The Day Before the Long Beach Line Was Abandoned: April 8, 1961
By Ralph Cantos
The last day of regular service was a very sad day for me. For several months I had been getting petitions signed by rail passengers to prevent abandonment — petitions given to me by the City Of Long Beach on actual city letterhead. In all, about 8000 passengers signed the petitions. I, along with Long Beach city officials, went to court in an effort to save the rail service. The court ordered the Southern Pacific to make the right-of-way available to the LAMTA, but the LAMTA was not interested in continuing the rail service for many reasons. I really thought we would win the fight to save the rail service. Twice while I was petitioning aboard the cars, MTA Special Agents put me off the train, telling me that I was not allowed to petition on State Property.. The second time they threw me off the train late at night at Dominguez Junction. I was pissed. I had to walk a mile to find a pay phone and call my dad to come and get me. I got an ear full from him. All this work was for nothing. I was 18 years old at the time and on the very last run as we pulled into Long Beach at dawn, the track was lined with red flares in the dawn mist. I broke down and cried like a baby. I will NEVER FORGET THAT LAST RUN.
Fred Victor DuBritz Photo, Steve Crise Collection
Reminds me of the last days of the North Shore Line about 20 months later. We tried hard to save the line, but were out-lawyered by Susquehanna Corp. (NSL owners), and our plans to re-open and continue service were scotched.
HI LEAH,I READ ABOUT YOU IN THE CERA NORTH SHORE BOOK. I,TOO,WAS A GREAT N.SHORE FAN,IN THE SUMMERS OF 1961-62 I EXPLORED EVERY INCH OF THE SYSTEM. LIKE YOU,I VISITED HIGHWOOD AFTER ABANDONMENT AND CAME AWAY WITH MANY GOODIES. STILL HAVE THE EMPLOYEE TIMETABLE,SWITCH,COACH AND SIGNAL LOCK KETS. I WAS 16 WHEN THE LINE DIED,NEVER EXPERIENCED THE SHORE LINE,STILL MOURN THE LOSS OF A FANTASTIC RAILROAD. I WOULD ENJOY TALKING WITH YOU,MY PHONE IS 860 296-2834. TAKE CARE. JAN PRYMUS
What a very touching tale. Thank you so much for sharing this moving story.
I was just a kid on this fateful Saturday but I remember the crowds. For once the line had riders in abundance! What I am amazed though, in retrospect, was how fatalistic most people were about the demise of the Pacific Electric. In reality this was a public agency i.e. the MTA running the show with no one to be accountable to except the taxpayers that owned it. Something the people could not grasp.
As we all know, like the legendary Phoenix, the LB line rose again as the Blue Line. It along with all of the other interurban and many of the local lines should have never been shut down. Now a great sum of money is being spent to reopen many of the interurban lines.There are too many cars on the LA road system. It’s like trying to put 10lbs. in a 5 lb. bag.
Back in 1960, I tryed to tell “those in the know” that they would some day come to regret the abandonment of the Long Beach Line. Their responce to me, “you’re just a fanatical rail fan, full of more crap then a Christmas pie”. My responce to them, “OK-just wait an see” It took 30 years, but I now feel vindicated.
Unfortunately most of those people are gone but don’t you wish you could find that one person that said you were full of crap? San Fran had the right idea when they kept all of theirs. Thanks for sharing your story.
You were just plain a little more far sighted. I think it was a terrible shame that the system was abandoned. Couldn’t they have modernized and upgraded it a little bit at a time?
They were short sighted but they were also culture bound to their time. There decision to abandon probably made sense at the time but now looking back it we can see that it made very poor sense.
I think maybe it’s true that most urban planners, along with most planners in general are not able to see clearly more than about 5 to 10 years out.
I can recall reading in the paper in the late 1960s already that there was a plan afoot to revive the LA – Long Beach line. I’m not sure what happened but the plan ended up going nowhere. Then in the 1980s it was taken up again. Finally they did it.
Ralph, I enjoyed your story about the last run to Long Beach. I was fortunate that during 1960 and early 1961 to make several trips over the line. There will never be a sound like those heavy traction motors whining away at 50 MPH down the four tracks while the motorman blasted away with that hoarse whistle. At the same time the conductor was ringing up fares on the old Ohmer register all the while calling the stations such as Willowbrook, Compton, Dominguez Junction. Wardlow Road and North Long Beach.
I was 16 years old at the time. I was born and raised out in Corona. When I received the notice of the last run fan trip I asked my Dad if I could go. He said that there would be no way he would allow me to be in downtown Los Angeles at 3:00 AM. The last night I set my alarm to go off a few minutes before the last train was to leave. I laid in bed imagining what was happening at 6th & Main and following in my mind that last trip down to Long Beach.
