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What's in a name? For Metro's tunnel machine, it may be a famous woman in history

What's in a name? For Metro's tunnel machine, it may be a famous woman in history
Workers prepare to install pilings for a bridge on the Metro Crenshaw Line at the intersection of La Brea and Florence avenues in April. Excavation for two one-mile tunnels on the line will begin next year. (Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

The enormous drills that dig subway tunnels don't usually generate much excitement.

But Los Angeles County transportation officials hope to make a recent equipment acquisition—called a tunnel boring machine—a little less, well, boring.

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The 8.5-mile, $2-billion Crenshaw Line that will link Baldwin Hills with Westchester includes two one-mile tunnels that will connect three future stations: Expo/Crenshaw, Martin Luther King Jr. and Leimert Park. The drill will be lowered into the ground early next year, and will spend about a year digging each tunnel.

But before that happens, the tunneling machine has to have a name, officials say. Naming digging equipment after women is a tradition that dates to the 1500s, they say, when miners prayed to St. Barbara to keep them safe underground.

Metro will let the public choose the name. Voting on the agency's website will continue until Dec. 1.

The Crenshaw Line is scheduled to begin carrying passengers in 2019. The Crenshaw Boulevard corridor last had a rail link in 1955, as part of L.A.'s sprawling street car network.

Here are the names Metro is considering, submitted by students at area high schools:

  • Lorena: For Lorena Weaver, among the first women to drive a bus in Los Angeles

  • Sojourner: For 19th century abolitionist Sojourner Truth

  • Maya: For poet and author Maya Angelou

  • Eleanor: For First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

  • Harriet: For Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman

  • M.A.C. (Make A Change): The suggestion refers to "making transportation easier on teens and others who do not have cars or bikes," one student wrote in her submission

  • Sally: For Sally Ride, the first American woman in space

  • The Africana: "The new rail line should always be a reminder to the world of the rich culture that inhabits the area," one student wrote of her neighborhood, Leimert Park

  • Rosa: For civil rights activist Rosa Parks

  • Athena: For the Greek goddess of wisdom and military victory

Cities across the world have named tunnel-boring machines after women, including the widow of a sugar magnate (Big Alma), British royalty (Victoria and Elizabeth), and the star of a martial arts novel (Xiaolongnu, or "Little Dragon Girl"). Many of them have their own Twitter accounts.

The most famous, or infamous, is Bertha, the tunneling machine that broke down under Seattle two years ago. That machine is named for Bertha Knight Landes, who was mayor of Seattle from 1926 to 1928 -- the first woman to hold that position in a major American city.

For more transportation news, follow @laura_nelson on Twitter.

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