A stowaway on Expo 2

June 18, 2014 

I had a chance to ride the rails last week, going behind the scenes of one of L.A.’s most eagerly anticipated transit projects.

The vehicle transporting me was a bouncing truck, not a sleek light rail train. But my imagination was moving full speed ahead as I traveled a major chunk of the Expo Line Phase 2 route now taking shape beside the 10 Freeway. (I even shot some iPhone footage along the way. I’m probably not going to be winning any cinematography Oscars, but I hope you’ll click on the above link to share a condensed and accelerated video version of my off-road voyage.)

When completed next year, and opened to the traveling public in 2016, Expo will be an urban transportation godsend: a chance to bring some predictability and personal choice back to what’s become, over the past decade, the increasingly soul-crushing experience of just trying to get across town.

I was moved—and not only in the literal sense—to see all the years of hard work, planning and construction transforming into something so real and so powerful. The long-held dream of being able to make it from downtown L.A. to 4th Street in Santa Monica in 46 minutes flat is now emerging fast from steel, sweat and stone.

I saw stations rising in Palms and at Westwood Boulevard. Long stretches of sound walls were already in place. About four miles of track have been installed, with 10 additional miles coming soon to complete the roundtrip journey of Expo Phase 2 from Culver City to Santa Monica.

On the morning of my off-road tour, from Bagley Avenue to Military Avenue in West Los Angeles, electrical crews were racing their construction counterparts to put up the network of power poles that will move Expo’s trains. Knots of workers were busily installing pavers on the platform of the Westwood Boulevard station. Elevator towers were up at the Palms Station, ready for the contractor to install glass and machinery. And heavy, laser-equipped machines were preparing to tamp down rock ballast between rail ties.

It was a fascinating trip into L.A.’s past, present and future. We traveled past the modern Lycée Français de Los Angeles; past an area known as Motor Yard where generations of taggers, unfortunately, have left an inch-thick residue of graffiti for our teams to clean up; through an old freight train tunnel under the 10 Freeway that will soon see a new generation of trains gliding through.

To our right, for some of the trip, rumbled the 10 Freeway—moving uncharacteristically smoothly on this morning but inevitably heading toward the gridlock that will be the Expo Line’s best advertisement when Phase 2 opens. As we passed the Westwood Boulevard station, another symbol of motoring frustration, the 405 Freeway, was visible to the west.

It was an amazing vantage point, and I wish that every Angeleno who’s ever cursed a Sig Alert could have been along for the ride. Short of that, I hope that the video above will spur your imagination and awaken the sense that something better is coming down the tracks for Los Angeles.

Expo 2's making tracks to Santa Monica from Culver City. Photo/Expo Construction Authority

Posted 6/18/14

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