I may love driving in California, but I can't resist the opportunity to ride a train every now and then—especially if it takes me to some off-limits place.
That's why I met up with the Los Angeles Railroad Heritage Foundation at Union Station last month for a day-long journey behind the scenes of LA's public transit system.
We picked up a private subway shuttle on the Red Line that took us out from underground and onto the tracks along the LA River...
...giving us a view of LA few of us have ever seen.
And since I managed to get to the back of the cab, I saw LA as usually only Metro workers get to see it.
We passed under the 1st Street Bridge...
...and arrived at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority Division 20 Rail Yard (a.k.a. the Santa Fe Yard)...
...where trains from the Metro Red and Purple Lines come for a hose down, other cleaning and routine maintenance...
...as well as heavy-duty repairs.
When the rolling stock have to be lifted, it's done by a 10-ton crane...
...but mostly, the repair guys climb underneath them to work on their undercarriages.
At any given time, pretty much all the tracks in the shop are full of trains in various stages of repair.
If you've ever wondered where the trains go when they're taken "Out of Service," it's probably someplace that looks like this.
They're rolled in on the rails and then turned around on giant turntables installed into the floor.
The most common service necessary on the trains is on their wheels.
All that mileage (and the screeching against the rails) really wears them down, so they need to be periodically replaced.
The Red Line maintenance facility also houses a control tower...
...where trains going in and out of service can be monitored...
...and train operators can learn how to address the public in various situations (including service interruptions, medical emergencies, police activity, active shooters, etc.).
But it's at the Metro LA Rail Operations Center (ROC) in South LA (by the Willowbrook-Rosa Parks Station on the Blue Line) where you can see some of those public addresses made—without being a victim of a delay yourself.
This is some Big Brother / God's Eye / Sliver-type surveillance. Passengers probably have no idea that their every move is being watched.
But that way, when a call comes in from one of those emergency phones on the platform, the staff at the ROC can see not only the caller via closed-circuit TV, but they can also see whatever's happening around them. (Of course, sometimes people call just to complain about a train being late or to ask a question about their TAP card.)
And even aside from those incoming calls, the CCTV "observers" can monitor everything that's happening in the stations—something the conductors can't do while they're driving the trains.
Having opened alongside the Blue Line in 1990, this is the nerve center of all the current Metro lines in service—the Red and Purple Line subways and the Blue, Green, Gold, and Expo Line Light Rails. (The Silver Line is actually a bus.)
The dispatchers at this facility—which is kind of like a combination of Air Traffic Control and Mission Control—are responsible not only for making rue everyone's daily commute runs (relatively) smoothly, but also ensuring passenger safety and making high-level decisions about major problems that may occur.
This is how train operators are alerted to any recent seismic activity (at which point the trains' speeds are restricted so the safety of the tunnels can be investigated). Though perhaps less critical of a function, this is also where social media managers tweet out service advisories.
And they all started by driving a Metro bus—a mandatory prerequisite to work at the ROC (as well as to drive a train).
Even though the Metro doesn't technically run 24 hours (yet), working the ROC is a 24/7 job. Light Rail stations are outside and accessible, so they need to be surveilled all night long and potential passengers who show up expecting a train need to be told to come back in the morning.
And apparently it takes longer than you'd think to lock station elevators by remote command and shut down train service at night and unlock everything and put trains back into service in the early morning.
There's really not much down time in between.
Photo Essay: A Taste of Orange Empire Railway Museum
Riding the Red Line to Haunted Hollywood
Photo Essay: Union Station, Open to the Public