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Transportation Milestone: Last Leg Of LA's Metro Expo Line Completed

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Here in Los Angeles, some good news - in fact, a transportation milestone. After more than 30 years of planning, legal battles and cost overruns, finally a train connects the city to the sea. NPR's Kirk Siegler squeezed into the very first car to depart Santa Monica.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Seventh Street.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Seventeenth Street station.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: It is all smiles on this inaugural train leaving the beach and heading east 15 miles, crossing one of the most congested cities in the nation.

ALAN BARFIELD: (Laughter) I was just getting ready to post it on Facebook that I'm a part of this. This is historic for me.

SIEGLER: Alan Barfield, for one, is thrilled.

BARFIELD: Well, this is the first train to go into LA in, like, 60 years - over 60 years - on this route.

SIEGLER: Some of this new Expo Line extension runs along the same route the old Pacific Electric streetcars did. Like a lot of Western cities, LA used to have an expansive public transit system, but it fell out of favor when the car became king in the 1950s.

But now, LA is trying to move in a new direction again. There are several other light rail lines being added or extended right now. And in the past few years, overall, more people are riding the train if they're near a line, especially as the city's notorious traffic has gotten worse and worse.

TIFFANY HUANG: I think it means more options, more opportunities for Angelenos to see their city in a different way.

SIEGLER: Tiffany Huang, who lives in Chinatown, says this is going to go a long way toward connecting this vast city.

HUANG: My favorite part is - yeah - passing by the 10 and seeing the train going faster than the cars.

SIEGLER: That's the Interstate 10 freeway.

HUANG: Yes (laughter).

SIEGLER: This probably isn't going to do too much to alleviate traffic, at least in the short term. But a lot of people on this train think it's extension is symbolic, that mass transit has really arrived.

DAVE WILLIAMS: (Inaudible).

SIEGLER: Dave Williams stopped driving 10 years ago. LA's freeways were just too stressful, and the train, especially today - it's pretty awesome, he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD TALKING)

WILLIAMS: It's completely unlike Angelenos to be so chatty. Like, everybody's on the train - can you hear everybody talking? It's - you know, that doesn't happen here. Hopefully, it'll bring people together and improve transportation.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hi.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAIN ANNOUNCEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The Metro Center station is arriving.

SIEGLER: For now, though, Williams is just excited about getting to take the train to one of the city's old historic hotels downtown for lunch. Kirk Siegler, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.