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East L.A. hails arrival of Gold Line; activities are to be held today at four stations

November 15, 2009 |  7:52 am

Mariachi Plaza Station
The sun had not yet risen this morning as the first train to East Los Angeles in more than half a century picked up passengers at Union Station.

About a dozen people – train enthusiasts, students and workers for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – stepped off the platform and onto the eastbound Gold Line train at about 3:40 a.m. They wanted to be the first passengers aboard the line’s Eastside extension, which officially opened to the public today, and some applauded as the train came in.

Some passengers snapped photographs of the historic occasion as others wiped the sleep from their eyes. “This train is now departing for Atlantic Station,” an automated voice told the group gathered in the first car.

“I think it’s great, ” said Mary Jaco, who grew up in East Los Angeles and is a rail enthusiast. She and her boyfriend, Eric Perez, rode the Gold Line’s first trip from Union Station to Pasadena in 2003.

This morning, they were at Union Station again, going the other direction, to East L.A. “It can connect everyone to different places, and I hope it helps give the community a boost,” said Jaco, 35, who now lives in Eagle Rock.

For her, the ride will soon be a familiar one. She plans to commute to work by rail. The Gold Line Eastside extension is the latest light-rail line in Los Angeles County and runs six miles from downtown L.A. at Union Station through Boyle Heights and into East L.A.

The last stop is Atlantic Boulevard. Commuters will now be able to ride the Gold Line from Pasadena to East L.A. Construction on the extension began in 2004. It cost $898 million to build. Transportation officials expect 13,000 people to ride the extension daily by the end of its first year of operation.

As part of the extension’s grand opening, the MTA is not charging anyone to ride the Gold Line today.

There are also several events and activities planned at four stations along the route:

East L.A. Civic Center Station: At 9 a.m., there will be a farmers market, cooking classes and an exhibition of bike programs; a ribbon-cutting will be held at 10 a.m., and there will be live music at noon.

Mariachi Plaza Station: At 8:30 a.m., there will be an unveiling of the Lucha Reyes statue and the introduction of several local politicians. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., there will be a mariachi festival and the  Boyle Heights Block Party, featuring music from groups such as Quinto Sol and Umo Verde. There also will be a ribbon cutting at noon.

Little Tokyo/Arts District Station: There will be karaoke and food beginning at 9 a.m. The ribbon-cutting is set for 2 p.m.

Union Station: There will be live music, food booths and other festivities beginning at 9 a.m. Santa Claus will be on hand at noon and from 4 to 5 p.m.

The train’s conductor at 3:40 a.m. this morning was Marcial Garcia, who had been working for the MTA for 24 years. He smiled as he pulled into Union Station on Track 1 and picked up the passengers. “It feels good, exciting,” Garcia said before taking off on the roughly 20-minute trip to Atlantic Boulevard. “People have been waiting for it.”

-- Ari B. Bloomekatz

Photo: The street-level entrance to the new Mariachi Plaza Station in Boyle Heights.  A mariachi festival and other activities will be held there today to celebrate the grand opening of the rail line to East Los Angeles. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times