transit Lines was the LA-area operating company of National City Lines, the GM et al. holding company often blamed for destroying the Red Cars. But they actually didn’t have anything to do with the Red Cars.

    They did acquire the LARy Yellow Cars from the Huntington interests in 1947, when conversion to rubber-tired trolley coaches and diesel buses was already well underway – and one of the the first things they did was buy 40 PCC cars to convert the heavily-used Pico line back to rail service.

    According to the Market Street Railway’s Operational Status”> page, the only one of the three LA-liveried cars currently in service (as of the page’s most recent update in March 2009) is the one in LARy Yellow Car colors. The ‘PE Red Car’ was damaged in an accident in 2008, and the ‘LATL car’ was out of service with electrical problems.

    (The ‘PE Red Car’ is a bit inaccurate, since all of San Francisco’s PCC cars are the narrow-gauge light rail variant, while PE’s Red Cars, including all its PCC cars, were standard-gauge heavy rail cars.)

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