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Rail Travel in and Around California by Wizzle
Los Angeles Union Station and MTA Travel Plaza

Impressions of Union Station 7/25/98 - After the First Train Ride

If I say "train station" does "wedding" come to your mind? It does to mine! And not the wedding of two foaming, die-hard rail fans either!......but I'm getting ahead of the story here.

Inspired by the travelogues I was reading (and re-reading) on Steve Grande's Trainweb site, I decided to venture forth out of my car and onto a train.  Now, I'd NEVER taken public transportation in the US other than airplanes, so this was a major adventure into the unknown. I knew that Los Angeles' Union Station was a very nice art deco building which had been restored a while ago, so that was some comfort.  If nothing else, it would be fun to see the station......and I set forth on a Saturday morning, camera in hand (actually more like in purse) for destinations unknown (ok.....not unknown.....but with tickets unpurchased).
Close study of Amtrak's San Diegan schedules, revealed that arrival at the station around 8:45AM or so would give me a wide selection of departures, so I was bound to get onto some train. Not being able to abandon my car altogether, I drove to the station from my home which is near the international airport, about 18 miles away. Uneventful. The station parking lot (off Alameda Boulevard) only has room for 600 cars and I was lucky to find a spot for the day. Cost for parking is $5.50 per day. Because there was construction out front, there was no opportunity for getting good pictures of the exterior.....oh well.  The entry into the station takes the visitor into a large vestibule, past the old wooden ticket counters, but these are not in use.  I wonder why. Ticketing is past the waiting area nearer the tunnel to the tracks.  I got into what looked like a long line to purchase tickets, but which moved along fairly quickly.  Since it was about 8:50AM by now and the Coast Starlight was due to leave at 9:50AM, folks were in line both to get tickets and to check baggage. My transaction was completed within 10 or so minutes and I  left the area to people watch in the main section of the station which has the original seating installed when the station was built in the 1920's.  This seating is far more ample and comfortable than that in airports......and that was to be a consistent theme about train and comfort. Being rather excited about getting on the train, I didn't take any pictures in the morning, but just absorbed the atmosphere, which was much more relaxed than at the airport.  There is none of the pervasive security and people didn't have that tense look I've come to associate air travel of late.

Since the Coast Starlight was boarding at the tunnel next to the San Diegans, I asked a couple of questions about how and where sleeper passengers would board......I'm taking the Starlight next February up to Seattle.  The Amtrak personnel were very friendly and helpful in answering. Nice. I got into my own line......and had a wonderful trip! Very relaxing day.......and when I got back it was still light, with plenty of time to explore the station.
On either side of the main hall are patios.  One is set up for strolling or waiting outdoors and the other had........a wedding! Wedding?  Yup......very elegant wedding too with most of the guests in formal dress, as you can see in the picture. The patio shown is next to Traxx restaurant. I don't know if the restaurant was doing the catering. 
The focal point for the patio, enclosed by a wall to the north (we are facing north in this view) and the station building on the other three sides, is a tiled fountain. With the elegant paving and the lovely landscaping, this is an absolutely delightful place for a wedding. A bride and groom could step onto the train for a grand oddessy honeymoon trip right after the reception! I love it.  What an wonderful surprise to find at a train station!
Just to the left of the area being used for the reception were the tables for the Traxx restaurant, which is very, very elegant and done in a modern rendition of deco, in keeping with the architecture of the station. 
The indoor section of Traxx looks out onto the main hall of the station.  At the other side, not visible in this picture, are snack bars and a souvenir stand.  The station itself is beautifully maintained.
At one end of the main hall, farthest from the ticketing area, is the Traxx bar. Look closely and you can see the original ceramic tile which decorates the walls and the inlaid marble of the floors.  This is a "must see" building even for those not interested in trains. I was surprised and pleased with the station. 
The surprises for the day weren't over for me yet, either. I decided to take a look at the new section built to accommodate the MTA's light rail terminus. That took me on a hike back through the tunnel, past the track platforms (which are up stairs or ramps), up an escalator, then out some doors.  Goodness!!!  This was beautiful.........not the place where the Red Line trains pull in........but where the buses come to drop of passengers. I had reached the MTA's Transit Plaza, which has a very long and unpronounceable name. The subway to the Red Line is back into this entrance and down several escalators. 
Check out that great brick work! Aside from the 24 hour security guards and a movie company, which was setting up for filming, I had the Plaza to myself. MTA or Santa Monica Blue Line buses would arrive about every 10 minutes to discharge or pick up a single was like having your own giant limo. 
The Plaza is designed in a modern rendition of art deco which goes very well with the architecture of Union Station.  Many of the motifs from the Station are used for detailing in the Plaza.  It's got fabulous landscaping too......altogether a great place to sit and enjoy the day. 
At the north end of the Plaza is the MTA building. If seen from Alameda, it makes a great backdrop for Union Station.  All in all, our fair city has an outstanding multi-modal terminal ........far more exciting than anything at the airport. I'm planning a return trip via light rail and by bus......check back for descriptions of these alternate means of reaching Union Station. 

More Information about Union Station (coming soon)

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Updated: Friday, August 28, 1998