I have ridden the Regional Connector

I have been following the Los Angeles Metro since about 2014. In 2014 they had a bunch of different construction projects queued up, and I was eagerly following them to the extent I could from the other side of the country. The first project to come to fruition since I started following them was the Expo Line (now E Line) Santa Monica Extension, which I got to ride only a few months after it opened.

Downtown Santa Monica Station full view
Downtown Santa Monica, terminus of the Expo Line extension

One project that I was really excited about was the Regional Connector, a tunnel downtown which would bridge a gap in the light rail system. Prior to the Regional Connector, to get from a station on the Blue or Expo Line to the Gold Line, you had to take the Red or Purple Line, meaning that a trip from the Westside to Pasadena would require three trains. This obviously wasn’t an ideal situation and was never intended to be a permanent solution, but was the status quo for roughly two decades. However, that gap has now been bridged by the Regional Connector, which breaks the former Gold Line into two pieces and joins each piece with one of the lines coming out of 7th Street/Metro Center. Now we have the A Line from Long Beach to Azusa and the E Line from Santa Monica to East LA.

I immediately noticed the different going from the Westside to Chinatown. Instead of a transfer at 7th Street/Metro Center and then another transfer that involves a long escalator and a lot of walking at Union Station, I could just change trains in the tunnel, saving me a lot of time and walking.

In addition to making getting around easier for people going across Los Angeles, this project also improves connectivity downtown by opening two new stations. The stations are, in my opinion at least, pretty impressive.

Platform at Little Tokyo/Arts District
Platform at Little Tokyo
Entrance plaza at Little Tokyo/Arts District
Entrance at Little Tokyo
Platform at Grand Ave Arts/Bunker Hill
Platform at Grand Ave Arts/Bunker Hill
Entrance at Grand Ave Arts/Bunker Hill from across the street
Entrance at Grand Ave Arts/Bunker Hill
Platform at Historic Broadway
Platform at Historic Broadway
Entrance at Historic Broadway
Entrance at Historic Broadway

In all, I’ve been waiting years for this to happen and am glad to see it come to life. A lot more is coming to the Los Angeles Metro in the coming years and I am excited to see it.

Evolution of photography

I first got my feet wet with regards to photography in about eleventh grade. My first time going out by myself with a camera was on the Los Angeles Metro. I was meeting some family at LACMA while coming from Beverly Hills, so I arranged that I would get dropped off at Culver City, take the Expo Line (now alternately known as the E line) to 7th Street/Metro Center, then transfer to the Purple Line (now also known as the D line), take that out to Wilshire/Western, then meet everyone else there, and we’d drive the rest of way to LACMA, at Wilshire/Fairfax (which will be on the line in a few years, but definitely not in 2013).

Along the trip, I just took pictures of basically anything and everything, not really bothering to pay attention to my subject matter or the quality of the photos. I knew nothing about photography other than you point the camera at something and hit the button. I didn’t even have a camera of my own, I borrowed someone else’s. Here is a sampling of a few photos I took:

The interior of my train
The station sign (through the open door of my train)
The platform at Culver City
My train after ending its run at 7th Street/Metro Center
An out-of-service train waiting on the relay tracks at 7th Street/Metro Center (the tracks end at a wall behind that train, though this will change with the Regional Connector project)
My Purple Line train relaying at Wilshire/Western, which I later posted on Wikipedia as the headline photo for the article about that station since no platform photos were there at the time, and as of the time I write this post, it still is
The mezzanine level looking towards the escalator
Me (in the black fleece and shorts) posing in front of the station sign pylon

That was my first foray into photography. Obviously, those weren’t exactly the world’s best photos, but that’s what got me started.

