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Testing began this week on the new Expo Line light rail system, which will provide service from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City when the first phase is completed later this year. Eventually, the line will run through Colorado Boulevard and 4th Street in Santa Monica.
Jose Ubaldo, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), said the work that began this week was a clearance test, and involved a specialized rail car being pulled along the track at very low speeds to make sure that the train cars will clear the passenger platforms and other potential obstructions along the route. Ubaldo said there has to be a three-inch clearance between the train and platform at the passenger stations, which is one aspect the crews will be testing. He added that weights will be added to the car to ensure the actual train would lean how it is supposed to as it travels along the route. Other tests are being conducted to make sure the trains will clear the crossing gates and signs at intersections.
“There is no power [to the trains] right now, so it is being pulled by a truck and is going very slow, were talking only a couple of miles an hour,” Ubaldo said. “It is the little things, but it is really important. Think of it as when you are going to the store and buying a new suit. It is a fitting test.”
Ubaldo added that a different type of testing was being conducted yesterday and today, when the distance between the trains’ antennae and the overhead electrical power lines, known as the catenary system, will be measured. All of the initial analysis this week is a precursor for more extensive testing that will begin in the near future, when the overhead electrical lines will be turned on and the actual train cars will be moving along the tracks. Ubaldo said it is important for people who live along the route or drive past it to know that the testing is occurring, and that in the near future, a train will be running.
“Our concern is for the safety of the community. They need to know that the train is coming, and more will be coming soon,” Ubaldo said. “In two weeks they will power up the catenary system, and the train will be moving faster. They need to know that there is a new kid on the block and they need to respect the systems and warning systems. We are trying to get that message across.”
The anticipated opening for the Expo Line is mid-November, and the line will primarily run along a route that is located just south of the Santa Monica (10) Freeway. In some areas, it will run along a former freight train right-of-way, and in others, new tracks have been installed. Ubaldo said the trains would run at approximately 35 mph through neighborhoods, and slightly faster along areas where the right-of-way keeps it away from roads or other parts of the community. He added that there will a representative from Metro present during all testing to answer questions if members of the public have concerns.
Gabriela Collins, a spokesperson for the Expo Line Construction Authority, said the light-rail line has been in the works since 2006, and work on the first phase is approximately 80 percent complete. Phase one of the project cost $930 million, and was paid for using Measure R funds, as well as state and federal funding. Eleven stations will be included along the initial phase of the route, beginning at Flower Street and Washington Boulevard, and running through La Cienega Boulevard in Culver City. Collins said the final portion of the first phase calls for the line to run to a station at Venice and Robertson Boulevards, which is anticipated to open in 2012.
Construction on the final phase of the Expo Line is expected to begin later this year, with completion by 2015. The segment will run through Westwood and Santa Monica, and will cost approximately $1.5 billion. The final segment will also be funded through Measure R.
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