LA's Rail Line to the Beach Finally Arrives — What to Expect

Courtesy of Metro
The Expo Line Extension

With the long-awaited launch of train service to Santa Monica finally upon Los Angeles, here's an answer to every conceivable question about the Expo extension.

The grand opening of Metro’s Expo Extension will bring the first train service connecting Los Angeles and Santa Monica in more than 60 years. Here’s an answer to every conceivable question one might have about the new train line, which could transform public transit on the Westside. (Or at least get some cars off the 10.) 

What exactly is the Expo Line Extension?

That’s a good place to start. The extension adds 6.6 miles of new track to Metro’s existing Expo line running through Culver City, Westwood, West L.A. and Santa Monica. There will be seven new stations with a terminus in Downtown Santa Monica, located at Fourth and Colorado.

How much did it cost to build?

The extension took nine years at $1.5 billion to construct. That works out to roughly $277 million per mile. For those more metrically inclined, that translates into about $1,412 per centimeter.

When does it open?

The extension opens Friday. Although ceremonies for VIPs and the media will be held throughout the morning, the public cannot ride the Metro until noon.

What opening festivities are happening on Friday?

Grand opening ceremonies will begin at 9:45 a.m., when a train is scheduled to break through a banner at the Downtown Santa Monica station. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Santa Monica Mayor Vazquez, Metro executives and other civic officials will be on-hand, posing with a surfboard in a photo op. Swimmer Janet Evans, a five-time Olympic medalist, will read the Pledge of Allegiance and a rabbi will give an invocation.

Is there a bike lane alongside the rail line?

Yes, sort of. The new Expo Bike Lane runs alongside the rail line for much but not all of the route between Santa Monica and Downtown Culver City. NIMBY residents in the affluent Cheviot Hills' neighborhood tried for years to block the construction of the Expo extension — and while they ultimately failed in that effort, the associated delays, cost overruns and community angst wound up killing the bike lane in that community. Which means that until an alternative route is finished, the dream of a new, fully protected bike lane connecting Santa Monica and Culver City remains a dream.  

When was the last time a train line ran to Santa Monica?

The last time a train from Los Angeles rolled westward into Santa Monica was in 1953 — Eisenhower was in the White House, Gary Cooper had just won the best actor Oscar (for High Noon) and the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn.

How much does it cost to ride the Metro?

Metro’s regular fare is $1.75, and this includes two hours of free transfers for those using a TAP (Transit Access Pass, if you’re curious) card, which cost $1 and can be purchased at vending machines at all Metro Rail stations, the plastic reloadable fare cards used in Los Angeles County. In honor of this new extension, Metro has created a commemorative TAP card — it has artwork depicting the L.A. skyline, a palm tree, a Ferris wheel and the ocean — that will be available in limited numbers at some Metro stations starting Friday.

But I heard it’s free on Friday— correct?

Yes, and Saturday, too. From Friday at noon until 2 a.m. on early Sunday morning, riders can enjoy unlimited train rides on the Expo extension for free.

How many people are expected to use the extension?

Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington says that his organization projects a daily ridership of 18,000 people, but adds, “I’m confident we’ll exceed that before too long.”

Are these the same trains used elsewhere on the Metro system?

Not exactly. These are the first of 78 light-rail cars Metro ordered from Japanese manufacturing giant Kinkisharyo. These cars are significantly quieter than Metro’s existing train stock (thanks to a more sophisticated air-conditioning system and offer a bit more room between seats. In an interesting side note, all of the new Kinkisharyo cars are being assembled and tested in nearby Palmdale.

Is there parking at these new stations?

Three of the seven new stations have parking lots. The Expo/Sepulveda station has 260 spaces; the Expo Bundy station has 217 spaces; and the 17th Street/Santa Monica College station has 67 spaces. A portion of these spaces are reserved for people with monthly permits ($39), while the rest will be available for daily parking ($2).

That’s not a lot of parking. Are there other good ways to get to one of the new stations?

All of the new stations are well served by bus service and each station has bike racks and bike lockers for cyclists. But in the short term, here’s an interesting alternative: Metro and Uber have partnered to create a new promotion that will give passengers a one-time $5 discount on any UberPOOL ride to or from a Santa Monica Expo station through May 22.

How often will the trains run?

The Expo trains are schedule to run every 12 minutes, from 4 a.m. to midnight on weekdays (on Friday and Saturday nights, trains run until 2 a.m.). Metro officials say that trains might become more frequent if use demands more service.

How long will it take to ride from Santa Monica to Downtown L.A.?

According to Metro schedules, the 16.9-mile ride from 6th and Main in Downtown L.A. to the Downtown Santa Monica station (what Garcetti has dubbed from “Skyline to Shoreline” ) should take 47 or 48 minutes. That’s an average of roughly 21 miles per hour. Not blazing fast, but often a lot quicker than traffic on the 10.