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Learning from Expo's Early Problems

Planners say money and deadline troubles in the first phase have wised them up for the second. And train-timing issues that have prompted delays in the first part of the route shouldn't affect the last, from Culver City to Santa Monica.

As engineers tinker with circuitry at the first stretch of Los Angeles' new , planners are fine-tuning the construction process for the rail's tail end.

Planners say that learning from past errors—some that go beyond engineering issues—will help them keep future costs down as they work to bring the line to completion in Santa Monica. 

In the second phase of construction, the light-rail route will be continued from Venice and National boulevards in Culver City to its end, at Colorado Avenue and Fourth Street in Santa Monica, traversing West Los Angeles along the way. 

Train control circuitry issues have forced delays in the opening of the first segment—which was initially expected by the start of the new year. The train-timing problems are at Flower Street and Washington Boulevard junction in downtown L.A., where Expo and Blue Line trains cross. The two lines share two stations at 7th Street and Metro Center and Pico Boulevard near the Convention Center, said Metro spokesman Marc Littman.

In the second phase, existing lines will not be shared, so there’s little concern that such malfunctions will persist on the final legs, Littman said.

"We don’t expect Phase 2 being impacted," confirmed Eric Olson, chief project officer with the Exposition Construction Authority.

There were 10 new platforms built in the past five years along the beginning of the Expo Line, whose trains are expected to sweep riders from the heart of L.A. into Culver City in less than 30 minutes. 

Lessons learned from the first phase are being applied to the second, planners said. Some will save money, another time. 

Contractors were able to negotiate fees throughout the design process of Phase 1, offering one estimate early on, and then another once plans were 85 percent finalized. During that time, Olson said, there were unprecedented increases in the costs of construction.

"We typically account for 3 percent growth; we were seeing up to 9 and 10 percent," he said.  “So as part of Phase 2, we turned around and had our contractors bid hard dollars to finish construction.” 

Additionally, because the second phase is funded with Measure R proceeds, a half-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2008, Metro is requiring the Construction Authority to create a reserve fund and allow for schedule contingencies.

Olson noted that the Expo Line Exposition Construction Authority is also getting out ahead of the job of relocating overhead power lines owned by third-party utility companies.  

The relocations, which are carried out by the utility companies, "require quite a bit of coordination," he said. He expects that relocations for the second phase will be completed by early next year. 

The circuitry problems in the second phase are expected be fixed within a few days. From there, Metro will begin simulating actual service, according to Littman.

In the next three months, Metro will train more than 100 operators, controllers and supervisors and conduct a series of safety drills "to ensure the new Expo Line is absolutely safe and operates well."

"No opening date can be announced until we begin pre-revenue service, and we can’t begin pre-revenue service until the junction circuitry issue is resolved," he said.

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