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Welcome Aboard the Metro Red Line

Justin Bai

This train’s final destination is North Hollywood station.


ANNOUNCEMENT: Welcome aboard the Metro Red Line. This train’s final destination is North Hollywood station. Bienvenidos a bordo…

JUSTIN BAI: There’s this YouTube video that I really like. It’s called “[HD] Metro Red Line – Full Cab Tunnel View Ride from Union Station – North Hollywood” and it’s by the user Los Angeles Rail Productions. It’s about half an hour long and it’s just a video of the subway ride on Los Angeles Metro’s Red Line. To be quite honest, there isn’t anything too exciting that happens in the video. There aren’t any delays or unruly passengers and there certainly aren’t any train-related accidents. Nonetheless, I’ve played this video for myself well over a dozen times. There’s something I find really reassuring about the sounds in it.

As a side note, I’d just like to say that I love public transit and the sounds thereof. Despite growing up in southern California where the tyranny of the automobile rules, I’ve somehow managed to still not get my driver’s license. So if I do say so myself, there is something I find so utterly satisfying about the sound of a train approaching a platform.


JUSTIN BAI: I love the roar of the locomotive, the sounding of the bell or horn, and the screeching as the train comes to a stop. But once I’m on the train, the sounds that I pay the most attention to are the announcements.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The next stop is Civic Center/Grand Park station on Hill Street between 1st and Temple.

JUSTIN BAI: So sometimes, while I’m doing homework or folding laundry or just feeling a bit homesick, I load up the video, and listen to the audio, imagining that I’m actually on a subway ride beneath Los Angeles’s streets. There’s the obvious comfort it brings. I’ve moved to Providence for college, so when I’m so far away from my hometown in southern California, hearing a familiar sound is soothing. But it’s not just that. I love the regularity that transit announcements bring. I may not know what I’ll be doing with my life a year from now or even what I’ll be having for breakfast tomorrow morning, but I do know that after Civic Center/Grand Park station, I’ll hear an announcement that I’ll be arriving at Pershing Square station. And after that, I’ll hear the announcement for 7th Street/Metro Center.

ANNOUNCEMENT: The next stop is 7th Street/Metro Center between Figueroa and Hope. Connect here with the Metro Expo Line on Platform 1, the Metro Blue Line on Platform 2, and remember to TAP again to transfer.

JUSTIN BAI: In a weird way, I’ve believed that taking the LA Metro Red Line is a metaphor for college life, which, as a graduating senior, I’ve thought quite a lot about. Basically, the metaphor says, the farther and farther you travel down the train line known as life, the fewer and fewer options you end up with. So once you finish high school, you’re at Union Station in Los Angeles, a beautiful grand train station, combining Art Deco and Mission Revival style–the kind of train station that gives you a sense of awe about what humans can accomplish. You’re faced with so many possibilities. You can take a long-distance Amtrak train and go on some far-flung adventure. Or maybe you’ll commute somewhere on Metrolink. Or perhaps you’ll hop on a Gold Line train and enjoy the scenic views of the San Gabriel Mountains. And of course you can go to the bus plaza where there are more bus lines than I can count. But let’s say despite all those possibilities, you decide to tap your fare card and enter the underground platform of the Metro Red Line. You’ve entered your first year of college. The rest is pretty predictable. Civic Center/Grand Park station is sophomore year, Pershing Square station is junior year, and at any station, you have the opportunity to exit and drop out, but let’s say you stick around to 7th Street/Metro Center. Once again, like back at Union Station, you have options of different places you can go in life.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Now arriving 7th Street/Metro Center. Exit here for FIGat7th and The Bloc. Connect here with the Metro Expo Line on Platform 1, the Metro Blue Line on Platform 2, and remember to TAP again to transfer.

JUSTIN BAI: This is where I think things are beautiful but scary. The transit announcement reminds you that you have a choice on where you can go. There are opportunities, and the world is your oyster. But the thing is, after 7th Street/Metro Center, there aren’t any more transit hub stations on LA Metro Rail. That is to say, once you pick a train, you’re more or less stuck on that path, perhaps for the rest of your life. Transfer stations are hard to come by.

But things are hopeful while you’re still at 7th Street/Metro Center. So needless to say, I love the transit announcement I hear there. To fully appreciate what’s so great about this announcement, let’s dissect it. First we start off with:

ANNOUNCEMENT: Now arriving 7th Street/Metro Center.

JUSTIN BAI: This is something any good transit announcement needs, an identification of where you’re arriving. It seems basic to say but it bears mentioning: People are obviously taking public transit to get somewhere, so making it known where you are is important.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Exit here for FIGat7th and The Bloc.

JUSTIN BAI: It’s generally helpful for an announcement to mention local attractions or places of interest near a transit stop, which isn’t always an easy task. I say this because I want to go on a mini tangent here and bring up an announcement on the MBTA in the Boston area. The announcement on the Silver Line for Boston Logan Airport’s Terminal E is a doozy. In full, it clocks in at about a minute.

ANNOUNCEMENT: [MONTAGE] This is Terminal E, serving Alitalia, Avianca, Azores Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Copa Airlines, El Al Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Iberia, Icelandair, Japan Airlines, LATAM, Lufthansa, Norwegian Air, Porter Airlines, Qatar Airways, Scandinavian Airlines, Swiss Airlines, TACV Cape Verde Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Airways, and WOW Air. The follow carriers are international arrivals only in Terminal E: American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Jet Blue, and TAP Air Portugal. Ticket counters and gates are located on the second level. This is the last stop at Logan Airport.

JUSTIN BAI: Anyway, to get back on track, let’s return to 7th Street/Metro Center, where we get important connection information.

ANNOUNCEMENT: Connect here with the Metro Expo Line on Platform 1, the Metro Blue Line on Platform 2.

I think connection information is extremely important. Public transit should be accessible, and a part of that is making sure that it’s easy to navigate both physically and logistically. What I especially like about LA Metro’s connection information is that it includes on which platforms certain connections are available.

ANNOUNCEMENT: And remember to TAP again to transfer.

JUSTIN BAI: The LA Metro system uses a contactless fare card called a TAP card. This reminder lets passengers know they need to tap their card at the transfer gates in order for their cards to be validated on the Expo or Blue Lines.

Now that we’ve arrived at 7th Street/Metro Center, maybe I’ll take this Red Line train all the way to North Hollywood or maybe I’ll transfer to somewhere else. I used to be quite anxious about this decision. What if I stay on the Red Line train and I hear the announcement, “Now arriving North Hollywood station, as far as this train goes,” only to realize I should have transferred way back at 7th Street/Metro Center?

When I told my Red Line metaphor to my friend Henry, he told me that it’s wrong. He said, “There are always more transfer stations, Justin.” And after thinking about it, I think he’s right. There are always more transfer stations. It’s never too late to find a new path for our journeys. And not only that, it’s true in a literal sense. LA Metro is working on adding more rail lines to the system. And I’m sure that the transit announcements to come will let us know that we’ve got options in life. And I think that’s what I really love about transit announcements. They remind us about what’s important. They remind us where we come from, where we’re going, and most importantly, they remind us to TAP again to transfer.