Monday, April 21, 2014

Looking Down In L.A.

Metrolink; Mission Tower, Los Angeles, Calif.; March 6, 2014
The Los Angeles area is sprawling and difficult to get through. Freeways are perpetually clogged, and even getting ten miles can take an hour or more. What can a visiting photographer do to see a lot of trains in interesting locations? Well, you don't have to go far from the very heart of the city to make the most of a visit to L.A. You simply need to follow the concrete ravine of the Los Angeles River.

The Los Angeles River has several bridges crossing it, and all provide a view of Union Pacific, Amtrak and Metrolink heavy rail action. One has a Metro Rail light rail line on it, and two span the only above-ground section of the Metro Rail subway. Starting from north to south, we begin our tour at Cesar Chavez Avenue. The west end of this bridge is right at Los Angeles Union Station (formerly Los Angeles Union Passenger Terminal). All Amtrak and Metrolink trains head north out of LAUPT to Mission Tower. Some continue north, but others make a horseshoe and come right under Cesar Chavez Avenue. As an added bonus, the Metrolink trains and Amtrak Surfliners that use cab cars all have locomotives on the proper (geographic south) end of the train as they pass here (above). Mission Tower, which is pretty inaccessible, makes a nice backdrop for photos.

Union Pacific has an intermodal terminal on the east side of the Los Angeles River here, so freights are not uncommon (although most will diverge to the east before passing under the bridge). Still, you'll find both Metrolink and UP trains under the east end of the bridge.
Union Pacific; Cesar Chavez Avenue, Los Angeles, Calif.; March 4, 2014
The 101 freeway is the next bridge south (no pedestrian access), followed by perhaps the most interesting bridge over the river (at least photographically), First Street. The west end of the bridge goes over the Metro Rail subway tracks, the only place the subway is above ground. This is the throat to the yard, so action is usually plentiful right after the morning rush hour and right before the evening rush. Alas, on the day I was there, the wash rack located almost under the bridge was being dismantled and the yard throat was closed most of the day. Trust me, though, it can be busy here. You still have the Metrolink/Amtrak line directly adjacent to the subway tracks.
Metro Rail; First Street, Los Angeles, Calif.; March 6, 2014
Perhaps the coolest thing about the First Street bridge is the Gold Line light rail line that runs across it. In the morning, there are spectacular views available of Metro Rail trains leaving the city with the skyline as a backdrop. Auto traffic heading out of town in the morning is sparse, so light rail vehicles are seldom blocked by other traffic. It really is a nice diversion between all the heavy rail action down below. Light rail stations are at either end of the bridge, so if you are in town without a car there is still easy access.
Metro Rail; First Street, Los Angeles, Calif.; March 5, 2014
On the east side of the Los Angeles River is a small team track. Union Pacific local power lays up here and can be seen frequently. Once again, Metrolink and the occasional UP freight will pass beneath the east end of the bridge as well.
Union Pacific; First Street, Los Angeles, Calif.; March 6, 2014
Next bridge south is Fourth Street. The big attraction here is the Metro Rail subway shop -- the bridge spans the yard just south of the shop building. Weekends sees the yard chock full of subway cars. Alas, I was only there on weekdays when only empty tracks can be seen, so we'll bypass this bridge.

Next is Sixth Street Bridge, a Los Angeles icon. Built in 1932, the Sixth Street Bridge (or Sixth Street Viaduct) was the precursor to the famous California freeways and the Interstate highway system. Alas, the bridge was built from concrete mixed onsite, and the concrete has a high alkali content; Sixth Street Bridge is crumbling from within. Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the bridge's two arches and all the concrete must come down, as rehabilitation is not an option. You don't want to shoot from Sixth Street bridge for two reasons; first, it is by far the longest of the bridges over the Los Angeles River, and it would take quite awhile to walk to a place where you can shoot trains. And second, you want this bridge in your photos. So let's move on....
Metrolink; Seventh Street, Los Angeles, Calif.; March 5, 2014
Next bridge south is Seventh Street, and this is where you want to shoot from -- especially this year before the Sixth Street Bridge is torn down. We still have the same cast of characters, with Amtrak and Metrolink on the west side, Metrolink and UP on the east side.
Amtrak; Seventh Street, Los Angeles, Calif.; March 5, 2014
Next bridge south is the I-10 Freeway (we're in California, so we have to say "the" in front of freeway names and numbers), and once again there is (obviously) no pedestrian access. That brings us to Olympic Avenue. The west end of this bridge is directly over Amtrak's Eighth Street maintenance facility where the Surfliners, Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief and Sunset Limited call home (in fact, all the bridges from Seventh Street north to Cesar Chavez see deadhead moves of the long-distance Amtrak trains to LAUPT).
Amtrak; Olympic Avenue, Los Angeles, Calif.; March 4, 2014
The next two bridges south provide a good look at the busy freight lines to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, and are located just outside the city limits in Vernon. First is Washington Avenue, which parallels a concrete deck bridge used by Union Pacific trains. I did not get a chance to shoot here, as the shot is fairly non-descript. The next bridge south is 26th Street and it parallels two different railroads on two different levels. At street level is BNSF Railway heading from the Hobart Tower area (off to your right) to the ports (off to your left via the Alameda Corridor trench). Above BNSF is the passenger flyover used by Amtrak and Metrolink. The shot below shows the two bridges as seen from Harbor Junction. The Amtrak train is crossing the Los Angeles River, as does the through truss bridge on BNSF; both of these are very shootable from 26th Street. Two of the city's surviving towers are in this area, as well. Redondo Tower is almost impossible to shoot, but is located just north of Washington Avenue on the west side of the river. Hobart Tower is very easy to shoot and following 26th Street east will take you right to it.
Amtrak; Harbor Junction, Vernon, Calif.; March 5, 2014
While we're in the area, let's check out one more bridge that is not over the Los Angeles River. Take 26th Street west; it does a bit of a curve as it crosses Santa Fe Avenue and puts you on 25th Street. At the grade crossing is Union Pacific's J Yard, and just beyond that is a bridge over the Alameda Corridor trench. A good shot can be had here (there is one spot you can shoot through the fence) with a Sears warehouse off in the distance.
BNSF Railway; Alameda Corridor, Vernon, Calif.; March 6, 2014
As mentioned above, just off to the right of this shot is Union Pacific's J Yard, so we'll take a quick peek in there.
Union Pacific; J Yard, Vernon, Calif.; March 4, 2014
And since we're in the area, let's head back east on 25th Street, go across Santa Fe Avenue which puts us on 26th Street, and we'll follow it until we see Hobart Tower. While this post may make it seem like I really know my way around Los Angeles, the truth is I visited all these places (except Hobart Tower) for the first time in March 2014. I owe a huge thank you to Charles Freericks who gave me a primer on how to get around Los Angeles. I can't wait for my next visit there.
BNSF Railway; Hobart Tower, Los Angeles, Calif.; March 5, 2014


Charles Freericks said...

Great Stuff... Really enjoyed showing you around and seeing your results.

Charles Freericks said...

Great shots. Enjoyed showing you around, and enjoy seeing your results even more.

John Simpkins-Camp said...


Thank you for posting the link to TRACKSIDE TRAVELS on I am really glad to have found this site!

As a fan of LA railroading, bridges, and the LA River this site is a pure joy!! The photography is great and I look forward to browsing through the archives.

I wish you continued success!

Wash., DC

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