Cleveland and Chicago, Round 1

Later on, in February 2015, I toured colleges in the Midwestern United States, specifically Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve (which I ended up attending), and Northwestern. This was my second opportunity to try a bit of railroad photography. In Cleveland, I wanted to explore a new transit system, so I took the Red Line from Cedar/University to Tower City to grab lunch there. I forgot to ask to borrow a camera for this one, so I got my pictures with a cell phone. I got some pictures along the way there too:

Red Line train relaying on the stub track at Tower City
Eastbound track at Tower City

Later on, after my tour of Northwestern, I ran from there to Millennium Station (about 13 miles) for my long run that week, and then then took the South Shore Line back to South Bend (where I was staying). Once I got to Millennium Station, I took some more pictures while waiting for my train:

Part of the station concourse
Two South Shore Line trains
A waiting Metra train

Travels in 2016

I traveled some along the way (still using borrowed cameras), to places like Boston…

Back Bay NEC platforms 12
Northeast Corridor platforms at Back Bay
Blue Line train at Government Center 2
Newly renovated Government Center station
Looking Inbound from Assembly 2
Then-new Assembly Square station

…and New York City…

Two NJT trains at NY Penn Station
New York Penn Station (two New Jersey Transit trains)
Looking eastbound from the Newark Airport Rail Station
Newark Airport rail station

My own camera

Then, as I graduated high school, I got my own camera, a Canon Powershot G9X, about the size of a deck of cards. I definitely got familiar with that camera over the next few years. Back in Los Angeles in the summer of 2016, I had my first real rodeo with that camera:

Entrance to 7th Street/Metro Center
The entrance to 7th Street/Metro Center
Platform at Westwood/Rancho Park 1
Platform at Westwood/Rancho Park, which had opened since my last trip to Los Angeles
Two trains at Pico
Pico station
Looking towards the bumper block at Downtown Santa Monica
Downtown Santa Monica Station

Cleveland, Round 2: a whole new city

Then, after that summer was over, I started college at CWRU. I immediately set out to get pictures of all the train station around Cleveland. Here are some of my preliminary efforts:

Little Italy-University Circle Platform looking inbound 2
Home sweet home, the Little Italy station
Cedar-University headhouse
The Cedar-University Station
Inbound train at E. 105th - Quincy
A train at East 105th-Quincy, showing how the platform is too short for the full length of the train (this has been fixed in the meantime)

Speaking of Tower City, I revisited that station. They were performing maintenance on one of the tracks, so they opened a station on one of the non-revenue tracks:

Eastbound platform at Tower City looking west 3
A somewhat-better picture of the Red Line platform at Tower City
Red/Waterfront temporary platform at Tower City 1
Temporary platform at Tower City
Turnstiles at temporary Tower City platform
Temporary turnstiles at Tower City

Definitely some progress was made in the meantime. I was able to better choose subject matter and get it in the frame. The quality was also better, with the pictures being clearer and better focused. However, the alignment was still pretty haphazard, with a lot of the pictures not level at all. I also didn’t really appreciate the importance of lighting just yet.

My next big breakthrough was in alignment, when I went out to Lee-Van Aken. I realized I could line up the camera with reference lines in the picture (in this case I used the power poles), and as a result my pictures were actually consistently level.

Both platforms at Lee-Van Aken
Lee-Van Aken: a level picture!
Outbound platform at Drexmore from south end
Drexmore Station
Stokes-Windermere station
Stokes-Windermere Station

I also got to apply these skills elsewhere traveling to Charlotte for a day…

Both platforms at 3rd Street-Convention Center from north end
Platforms at 3rd Street-Convention Center in Charlotte

…and New York City again…

(7)/<7> Platform at 34th Street - Hudson Yards
34th Street-Hudson Yards
Looking up the escalator at 34th Street - Hudson Yards
Escalator at 34th Street-Hudson Yards
Downtown (A) platform at Dyckman Street
Dyckman Street (IND Eighth Avenue Line)

…and Los Angeles again…

Western end of the platform at Expo/Sepulveda
Expo/Sepulveda platform
Train at Hollywood/Highland
Hollywood/Highland platform

Around this time, I also got interested in taking pictures of buildings in addition to transit systems.

