Elected officials from Los Angeles and Long Beach officially kicked off a major overhaul of Metro’s oldest light rail line Tuesday, reminding passengers that the southern half of the Blue Line will shut down for about four months beginning today.
Metro will halt rail service between downtown Long Beach and the Willowbrook station until the end of May, at which point the northern half of the route will close until September.
When the Blue Line reopens, it will be called the A Line, becoming the first Metro rail line renamed in a new letter system.
“The Blue Line is the oldest part of the entire LA County rail system,” said Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia. “It was the very first line to open and therefore also needs the most love.”
Starting today, buses will replace train cars on portions of the route, as the agency renovates stations and infrastructure along the route, with the goal of speeding up service and making the line less susceptible to delays and breakdowns.
While the southern segment is closed, trains will continue running on the northern half of the Blue Line, between 7th Street/Metro Center and the 103rd Street/Watts Towers Station.
Once the project’s second phase begins, train service will be halted along the northern half of the line, but will start back up between Compton Station and Downtown Long Beach Station. Buses will then serve the stations between Watts and Downtown LA.
More imminently, during the southern closure, riders will have a few different shuttle options.
On Tuesday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn urged riders to stay patient during the next eight months of closures, calling the Blue Line the “workhorse of Metro’s transit system.”
If you live or work in Long Beach, Compton, or Willowbrook, here’s what you need to know about the closure:
Temporary bus routes
This free shuttle bus will travel daily from the Downtown Long Beach Station to the 103rd Street/Watts Towers Station, stopping at every closed Blue Line station along the way.
The local buses will run every six minutes to and from Willow Street during rush-hour (5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.) and every 12 to 13 minutes during non-peak hours. Buses will run every 12 to 14 minutes at the stations south of Willow Street.
If taking the local bus, regular Blue Line riders will need to plan for significantly higher travel times. Metro expects trips between downtown Long Beach and Watts to take up to 85 minutes. On the Blue Line, that’s a 30-minute journey.
Oriented toward Long Beach commuters, this bus costs $1.75, with free transfers (Metro’s standard fare for trains and buses). On its way to the 103rd Street/Watts Towers Station it will stop at every Long Beach station and the Willowbrook/Rosa Parks station, where riders can transfer to the Green Line. It will skip three stops served by the 862 Local: Del Amo, Artesia, and Compton.
The 861 Select will run weekdays only, arriving every 12 minutes between 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.
It will be a little faster than the free 862 Local, but not by much. Travel times from end to end are projected to be between 61 and 79 minutes, depending on the time of day.
An option for those traveling between Long Beach and Downtown LA, this express bus costs $1.75 and will stop at every Long Beach station, in addition to the Blue Line’s three northernmost stops (LATTC/Ortho Inst. Station, Pico Station, and 7th Street/Metro Center Station).
The bus will only run weekdays, in the mornings and evenings. Morning buses will run between 5:30 a.m. and 9:55 a.m. Later buses will run between 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
The express bus should come closest to replicating the Blue Line’s travel speeds. A ride from the first stop to the last is expected to take between 55 and 75 minutes.
At a Metro committee meeting Thursday, staffers suggested that some riders may want to consider taking the Silver Line during the Blue Line closure. The rapid bus runs parallel to the Blue Line, traveling along the 110 freeway between San Pedro and Downtown LA. This option would probably make most sense for commuters who park and ride or connect to the Blue Line from neighborhoods west of the route.
Metro buses 51 and 60 also serve many of the same neighborhoods and stations as the Blue Line and could be good options for some riders, particularly late at night when the 60 travels to downtown Long Beach.
At a Metro committee meeting last week, both Garcia and Hahn recommended extending the hours during which express buses run along the route—something Metro staff will explore during the early weeks of the closure.
Metro project manager Tim Lindholm tells Curbed that the agency is “prepared to adjust on the fly” if shuttle and bus service presents problems for riders, or if passengers clearly prefer one option over another.
Any schedule changes will be posted on the Blue Line project website and communicated through social media and updated signage.
Why is the closure necessary?
During the closures, Metro will upgrade most of the Blue Line’s overhead catenary wire system and signal system and it will update portions of worn-out track and aging station infrastructure. The busy Willowbrook/Rosa Parks station will also get a $109 million overhaul set to include a larger platform for riders, a customer service window, and a public plaza alongside the station.
Metro’s goal is to speed up service along the entire Blue Line, reducing travel time from 58 minutes to 48 minutes between Downtown Los Angeles to downtown Long Beach.
The closures will affect thousands of riders. Metro ridership numbers show that more than 64,000 people use the Blue Line every weekday, making it Metro’s most-ridden light rail line.
Still, the delay-prone Blue Line has struggled to attract new passengers in the last decade. Just since 2016, weekday ridership on the route has declined nearly 18 percent.
Lindholm says it’s all but inevitable that ridership will drop further during the closure, though agency staff are hopeful that improved service will bring commuters back once the line fully reopens.
- Blue Line south closure to begin Jan. 26 [The Source]
- Blue Line will shut down for much of 2019 [Curbed LA]
- Metro Blue Line overhaul starts with Willowbrook station [Curbed LA]