Last Call: Pulling Up Tracks Edition

The phrase “to pull up tracks” means to get out of town without leaving a trace, but it has a very real and literal origin. The city of Los Angeles and its surrounding environs once had the world’s most extensive metropolitan rail system, comprised of a staggering 1,000 miles of narrow-gauge track and over 2,100 electric trolley cars. Over the decades the system’s infrastructure broke down, while at the same time highway and surface street projects made bus travel a far more flexible and—at the time—more elegant mode of public transportation.
Over the years the buses replaced the trolleys, and on the routes where they did, the wires had to come down and the tracks get pulled up. The latter was accomplished with a machine that violently hauled the track and the surrounding macadam from the street leaving an ugly scar to be cleaned up by the following road crew. The idea that pulling up tracks means leaving without a trace may work in concept, but seeing as rail has made a resurgence in LA over the past thirty years, perhaps a better motto might be never say never again.
Last Call indicates the end of Hooniverse’s broadcast day.  It’s meant to be an open forum for anyone and anything. Thread jacking is not only accepted, it’s encouraged.
Image: Los Angeles Public Library

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17 responses to “Last Call: Pulling Up Tracks Edition”

  1. Alff Avatar

    Yours is the sterilized explanation. Fortunately, a few courageous souls have uncovered the unseemly truth.

    1. Wayne Moyer Avatar
      Wayne Moyer

      One of us is going to go all conspiracy theory on this picture and the opening one. I really want to but I’ll let someone else. Mostly because there is some merit to it.

      1. Krautwursten Avatar

        Whatever way the truth goes on that conspiracy thing, there’s no denying that Los Angeles and a lot of other American cities would’ve benefited from investing into renovating their streetcar infrastructure instead of tearing it down in the wake of the post-war car society hype.

      2. Maymar Avatar

        The Great Red Car Conspiracy

        This is pretty relevant. Basically, conspiracy might be a touch overblown. Incompetency and competition are closer to the truth (as they frequently are).

  2. Sjalabais Avatar

    Anyone else wondering how that violent track destroying machine looked like? Not sure how to google it.

    1. nanoop Avatar

      Try “Schienenwolf”, I guess, and think of “yellow”?

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

    2. CraigSu Avatar

      Here’s the modern version. It’s known as a track renewal train. Fascinatingly Atomic Toaster-ish.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        Powerful stuff, wow. Now I remember there was an article in the newspaper a while back about one such machine in Norway – the only one. It is so expensive to operate that its work hours are quite low, yet still much cheaper than any other way to renew tracks with line closures etc.

    3. Rob Emslie Avatar
      Rob Emslie

      I’ve seen the process before but I too am not having any luck with finding any action shots. I think it’s sad that they came to such a brutal end.

      1. Sjalabais Avatar

        It’s got rail and street wheels:
        Easy to agree on that LA would have profited from good, public communication. Several cities in Europe are trying to build light rail networks now, Bergen included. It is so costly, hard to fathom. But property prices along the lines explode, so there’s an immediate creation of value.

  3. Batshitbox Avatar

    The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has a great collection of old photographs of streetcars, cable cars and the infrastructure around them (did you know there were funeral streetcars?) Here’s a link to the work and service cars. One was a crane or derrick car and there was also a car that scooped asphalt from between the tracks into a hopper.

  4. L Eric Avatar
    L Eric

    General Motors, Firestone and Philips owned National City lines. That bought the system and tore it up. Period! They had the government remove the tracks and rail assets. They hired doctors to tell people bus fumes might be good for them! They then moved on to get the mail removed from the national rail system. Bankrupting it. Massive Union stations were turned into parking lots for Postal Trucks! Stations torn down all at government expense. Now they lobby and lie about rail and fight it’s come back.

  5. dukeisduke Avatar

    Wow, that’s pretty extreme. In some cities they’d just add another layer of asphalt, burying the rails underneath.