Expo trains testing in Downtown Los Santa Monica. Photo via Expo Construction Authority report.

Expo trains testing in Downtown Los Santa Monica. Photo via Expo Construction Authority report.

Friday marked an important milestone in the progress of Expo Phase II. The Expo Construction Authority officially handed over control of the Expo Phase II track to L.A. Metro for the county transit agency to begin pre-revenue service.

[pullquote align=left] “Today is a major milestone and another step closer to the day when Expo Light Rail will begin its job of providing reliable rail service between Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles and to the region’s growing rail network.”
[/pullquote]In an official notice [PDF] to the Board Metro of Directors, Metro CEO Phil Washington announced the “major milestone.” Now that the right-of-way has been handed over, Washington noted that once the maintenance facility at Stewart Street in Santa Monica is handed over to Metro, Expo will be determined to have achieved “full substantial completion.” Metro will announce Expo Phase II’s opening day within 30 days of the maintenance facility handover, according to officials. Though no official estimate has made, some observers have speculated that the maintenance facility handover could happen later this month.

During pre-revenue service, Metro will run trains on a normal schedule to work out any kinks before opening the line to the public. While the Expo Construction Authority estimated that Expo Phase II could open in April or May 2016, Metro has repeatedly reminded us that there is still no official opening date.

“Today is a major milestone and another step closer to the day when Expo Light Rail will begin its job of providing reliable rail service between Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles and to the region’s growing rail network,” Santa Monica City Councilmember Pam O’Connor told Santa Monica Next on Friday. O’Connor is also a member of the Expo Construction Authority Board, the state-created entity tasked with overseeing construction of the 15-mile light rail line. (An earlier version of this article identified O’Connor as the chair of the Expo Construction Authority Board. L.A. Councilmember Mike Bonin is the current board chair; O’Connor no longer holds that position, though she is still on the board)

O’Connor has played an instrumental role in bringing Expo to Santa Monica. She sat on the Metro Board of Directors from 2001 until last year. In her first year on the board, O’Connor made the motion that assured the Expo line would come to Santa Monica.

“My first motion as a Metro Board member in 2001 was that the “vision and intent” of Expo Light Rail was to build it all the way to downtown Santa Monica.  That has been done and today we are just a few months away from the day people start riding it,” she said.

That story is retold in a book about the history of modern rail in Los Angeles County, Railtown: The Fight for the Los Angeles Metro Rail and the Future of the City by Ethan Elkind.

“By July 2001, Los Angeles had a newly elected mayor, James Hahn, and Pam O’Connor, an ardent Expo supporter from the Santa Monica City Council, was serving on the MTA board. The new board voted to approve light rail along the route from downtown to Culver City… some residents along the right-of-way expressed opposition to the project based on the potential for accidents with pedestrians, and the MTA board voted to perform additional safety studies. But the MTA leadership, thanks to a motion by O’Connor, expressed their ‘vision and intent to complete the LRT [light rail transit] line to Santa Monica,’” according to Railtown.

The rest, as they say, is history and now Expo is mere months away from finally opening.

“With the opening of Expo Light Rail this spring, people will have a choice to travel by rail to and from Santa Monica, to places like DTLA, Exposition Park, USC, Culver City and connect to the county’s growing rail network,” she said.

“I have had confidence from early on–when I worked successfully to ensure the direct route to Santa Monica was included in the environmental study, that Expo Light Rail would become one of the most successful rail lines in the country,” O’Connor said. “We are one step closer to the day passenger operations begin and my prediction comes true!”

Expo Phase I, which runs from Downtown L.A. to Culver City, began pre-revenue testing in January 2012 and continued for about four months before the train opened to the public on April 28, 2012. Phase II continues the train route through West L.A. and Santa Monica, ending at 4th Street and Colorado in Downtown Santa Monica.

As Metro steps up Expo’s pre-revenue service, expect to see trains run much more frequently on the Expo Phase II tracks. That means be careful and obey all signals and traffic signs.

Last month, a test train collided with an 18-wheel truck after the truck driver, who was driving west on Colorado Boulevard, made an illegal left turn across the tracks on to 7th Street despite the presence of “no left turn” signs. Authorities reported that there were only minor injuries, but the incident should serve as a reminder to always stay alert and never try to beat the train or to cross the tracks illegally.

Jason Islas