Excitement over the Expo Line and Hyperloop’s Visionary Concept

While many Angelenos are revving up for the first train to Santa Monica in over 60 years, some transit dreamers are working on a vehicle that would leave light rail in the dust. But how viable is Hyperloop? Do we need it? If it took 20 years and complex political wrangling to built the Expo line, what chance does an independent new system have?

The Expo Line train at 4th and Colorado stop in Santa Monica. Photos by Robert LaFond.
The Expo Line train at 4th and Colorado stop in Santa Monica. Photos by Robert LaFond.

The long-awaited Expo Line extension to Santa Monica opens this weekend. It’s the culmination of 20 years of work by activists, legislators and transportation planners and engineers.

“It’s been many years coming, and this is a transformative moment for Santa Monica, the region, and the entire Metro network,” said Francie Stefan, mobility manager for the city of Santa Monica.

While many Angelenos are revving up for the first train to Santa Monica in over 60 years, some transit dreamers are working on a vehicle that would leave light rail in the dust.

Last week saw the first public test of the fledgling Hyperloop — the proposed transit in a tube that would propel you between LA and San Francisco in half hour. The test was conducted by a group of engineers from LA company Hyperloop One on a dusty desert site in Nevada. It’s one of several teams that have joined the global race to see if they can realize the idea floated by Elon Musk.

It’s a concept that captures the imagination — not always in a good way. One listener described the high-speed tube travel as “a guaranteed heart attack for older folk on Medicare.”

So how viable is Hyperloop? Do we need it? If it took 20 years and complex political wrangling to built the Expo line, what chance does an independent new system have?

Hyperloop One's desert testing site.
Hyperloop One’s desert testing site.

“When it comes to getting advanced transportation systems off the ground, so to speak, whether it’s for local transit or for long-distance travel between two areas of the world, there are definitely some challenges,” said Geoff Wardle, head of graduate transportation systems and design at Art Center and co-founder of Urban Systems Labs, which helps bridge public and private sectors when it comes to building large-scale infrastructure. “There’s a lack of political will to put the money behind large infrastructure and transportation projects. It seems that things have to grow more from a grassroots level.”

But some also question whether technology like Hyperloop is even necessary. Dan Sturges, adjunct professor for transportation design at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, applauds the innovation in transportation, but points out that getting from downtown LA to Anaheim can take two hours by car.

“I would like to see the excitement for the Hyperloop translate into how we could actually get around better in the mega-region of Southern California,” Sturges said.

The Expo Line opens this Friday. Metro will sweeten the deal with free rides beginning at noon on Friday at all Expo Line stations from 7th Street Metro Downtown to Santa Monica.

On Saturday, free rides will begin at 4:42 am and run through 2 am Sunday.

Station celebrations will take place Saturday from 10 am – 4 pm at downtown Santa Monica, 17th St/SMC, 26th St/Bergamot, Expo/Bundy and Palms. The Culver City Station that has been open since 2012 will be joining the celebrations. Entertainment, children’s activities, food trucks, bike valet and bike-pit stops and information booths are among the activities. The events are free and open to the public. More information here.