Downtown Los Angeles from City Hall observation deck
Downtown Los Angeles skyline
Lower Manhattan Skyline from Staten Island Ferry 2
Lower Manhattan skyline

With that, I felt much more confident in my photography skills. I had definitely seen some improvement, my pictures were clearer and more level. Still, I was missing some things.

The start to 2018: Lighting

The next big improvement in my photography was lighting. Before I didn’t really even think about sunny or cloudy, or where the light sources were indoors. As a result, the colors often didn’t look quite like I wanted or the wrong objects were emphasized. With a renewed emphasis on lighting, I continued my work. In the winter of 2017-2018, I went to San Francisco, with my first vacation that had a really high emphasis on photography:

San Franciso skyline from Mission Dolores Park
San Francisco skyline
Light from above at Glen Park
Glen Park station
Mezzanine at 24th Street Mission from elevator end
24th Street Mission Station Mezzanine
Middle of the platform at Powell Street
Powell Street platform
Inbound platform at Castro
Castro platform
San Bruno platform from north end
San Bruno platform

The improvements definitely showed themselves in San Francisco. Having a photography-oriented trip also was a good opportunity to see for myself what worked and what didn’t. With that, I felt much more confident going forwards. I continued my photography along Cleveland and other places I went. I did my first internship at TransEnterix that following summer as well. Since I didn’t want to take any time off work, my travel opportunities were somewhat limited, just going back to Charlotte for a day (this time trying to aim for a sunnier day) and taking an afternoon trip to Raleigh. However, I had a few days between my last day at the internship and when I had to get back to school, so I took advantage of that to take a quick trip to Washington, DC.

One train waiting at Huntington
Train waiting at Huntington
Back of a Blue Line train at Crystal City
Train at Crystal City
Trains on both levels at Rosslyn
Trains at Rosslyn
Long escalator at Rosslyn 2
Escalator at Rosslyn
United States Capitol Building
Capitol Building (I went to DC, I had to get this one)

After DC, I felt pretty solid in my abilities. I definitely had the alignment thing down, and I was getting a lot better at lighting.

Richmond and Philadelphia

My next big photo adventure was a day trip to Richmond, Virginia in late 2018. I picked a day with perfectly clear skies, and basically spent all day walking around the city with my camera taking pictures of anything and everything that interested me:

Downtown Richmond skyline
Richmond skyline during the day
Downtown Richmond at night
Richmond skyline at night

With those two pictures, I began to feel that the limiting factor in my pictures was my camera and no longer the user. In particular, for the nighttime shot, I was having trouble getting the focus where I needed (my camera didn’t have any options beyond five meters other than “infinite distance”) as well as the lighting settings. I also was starting to use manual mode, which was really cumbersome on that camera. I took a mental note that a new camera was in order. Still, I continued on with what I had, and later on went to Philadelphia:

Philadelphia Skyline from South Street Bridge
Philadelphia skyline
Track 2 at Jefferson Station
Jefferson Station
Ridge Spur platform at Fairmount
Fairmount Ridge Spur platform
Northbound express track at Girard
Express tracks at Girard
Tracks at 13th Street Station
Tracks at 13th Street Station

I really gained an appreciation for lighting after this trip. I only had one sunny day, the first one (and I got there late in the day, so I was only really able to get that one skyline photo). I also learned that SEPTA, in contrast to many other subway systems, is very well lit. This made photography much easier and let me get higher quality pictures.

Chicago, Round 2

Over spring break that year, I traveled to Chicago. I returned to Millennium Station, and my new photos were definitely an improvement:

Waiting area at Millennium Station
Concourse at Millennium Station
Metra track at Millennium Station
Metra track at Millennium Station

I also got many pictures of the L:

Stairs to Red Line at Jackson
Jackson Blue Line platform
Platform at Harold Washington Library at night
Harold Washington Library platform
Elevated train stopped at Roosevelt
Train stopped at Roosevelt

I also got some pictures of buildings and stuff…

Chicago skyline from Adler Planetarium
The Chicago skyline
Tracks into Downtown Chicago from Museum Campus/11th Street Station
Metra Electric District tracks with Downtown Chicago in the background

