Party train not rocking so hard

Light rail ground breaking ceremonies often have that pep rally vibe: they’re filled with live music, bold proclamations, group hugs, fireworks, cheerleaders, and even free bbq sandwiches. LA just broke ground on the Expo Line, but the reporters’ tone is rather bittersweet:

Standing amid mounds of dirt at the edge of USC on Friday, political leaders celebrated a milestone for L.A.’s fledgling rail system: the start of major construction for a rail line from downtown to the Westside. But like so many mass transit projects in Los Angeles County, the Expo Line was shaped by three decades of political squabbling and compromises that raise questions about whether it can achieve the goal of getting Westsiders out of their cars and onto mass transit. The first 8.6-mile leg of the line will run from the 7th Street/Metro Center station in the heart of downtown to Culver City. But it will be nowhere near many of the Westside’s most congested destinations, including the Miracle Mile, Grove-Beverly Center areas, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Century City and Westwood/UCLA. Instead, it will move along an old Southern Pacific rail line through relatively quieter southwest L.A., roughly following Exposition Boulevard. The route avoided heavy opposition from community groups and reduced costs, which will be at least $640 million. The line is supposed to start operations in 2010. As a result of that route, officials expect the Expo Line to Culver City to see 43,000 passenger boardings every weekday by 2025. (A boarding is a one-way trip.)

Kudos to the reporters for pointing that out. Might also be nice to mention that most rail riders aren’t new transit riders, but merely folks who used to ride buses. One thing I almost never see reporters do is give some big-picture perspective–after all, LA County takes 40 million trips a day.

The MTA has already been struggling with rail lines that have not quite worked out. The Green Line does not hit major destinations such as Los Angeles International Airport and the South Bay Galleria mall near its route, but instead goes from Norwalk to a miniature golf course in north Redondo Beach. The Gold Line from downtown to Pasadena has also been a disappointment, largely because it runs close to residential neighborhoods and hits so many street crossings that taking the train is significantly slower than driving. For safety reasons, the state Public Utilities Commission restricted the speed of Gold Line trains in parts of South Pasadena and Highland Park. Expo Line trains may suffer some of the same problems as they cross major north-south streets, such as Vermont, Normandie and Western avenues and Crenshaw Boulevard, and may have to slow as they approach intersections, experts said.

And how about that Red Line? It still has still not reached half its projected ridership. (Is that the kind of success that should be extended to the sea?)