Pacific Electric 5021 Under Gray Skies: A Dark Omen of Things to Come
By Ralph Cantos
In this October 1949 photo, Pacific Electric PCC no. 5021 rolls to a stop on Brand Boulevard at Broadway. This was urban rail transit at its finest. The Glendale-Burbank Line was perfection in every respect. The infrastructure was completely rebuilt just 10 years earlier, and the revolutionary double-end MU PCCs were nearing their 10th birthday.
And yet the dark gray skies above the perfect catenary signaled the fact that the Pacific Electric Railway as an interurban rail system would soon begin to disappear. As News Year’s Day 1950 dawned, the PE still operated about 450 rail cars over 15 major lines. Three-car Rose Parade Specials would again take thousands of passengers to the Rose Parade in Pasadena as they had done for decades. The popular Venice Short Line would provide worry-free, dependable transportation to the beach at Santa Monica and Venice aboard the breezy, venerable 950s and 10s. But all this wonderful, trusty rail transportation was at death’s door.
On September 17, 1950, the world-famous Venice Short Line was converted to motor bus operation and from that day forth, the rail abandonments came fast and frequent. Cities along many of PE’s routes and the Highway Department could not destroy the remains of the PE fast enough, as the lines were abandoned. Just 10 years after the last run of the VSL, New Years Day 1960 saw just one line remaining, the Long Beach Line utilizing about 35 battered and neglected rail cars dating back almost 50 years. With the PE rails and rights-of-way gone, city planners could now move forward in building a futuristic freeway system that would make automobile travel across Los Angeles a happy and joyous experience. (How joyous was your trip on the I-10 or 405 yesterday?)
And today, the ghost of the PE past has come back to haunt the very cities that were so quick to see the last PE trains gone. So now, the cities that were so quick to put an end to urban rail service, must come up with unmanageable hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild something that was allowed to be destroyed as City officials looked the other way. A very painful lesson has been learned…the hard way.
Ralph Cantos Collection