I got to see the cars one more time. I asked MTA to send me a bid form for the cars. Armed with my bid form I went down to Long Beach to “inspect” the cars. I expected, since I was a 16 year old kid, to be taken by the hand around the property. When I walked into the supervisor’s office armed with my bid form and asked to see the cars he pointed out back and said “There they are”. I spent the day climbing over, under and around the cars taking photos and a few souvenirs (abandonment notices and timetables).
You are right, that line could have been developed incrementally into a modern high speed electric rail line. However, those were the days when everything in Los Angeles had to be new. Remember the MTA was seriously considering a monorail over Wilshire Boulevard at the time.
Sorry but General Motors was making and paying municipalities to buy buses. They spent tons of money lobbying also Goodyear and Firestone got involved with their tires. They kept touting buses as a godsend and gee look at the flexability and cost savings. They never foresaw th future events.
Today it’s all abput politics in where and how much they spend. There are some municipalities that have “responsible”people running it but usually there are politicians involved so the costs go up for o reason. If they let “railfans” and “real” “railroad” and “transit” people build and run it then things would be different. The public usually only looks at the money unless it directly affects them.
If you look at Boulder Colorado to downtown Denver, right now it’s being run by buses and there is somewhat of a bus lane. But in bad weather the entire Road gets completely messed up and during rush hour there’s still tons of traffic. They have to have special dedicated bus lanes and bus ways to get into the downtown area which is good but still if they had Light Rail, and there is a Burlington Northern Santa Fe line that does run all the way from Longmont to Boulder and down into Denver which they could use. But it would require putting additional trackage on the side of the freight right-of-way and reaching an agreement quote on quote with the freight Railroad. But it would be a much more efficient and better solution. Problem is with the high cost of construction per mile it’s cost-prohibitive. The estimated costs went up and doubled up three different times since their first estimates. So unfortunately the residents are not going to approve something like that because it’s too expensive for them. If you look in a city like New York where we had trolleys running everywhere it would be so much more efficient but you have to be willing to take cars and pushed him off the streets you have to construct Municipal parking lots that are safe and you have to have no driving zones which includes police fire politicians and local residents. I have to keep it to delivery trucks during certain hours only which would force businesses to change their hours. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily and you would have to force the public to change their attitudes 21 which is closer to what your past where they understand that you make some sacrifices and you make everyone work. So be no more limousines no more helicopters flying into New York City everybody would have to work together that would even go for the outer boroughs. But we’re not going to do that because it’s too expensive and to quote on quote inconvenient for others. So I have to leave it to Progressive cities like Boston Philadelphia Miami Orlando San Francisco cities in Texas and other areas to do the right thing.
One day people will wake up and then realize what they’ve lost and what they can put back. But unfortunately it’ll be the younger generation who only look at the rail as a Nostalgia not merely as a transportation alternative. Because they want their cars for the most part unless they live in the cities those that live in the cities understand the value of public transportation but for the most part those that live outside of urban areas they want their cars and they won’t give them up for anything.
So sorry for the Soap Box but at least I have my memories I’m riding down to Coney Island from Flatbush Brooklyn on the old BMT r19 cars clacking down the rails and having fun with the cane seats and Chino Air Conditioning but it was a fun day at the beach and down with the rides specially the cyclone in Coney Island and Nathan’s. So Old-Timers enjoy your memories and hopefully we’ll have some fun new ones in this up-and-coming new year. Best wishes to all and have a Happy New Year if you look at Boulder Colorado to
Why does everyone fail to to give credit to employee unions for a large share of the culpability in these situations. The bigger the base of bus driving workers, the more self-promoting these public monstrosities become. Governments constantly fail to challenge these autonomous blobs out of fear of the employee’s voting power. The rail based systems came into being by way of private enterprise and they can not be replaced by a committee of idiots living in fear of wage thugs locked into a pyramid scheme of retirement benefits. Wonder why the mail system is dying while you get junk you don’t want?
I rode and took movies on the last Long Beach Express on April 7. The only time I got to ride the Express. I was also pulled in and harassed by MTA special agents for posting and handing out “save the red cars” leaflets at 6th & Main, and rode the last (fantrip) 2 car train to Long Beach.
I also had several “run-ins” with MTA Special Agents.. They were a nasty bunch of SOB’s. One night while I was petitioning on board the cars to save the line for the City Of Long Beach, two Special Agents put me off the train at Dominguez Jct. I had to walk almost 3 miles in the cold dark night to Compton where I found a pay phone. I called my father to come and get me..He was pissed, BUT not nearly as pissed as I was. The next day, I wrote a VERY NASTY letter to the head of the MTA, which brought the FBI out to my house. My mothet told them, “my son would never do a thing like that” and told them to leave..in the end, it was all for nothing. The LAMTA did what ever they wanted to do, they did not have to answer to the PUC..
I saw on abandoned trains web site some what looked like some old LB Blimp cars, does anyone know what happened to the cars when the line was abandoned?
I’m afraid that most were probably scrapped but there are at least a few at the Southern California Railway Museum