Opinion: Scenes from the first train from Santa Monica to downtown L.A. in 63 years

At 12:08 p.m. on Friday, the first train on the Expo Line extension glided out of Santa Monica’s downtown station and the passengers clapped enthusiastically.

The applause was appropriate, as it had been 63 years since the last Pacific Electric red car trolley left Santa Monica, and the passengers who had waited for up to three hours to be among the first on the Expo Line train knew they were part of a history-making ride into downtown Los Angeles.

The atmosphere surrounding the inaugural trip was duly festive with speeches from assorted dignitaries, a brass band, more police, sheriff’s officers, security guards, “transit enforcement officers” — a new one on me — and volunteer helpers than ever seen in one place in the city.

As befitting any major event, there were protesters and politics, too — one placard bore the words “Santa Monica Place Whites Only” while someone handed out pro-Bernie Sanders leaflets. A lively group from the Los Angeles Football Club, singing and drumming, gave away scarves and badges to those waiting in line.

There were, inevitably, some grumbles: The portable toilets were filthy (a card on the back of the door of one of them indicated it had last been cleaned on May 8), the wait to board the train was too long and the police were being heavy-handed in their crowd control efforts.


But once the train left the station everybody on board seemed happy, taking selfies and pictures of each other and the scenery as the train passed the backyards of Westside homes and the artwork of the stations where we stopped.

People got on at every station: men with bicycles, women with strollers and those just there for the ride.

At Vermont, an entrepreneur got on board offering to sell candy, speakers and headphones from a tray he had in his bag — but didn’t find any customers.

The train arrived at the 7th Street Metro Center station 55 minutes after leaving Santa Monica — nine minutes longer than the time touted by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Expo officials, but plenty of time for a pint of beer and fish and chips in Dublin’s Irish pub before going back to the station to make the return trip to Santa Monica.

This time the trip was more like a ride on the New York subway or London Underground: The train was older, passengers were more garrulous and it was standing room only.

On arrival at Santa Monica — this time the trip took 58 minutes — the hundreds of people getting off were met by volunteers handing out maps of the city and giving directions while hundreds more waited in lines snaking up the street waiting to board the next train to Los Angeles.

The first day of the Expo Line was an undoubted success — crowded trains and happy passengers enjoying their free rides.

The future certainly means more and more people will pour into already overcrowded Santa Monica. But whether those making the daily commute to downtown L.A. will be willing to give up their cars for a ride which, although relatively stress-free and comfortable, will take more than an hour from their home to their place of work, remains to be seen.

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