Monday, February 3, 2014

Notes on Taking the Train from Oceanside to Culver City 1/31/14

In order to understand the context of this post, its important to know that when the City of Los Angeles planned the Red Line into Hollywood, then down to Wilshire Blvd and out west to Santa Monica, that Rep Waxman got federal legislation passed that declared a "methane zone" and prevented the planned subway from getting federal money.  Its a complicated story (at least to me) but it is widely believed that we have a classic case of corruption and the influence of the rich.   There is also the issue of the Red vs the Purple line not to mention the Orange line.  In any case, the line(s) was/were rerouted and ended up on Hollywood Blvd which is, oh by the way, not entirely stupid but mostly stupid.    (1)    The furthest west one of the lines came was Highland (and Hollywood) and another line ended at Wilshire and Western.   In both cases, they are far east of where they need to be, which is, ultimately, the beach.

A metropolitan transit system is only as good as the parts of town it connects to.  It needs to achieve a critical mass before people feel able to give up their cars and take the train.  If they know they can not get to Westwood and they know they *might* need to go there, then it does them no good if the train goes to Hollywood, they will still need their car to get to Westwood.

This was about 1990 when this happened.  LA has been scrambling ever since to find a way to get rail out to the westside in any way that they can.  So finally they ended up using an old right of way, the original Exposition Line, destroyed many decades ago with the rest of LA mass transit, which runs through some very bad parts of LA but ends up in Culver City which is a reasonable place to be.  They called it the Expo Line and it started running out to Culver City about six months ago.   Waxman has also repealed his own legislation and plans are being made to extend the Purple line along Wilshire to Westwood by 2035 or so.

But in the meantime, we do have the Expo line to go from downtown LA to Culver City.

I come to LA about once or twice a month to deal with my various medical overhead.  I would prefer not to drive if I can avoid it, its boring and stupid.   But ending up at Hollywood and Highland, which was as close as I could get to Beverly Hills before, meant taking a $40 ++ cab ride each way after arriving.   So if the train is $56 round trip, the metro is $5 and the cab is $80, thats $135 vs driving your car and spending maybe $40 on gas, or a little less.

But with the Expo line, I could take the train to Culver City and back again for $56 + $5.  And I have a friend who lives and works in Culver City and who was able to drive me the three miles from the train stop to the doctors office in Beverly Hills.

It all worked fine.

It was moderately convenient and there are a few things to know which I have itemized below in case you are thinking of doing something similar.  The big problem, as always with these systems, is your schedule and how it interacts with theirs.  And that becomes more of a problem the more you need to go (or in this case return) after 6PM.   This is normal in one way or another in most mass transit systems, even ones that are 24 hour a day.  The question is whether you can live with what is there or if the schedule makes it impossible.

Here are some notes of the trip from Oceanside to Culver City and back again.  The total fee was $61 including the Metro day pass.  It took about 3 hours including waiting for my connection to the Red line and then to the Expo line.  The trip from the 7th and Metro station to Culver City takes about 1/2 hour.  This total of three hours is about the same as driving but less tiring.  On most trips one runs into traffic and therefore driving can take up to 5 hours on the return trip.

Whether taking the train or driving one is essentially spending all day getting to and from Los Angeles. 


1. The trains in Oceanside all leave/depart from one area called the Oceanside Transit Center. It has a nice sign, but if you are looking for the Amtrak Station you have to know that it is the transit center that you want, and that is not at all clear from the Internet or the ground. You can look for 100 years for the Amtrak Station and never find it. 2. Parking at Oceanside is free (amazing). 3. There are four different train systems using that transit center, believe it or not, and three of them use the same lines north and south. Amtrak and Metrolink both go to LA, and they do not seem to communicate. I took Amtrak. There is also Metrolink, and God only knows which one you should use. 4. When you arrive at Union Station, you are expected to know that you need to take the Red line to the 7th & Metro stop to take the Expo line. 5. The Expo line has one color of blue dot and the Long Beach train has another color of blue dot. So all trains at 7th & Metro outside the Red line have blue dots. Ignore the dots and take the Culver City train. 6. It is not clear (to me anyway) how often the Expo line runs. Maybe every half an hour is my guess but it is just a guess. 7. Because there are no attendents you can ask questions of, you have to use the other passengers and the maintenance (janitorial) and security people to find out where to go. 8. The transfer from the Red line to the Expo line is not a transfer really, it is a new fare entirely. But since you bought a day pass you do not really care. 9. There is no where to really meet anyone at the arrival in Culver City. You just show up and are dumped into a parking lot. You basically have to get people to pick you up by stopping in the middle of the street. I think that is weird. 10. The biggest issue with using these trains is that they run less often outside the prime commuter times. So, there are two trains south from LA after 6pm. A roughly 7 pm train and a 10 pm train. If you miss your 7pm train, you have one more option, and that is the 10pm. This means that you either have to leave work relatively close to 5 pm, or take a taxi, or take the 10 pm train and get home at midnight. It would be nice if there were a few more trains in the evening. It is extremely conceivable the way things are set up that you could be stuck for the night.

I would call the current situation a major improvement.   One day LA may have a mass transit system.  Just in time for autonomous vehicles and other new technologies, I presume.

Wikipedia page on the promising Purple Line Extension

1. I know that some of the very few people who read this blog think I am overstating the case, being paranoid, etc.   Guess what, I'm not.   Don't believe me, do your research and then come back and apologize.  It is well known what happened here.


  1. Michael,
    Thanks for your erudite and practical guide to commuting by train up to LA. You are quite right about the directional signage, maps and train stations. All seem to be made by people who weren't paying attention to what they were doing. I learned this on a similar trip from San Diego. This was on a Saturday. I was connecting with a grad school friend who was then stationed at Camp Pendleton. The Griffith Observatory was our final destination. We walked the last couple of miles up the hill to Griffith Park. No big deal. It was sunny and warm. I can't imagine commuting by car on a daily basis. Train travel makes for a better day of travel.

    1. Dennis ... I am flattered that you find the time to read my blog and I appreciate the comments. I am puzzled by the whole "information graphics" situation here, it just baffles me. How could the two trains at 7th and Metro both have a blue dot and go to completely different parts of the city? Yes, the blue is a slightly different color. To this day I can not figure out if there are two trains southbound to San Diego from Union Station at night, or three. (I suspect two on most days, but I am not sure). Doesn't anyone read these things? I blame society, by which I mean, that people in LA don't really care about mass transit. I was astounded by how much energy I saved using the trains in the New York area. I wish I was there now. Hope you are doing well and I will send you email if I can find your address. Thanks again.