Pacific Electric Tracks In The Cahuenga Pass: Some Final Thoughts

Ralph Cantos Collection

Ralph Cantos Collection

By Ralph Cantos

This publicity photograph taken on the north bound lanes of the Cahuenga Pass was staged for all to behold. Pacific Electric proclaimed that a new era in transportation had arrived in Los Angeles. Modern flexible motor buses could now be routed to meet the needs of the ever-changing San Fernando Valley.

I am sure that all the media text that accompanied the several photos, where produced by the Minister of Propaganda for General Motors. The propaganda department of GM had produced several films to be shown to civic leaders all over the USA. The most notorious of these films was titled “LET’S GO TO TOWN” (mid-1955). The film listed city after city across America that are “Going The Motor Coach Way.” The film showed PCCs in such cities as Detroit and Philadelphia as a slow, outmoded form of city transit. The film went on to say that streetcars (PCCs) operating on fixed guideways on narrow streets were as inefficient and outdated as the horse and buggy. The GM film also went on to say that bus routes could be changed at will, to meet the ever-changing needs of the City.

But in the decades that have passed since PE staged the “Modern Motor Coach Caravan” has proven beyond dispute, is that in general, the traveling public prefers rail transit over buses. To be sure, any transit system needs buses in their fleet as part of a balanced system. Buses have their place in such a balanced system. But, according to General Motors, all the needs of ANY major American City could be handled by fleets of buses.

Not mentioned in GM’s propaganda film is that what business man is going to invest assets built around a bus stop pole, that can be removed or relocated at the discretion of a City or Transit official. The film goes on to say, that major transit systems could sell off all out dated rail infrastructure. Not mentioned in the film is where are the buses to be stored and maintained. But sadly at this time in history, America ate up all the crap that GM could dish out and large scrap metal companies, Mexico City and Toronto would become the beneficiaries of this terrible waste.

Ralph Cantos Collection

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  • Al Donnelly

    There is no doubt that GM was up to their “keys-stir” in questionable lobbying efforts. During WWII when materials shortages required most businesses to do without unless they could show a need for the war effort, GM was producing pamphlets decrying the superiority of diesel locomotives over other power sources. Drawings of steam engines, early streamliners using distillate power plants, and so on we’re used to make a mockery of things not produced by GM’s Electromotive Division. Little of this had anything to do with winning a war except for the private one GM waging for the expected post-war dollars battle. That said, all who were enslaved by the auto-economy were compliant and just as guilty. The mainline railroads were transporting these products as cargo and had a natural conflict of interest with supporting their subsidiaries so far as passenger operations were concerned. Southern Pacific bailed out of this area, but never gave up Pacific Electric as a freight operation as long as it was viable. The same problems of SoCal surface rail were found in other SP subsidiary operations including the Red Car system out of Portland and local lines such as Eugene. These systems went under even before GM’s direct involvement in ownership of rail lines as they couldn’t compete with the private car on public roads movement. There is a fine line between vested interest and outright corruption which tends to blur as capital is accumulated in deep pockets. We have the same problem with the airline industry where small airports where plane loading factors were below the break even point would not survive a funding crunch based on real revenues. Why were they not dumped in favor of high speed rail connections to major hubs? Vested Interests set up a tax system to redistribute wealth through pooling, thereby ensuring expansion of facilities that are hardly self-sufficient and are often tied into local governments that are also in debt beyond reason. Welcome to the new world of Orange County finance. It’s a story as old as New York City. The answer? Ask Disney to take over. At least those guys know how to run a monorail system. Maybe we can get them to call it Pacific Electric again? Just don’t expect a stop in Detroit. They’ve probably got an airport there anyways.

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