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Expo Line 'test train' to cross into downtown Santa Monica on Friday

Expo Line 'test train' to cross into downtown Santa Monica on Friday
The first passenger train in more than 60 years rolled into downtown Santa Monica on Wednesday as part of the initial train testing for the future extension of the Metro Expo Line. (Metro Los Angeles)

Friday morning will mark the first time in more than 60 years that a commuter train has pulled into downtown Santa Monica under its own power.

As part of the safety checks required before the Expo Line's second phase can open to the public next year, rail officials will slowly pilot a sleek train from 20th Street to Fifth Street along Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica.

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Westside residents and commuters will see trains moving at street level between 5 mph and 25 mph as officials check for any points where trains could strike platforms or overhead wires.

Officials conducted a similar test Wednesday, watched by a group of public officials and rail fans, but the train was pushed by a truck. A video published by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority showed the train moving along the track, but most of the footage did not show the truck.

Watching the test trains is "a little like watching paint dry," said Metro spokesman Marc Littman. "It is exciting because it's significant, but ... they look at it, they look at it, they look at it, they power it up, they turn it off. If you're expecting to see trains zipping along, you're not going to see that."

Although the trains will be moving at a snail's pace, the significance of watching them glide through downtown Santa Monica isn't lost on residents and officials, who have spent years sitting in the infamous traffic of the Westside.

"Santa Monica has wanted this and actively worked to make this happen for a long time," Mayor Kevin McKeown said.

The last trains to run through Santa Monica were the Pacific Electric Red Cars, which went out of service in 1963.

"Just being able to have, in the picture, a sign that says 'Metro' and 'Downtown/Santa Monica' — the symbol is incredible," Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole said. "This is the biggest change in Santa Monica since the opening of the 10 Freeway."

Currently, the Expo Line connects Downtown Los Angeles to its terminus in Culver City, passing through USC, Exposition Park and Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw. The second phase will add seven stations to the west, in Palms, Westwood and Santa Monica.

Passengers can't board the Expo Line for at least six more months, Littman said. The opening date has not been publicly announced.

In preparation for the train's debut, Santa Monica will be marketing it as a shift in how people can get around, Cole said: not just by driving to a train station and parking, but walking more, taking the bus or trying the city's bike-share system, which is slated to launch later this year.

They'll also be teaching residents how to behave safely around trains while in cars and on foot. 

Metro's safety tips:

  • Obey warning signs and traffic signals.

  • Always look both ways before crossing any street and watch for trains from both directions.

  • Never walk or jaywalk on railroad tracks.

  • Use crosswalks.

For more Los Angeles transportation news, follow @laura_nelson on Twitter.

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