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All aboard to the beach! Expo Line to Santa Monica opens May 20

Angelenos will finally be able to ride a train to the beaches of Santa Monica starting May 20, when the second phase of the Expo light rail line opens to the public.

The 6.6-mile, $1.5 billion light rail extension connects downtown Los Angeles to downtown Santa Monica with seven new stations beyond the current terminal at Culver City:

  • Palms
  • Westwood/Rancho Park
  • Expo/Sepulveda
  • Expo/Bundy
  • 17th St/Santa Monica
  • Downtown Santa Monica

A Metro map shows the course of the Expo Line Phase 2, expected to open in 2016.
Los Angeles Metro
A Metro map shows the course of the Expo Line Phase 2, expected to open in 2016.

The L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced the opening date on Thursday.

"Welcome to L.A. County's transit renaissance," said Metro CEO Phil Washington. "With phase two of the Expo Line to Santa Monica we have a great example of how Metro is expanding, and organizing, and building out a balanced transportation system."

The Expo Line Phase 2 also includes a paved bikeway which runs along most of the tracks and three new park and ride lots.

Next month, the Metro Board will consider a plan to charge for parking at nine stations, including the three new ones along the Expo Line. Transit users would be charged $2 for a full day. Other users would be charged $25 or more.

Connecting the urban core of Los Angeles to the beach by rail has long been an elusive dream in the city, since L.A. Mayor Tom Bradley vowed to build a subway in the 1970s.

The so-called "Subway to the Sea" heralded by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — also known as the Purple Line extension along Wilshire Boulevard — will actually end at Westwood without a new injection of funding, and it won't make it there until 2035.

The Expo Line will be the first passenger train to connect downtown L.A. with Santa Monica since the Santa Monica Air Line of the Pacific Electric red car system stopped operating in 1953.

"I heard from my grandparents what it was like to get on the red car and go to the ocean," said L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti. "It was a rite of passage on a hot day, but it’s been nothing more than a dream and an old piece of history. Starting in May it will be the reality."

The Expo Line is light rail, which moves above ground at a slower rate than subways. The Expo train will take about 45 minutes to get from Los Angeles to Santa Monica.

The project was funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales tax approved by L.A. County voters in 2008.

Metro is gearing up to put another sales tax measure on the November ballot to raise up to $120 billion over the coming decades to fund further rail expansion. The agency has been criticized in recent weeks for spending billions of dollars to expand the network at time when ridership is declining.

But Metro CEO Phil Washington believes the Expo Line extension, along with the new Gold Line Foothill Extension opening March 5, will increase ridership and demonstrate to more people the importance of expanding transit options.

"I think it can only help the ballot initiative," he said. The Metro Board will not officially vote on whether to move forward with the measure until June.