That ended up being my last major expedition with my Canon. I had a few minor ones later on, including a brief trip back to Charlotte, a quick trip to Downtown Durham, as well as a trip to Greensboro, which turned out to be my last expedition with that camera:

Greensboro skyline from the Amtrak station
Greensboro skyline

Transition to a new camera, Atlanta, and beyond

Then, I got a new, more powerful camera: an Olympus E-M10. To take it out for a test drive, I took some pictures around Durham:

21C and One City Center
The two tallest buildings in Downtown Durham

The camera felt way more powerful than my previous one. It took me a while to get used to all its features and how to use them, but I knew this was a major step forwards. In the middle of the summer, I took a solo trip to Atlanta, and that is still to date my most successful photography expedition:

Downtown Atlanta skyline at night
Downtown Atlanta skyline at night
Midtown Atlanta skyline from I-85 and 17th Street
Midtown Atlanta skyline
Westbound train at Dome-GWCC
Backs of two trains at North Springs
North Springs
Vine City platform
Vine City
Platform at Peachtree Center
Peachtree Center Station
Five Points lower level northbound track
Five Points Red/Gold Line (lower level) platform

I definitely was still getting the hang of the whole exposure/ISO/F-stop thing, as evidenced by the lighting in some of these photos. Still, these photos were clearer than anything I had done before, and I felt much more in control. It was also awesome traveling solo for photography, which gave me a ton of practice.

For my final fall break I decided to travel to Pittsburgh with a friend. It was only for a few days, but I still had plenty of opportunities for photography:

Pittsburgh daytime skyline from Grandview Overlook
Pittsburgh skyline during the day
Nighttime skyline of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh skyline at night
Outbound track at Steel Plaza
Steel Plaza station
Outbound train at North Side
North Side Station
Cathedral of Learning
Cathedral of Learning

I had gotten a better feel for all the settings on my camera this time, so my pictures came out looking more or less how I wanted them.

I also traveled to Los Angeles and San Diego in the winter of 2019-2020, which I have already talked about in another post.

So, since I took up photography, my skills have improved dramatically. It wasn’t a sudden shift, but something that happened over time. I’m moving to Chicago soon, and that will give me a whole new city to explore. I look forward to what I find there, and hope my skills continue to improve. The future holds exciting things, and I can’t wait to see (and photograph) what they are.

Adventures in SoCal

For my final winter break of college, I went to visit family in Los Angeles and also traveled to San Diego. The family visits were pretty standard and not exactly the kind of thing I post here, but I also got some amazing photographs.

Getty Center

After getting over the jet lag (to some degree), we traveled to the Getty Center on the first full day in Los Angeles. I am personally not one for art museums, but the Getty Center has both interesting architecture and amazing views. While the rest of my family looked at the artwork, I went around photographing the buildings and the views. The museum is also at the top of a mountain, which is traversed by a tram, affording me an opportunity to photograph a unique rail system.

I-405 Sepulveda Pass from the Getty Center
I-405 Sepulveda Pass
Tram at the upper station at the Getty Center
Upper tram station
Fountain at the Getty Center
Fountain in the garden

Wilshire Boulevard and Century City

I have pictures of the Downtown Los Angeles skyline from previous trips, but Los Angeles does not have a single high-density urban core the way that most cities I travel to do. So, I set my sights on Wilshire Boulevard. After a bunch of scouting out locations on Google Earth (which was no easy task when all I had was my cell phone), I concluded that the parking garage at the Westfield Mall in Century City would be the best vantage point. The view did not disappoint. While the first time I tried was a cloudy day, the weather forecast revealed that the next day would be sunny. And sunny it was:

Wilshire Boulevard skyline from Century City
Wilshire Boulevard skyline from Westfield Century City

However, that was to be outdone later that day. Thanks to some help from my family, I was able to get access to the roof of one of those buildings on Wilshire and photograph Century City. Los Angeles requires helipads be on the top of tall buildings, and that is exactly where I was standing. This gave me a nice 360 degree view of the Westside of Los Angeles.

