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New Expo Line extension draws complaints that trains are too slow

FILE: Members of the Metro board of directors take an early ride from the Culver City to downtown Santa Monica on the new Expo Line extension on Monday morning, May 9, 2016. The line opened to the public on May 20.
FILE: Members of the Metro board of directors take an early ride from the Culver City to downtown Santa Monica on the new Expo Line extension on Monday morning, May 9, 2016. The line opened to the public on May 20.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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The honeymoon is over on the new beach train and now the hangover is setting in. Just two weeks after the Expo Line rolled into Santa Monica, riders are complaining the train is too slow.

The originally advertised 45- to 50-minute ride from downtown to Santa Monica has been closer to an hour as riders encounter service interruptions, short two-car trains and long waits.

Some new riders have also been inconvenienced by additional waits between transfers, as the Expo Line ends at 7th and Metro Center downtown, rather than Union Station and delays down the line mean trains haven't left when they're supposed to.

"It took me six minutes to get from Union Station to 7th Street and Metro Center and then at Metro Center I had a delay of about 20 minutes" said Paul Getto, who commuted four times to downtown Santa Monica on the Expo Line this week and encountered several shorter delays.

Once on the Expo Line train, Getto said it took just over 50 minutes to get to downtown Santa Monica. But others haven't been so lucky.

In a critical post for Zocalo Public Square, writer Joe Mathews describes his nearly five-hour commute from the San Gabriel Valley to Santa Monica and back on the Expo, Red and Gold Lines.

KPCC producer Leo Duran found a ride on the Expo Line was slower than a car, a bus and a bike navigating from downtown to Santa Monica at rush hour.

Some early hiccups were expected on the new service and, in about four years, the new Regional Connector will make transfers at 7th and Metro unnecessary, shaving 10 to 30 minutes off a trip from Union Station.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is also waiting on a backlog of new light rail vehicles that will carry more passengers and allow more frequent service on the Expo Line. Production of the cars was delayed by labor negotiations with the manufacturer, Kinkisharyo.

But Ethan Elkind, author of the book "Rail Town," says there are several small changes that would improve the train’s speed – like giving it priority at traffic lights.

"Those trains get stuck at red lights like a single-occupant vehicle gets stuck at red lights," Elkind said.

The city of Los Angeles rather than Metro decides signal priority. A petition to let the trains go first has gathered nearly 2,000 signatures.

Trains do have signal priority in the city of Santa Monica, except for the last street-running section where there is not enough space for crossing gates and trains must stop for car traffic.

Officials from the L.A. Department of Transportation point out the street-running section in downtown L.A. is a section of track where the Expo Line shares track with the Blue Line, resulting in a train passing about every two minutes.

Officials say giving trains signal priority at that location and making cars wait would cause massive traffic backups in an already congested area.

Elkind also suggests doing away with station stops where few people board — at least until development around the station builds demand for service.

Despite the drawbacks, commuter Getto says he'll continue to ride the train to work. On its best days, the train is faster than driving his car, and he says, much more pleasant.

How's your commute been going on the new Expo Line extension? Let us know in the comments below.