Century City skyline
Century City skyline from the roof of a Wilshire building

That was a once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity. It’s not every day that you can access the top of a skyscraper in the middle of Los Angeles, and I am extremely grateful for my family and the property management for letting me up there.

Exploring the Metro (a bit)

I had a free afternoon and nobody had any specific plans, so I figured I would take the opportunity to explore the Metro some more. I have always been a fan of the Los Angeles Metro since it’s such a new system and serves a metropolitan area vastly different than most other rapid transit systems. Nothing new had been opened since I was there last (though a whole lot is coming very soon), so I didn’t have any obvious candidates to explore. I thought about it, and decided maybe I should go to Boyle Heights since it has the only two underground light rail stations outside of Downtown (until the Crenshaw/LAX Line opens in a few months). After a long trip in from Westwood on the Expo Line, followed by short trips on the Purple Line and Gold Line (once the Regional Connector project finishes, this entire trip will be a one-seat ride), I got off in Boyle Heights at Soto. The design of the platform was pretty standard in keeping with the heavy rail stations on the Red and Purple Lines, but the entrance design was unique and well-incorporated into the local community.

Soto station entrance plaza
Soto entrance
Soto mezzanine
Soto mezzanine
Looking west at Soto station
Soto platform

I then traveled back towards Downtown, not sure what to do next. I remembered along the way that the Little Tokyo/Arts District station will be demolished and replaced with an underground station as part of the Regional Connector project, so I decided to get off there and grab some pictures since I had no idea when I would be back next and I may never get a chance to photograph that station again.

Little Tokyo from south end
Little Tokyo station with all the construction activity behind it
Little Tokyo from north end
Little Tokyo station north entrance

From there, I took the Gold Line back to Union Station, then the Purple Line to Wilshire/Western, and the 720 bus back to Westwood.

Traveling to San Diego

After a nice time in Los Angeles, I headed down to San Diego. I traveled on Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner, getting on at Los Angeles Union Station:

Surfliner locomotive at Los Angeles Union Station
The Siemens Charger locomotive for my train
Back of a Surfliner at Los Angeles Union Station
The coach-cab car back of my train
Front of Los Angeles Union Station
The station entrance (taken several years earlier on another trip)

The train trip itself was pretty uneventful. Everything went smoothly, and we arrived at San Diego Old Town station right on time. The view from the train was somewhat varied. The leg from Los Angeles to San Juan Capistrano was just industrial backlots, going through pretty gritty areas. However, from there on to San Diego was absolutely beautiful, going right by the ocean.

Surfliner and empty trolley track at San Diego Old Town
My train at San Diego Old Town
San Diego Old Town Station House
The station house

Maritime Museum

After getting off the train and meeting everyone else at the station, we drove downtown and spent a few hours at the Maritime Museum. The museum was pretty cool, containing a bunch of old boats and two submarines. We started off on the Star of India:

Star of India from land
Star of India from the coast

While I normally get a lot of skyline pictures when I visit cities, the prospects weren’t all that promising in San Diego with the time and resources I had available, so my only ones were taken from the Maritime Museum:

San Diego skyline from maritime museum
San Diego skyline from the Maritime Museum

We also visited a few of the other boats and submarines:

USS Dolphin at San Diego maritime museum
USS Dolphin
Russian submarine at San Diego maritime musem
Former Soviet submarine

San Diego Trolley

I had the opportunity to explore the San Diego Trolley system on the second day there, so I made sure to do that. I had done no planning whatsoever, so I just figured I’d go around randomly and see where it took me. I started at Santa Fe Depot and figured I’d head inbound.

Inbound Green Line train at Santa Fe Depot
Green Line train at Santa Fe Depot

So, I caught the train and took it to 12th and Imperial where I had the chance to transfer to the other lines. To my surprise, the Green Line ended as a single track and reversed from there, rather than the double track setup common at most termini.

Green Line train departing 12th and Imperial
My train after turning around

I then headed over to the other lines:

Two trains at 12th and Imperial
Blue and Orange Line platforms

Without any real idea where I wanted to go, I figured I’d hop on a Blue Line train. I rode it inbound to the end of the route at America Plaza, which at first I didn’t realize put me right back at Santa Fe Depot where I started.

Structure at America Plaza
America Plaza Station

I then walked back to Santa Fe Depot and hopped on an outbound train to see what the line was like further out from downtown. I wondered if all the stops were fairly close together like they were downtown, or if they were much further apart like I experienced in Charlotte (which, by the way, operates the same type of vehicle). It turned out it was the latter, with my phone informing me we hit speeds of up to 50 MPH. I was on the lookout for any particularly notable stations, and ended up deciding Stadium fit the bill. It was a rather bizarre station, having both an island platform and side platforms and being designed to look like the stadium it serves.

Stadium station from the stadium
The station is designed to look like the stadium
Center platform at Stadium
The platform setup
Stairs landing at Stadium
The mezzanine level between the entrance and platform

After leaving Stadium, I was planning on heading out to Grossmont and transferring to a train back to downtown. However, I was much surprised to find ourselves going underground, nowhere near downtown. An underground station on an otherwise above-ground system is too interesting to pass up, so I jumped ship at San Diego State University.

Outbound platform at SDSU Transit Center
SDSU underground platforms
Elevator at SDSU Transit Center
SDSU Entrance Plaza

I then continued on my way to Grossmont and turned around there. Turns out I just missed the inbound train, so I had to wait 15 minutes for the next one. Oh well. I busied myself with photography in the meantime:

Outbound train at Grossmont
Outbound train at Grossmont
Entrance to Grossmont
Entrance to the station from street level
Benches at Grossmont
Benches at Grossmont

Eventually, my train came and I headed back inbound. For whatever reason, 32nd and Commercial really caught my attention, so got off to get some more pictures:

Inbound track at 32nd and Commercial
Platform at 32nd and Commercial

I then continued on my way back into Downtown, with dusk approaching. Once I got back Downtown, I took pictures of a bunch of the stations there:

Inbound platform at Civic Center
Civic Center
Tracks at Park and Market
Park and Market
Train at Gaslamp Quarter
Gaslamp Quarter
Tracks at Fifth Avenue
Fifth Avenue
Silver Line Trolley at Gaslamp Quarter
Trolley at Gaslamp Quarter

The trolley really interests me since it’s an old streetcar, but also has a pantograph and LED destination sign. Interesting renovations.

After that, I met with everyone for dinner.

The Coaster

The next day, it was time to return to Los Angeles. I decided to take the Coaster up to Oceanside while everyone else drove in order to give me another photography opportunity. It went well except for one tactical error: it was Saturday. I lost track of the days and thought it was during the week, where the Coaster leaves Santa Fe Depot at 9:18am. The clock hit 9:18, and no train. To make sure I got it right, I looked at a posted schedule and then checked my watch to make sure I got the day right. Turns out I got the day wrong. Oooooops…

Coaster track at San Diego Santa Fe Depot
Empty track. Dude, where’s my train?
Siemens Charger locomotive at San Diego Santa Fe Depot
Amtrak Charger locomotive lying out of service

Anyway, the weekend train left at 9:35, so it wasn’t that bad of a delay. The train arrived as expected and I boarded.

Coaster train at San Diego Santa Fe Depot
My train waiting at San Diego Santa Fe Depot

The train ride went fine. I got another beautiful view of the coast heading back north to Oceanside. The train arrived in Oceanside, then I got off and met up with everyone else, and we drove the rest of the way back to Los Angeles.

Back of a Coaster train at Oceanside
The back of my train at Oceanside
Metrolink locomotive at Oceanside
A Metrolink train to Los Angeles waiting at Oceanside
Sprinter track at Oceanside
Sprinter light rail platform
Oceanside station house
The station house at Oceanside

With that, we returned to Los Angeles, and the next day we flew back home.

All in all, this was a pretty nice trip. I spent some time with family but also got plenty of time to explore and photograph on my own.