After decades of talk, talk and more talk, subway tunneling began Monday for Purple Line subway extension

After several decades of talk and plans that never came to fruition, subway tunneling began Monday afternoon under Wilshire Boulevard for the Purple Line Extension project. The above video shows the scene 60 feet below Wilshire and La Brea shortly after noon Monday.

What are you seeing? A look at the pair of tunnel boring machines that will be used to dig the twin tunnels for the project. At about the :20 mark, you can see the gap in one of the TBMs — a sign that it has begun to push ahead and begin the excavation work.

The second TBM will soon begin digging, too. Both TBMs will initially dig east to the current terminus of the Purple Line at Wilshire and Western Avenue. Once there, the TBMs will be taken apart, trucked back to Wilshire and La Brea and then reassembled so they can start excavating to the west.

The Purple Line Extension project is being built in three sections and will extend the subway nine miles to the Westwood/VA Hospital. The first two sections are under construction with Section One the furthest along — it’s forecast to open in late 2023 and will run 3.9 miles from Wilshire/Western to stations at Wilshire/La Brea, Wilshire/Fairfax and Wilshire/La Cienega in Beverly Hills.

Section Two of the project will run from Wilshire/La Cienega to Wilshire/Rodeo Station in downtown Beverly Hills to Century City Station at the intersection of Avenue of the Stars and Constellation Boulevard. Section Two is forecast to open in 2025.

If you’re interested in why it has taken so long to build a subway under Wilshire, please see this post from a few years ago that looks at the many plans that have come and gone. Hint: the reasons largely involve local politics and lack of funding or region-wide suport.

Why is the project finally happening now?

Because Los Angeles County voters approved the Measure R sales tax measure in 2008, creating a pot of local money that has been combined with federal funds to pay for the project. Measure M — approved in 2016 — will accelerate the project’s third section between Century City and stations at Wilshire and Westwood Boulevard and the Westwood/VA Hospital. The third section is forecast to open in 2026.

A map from the 1960s considers how a subway might travel along the Wilshire corridor through Miracle Mile. But the plan never made it past the proposal stage.

A rendering of the Wilshire/La Brea Station in 1983. But an explosion unrelated to subway construction at a Ross Dress for Less store, meant the subway never made it west of Western.

Here are some photos taken Monday — please feel free to use. Credit goes to “Joe Lemon/LA Metro.”


17 replies

  1. This is great news. Now let’s all get on board for sections 4 (Expo/Bundy) and 5 (LAX).

  2. Im so happy that dirt is finally being pushed out of the way for this.

    My concerns are the restraints of the tunnels themselves and almost zero opportunity for express service in the future where trains would bypass stations.

    Also in cases of emergencies where track sharing happens and it slows the entire system down.

    Its so expensive, yet is still not as good as it can be; or at least should be in my opinion.

    My other concern/question: Will the stations be the size of small frigates as well? We have two stations on the Gold Line that seem to be dug with small dimensions, and it feels like stations ive waited at in other citites. Are the new stations going to be loud echo chambers again?

    • The gold line under ground stations are for three almost 70 foot rolling stock and the purple line stations need space for six 70 foot train cars.

  3. This is exciting news. I think we’ve all been waiting for this day. I have to ask, however, why don’t we have more than two tunneling machines? To have the machines go east from La Brea then truck them back to tunnel west from La Brea doesn’t seem like the most efficient/expedient way to go. Obviously these are custom-designed machines that cost in the tens of millions but this is a 9bn dollar project and we would likely be using them on future projects.

    • there will be more than two tunneling machines, Purple line Phase two will start tunneling either June/July 2019 or June/July 2020, it will be tunneling from Century City Eastward to La Cienega. The first month or two of tunneling will be under the BHHS Lacrosse field, one BHHS building, and the BHHS Tennis Courts, so they will schedule this tunneling during the BHHS summer vacation.

      And Purple Line Phase three will start tunneling in 2020 or 2021 because it’s tunnel has a separate contract from the rest of phase three to speed construction, this will be a continuous tunnel drive from the VA Hospital terminus Eastward to Century City. Since the Century City and Westwood station boxes will not be excavated and floored in time for the tunnel machine to be walked through, the tunnel will be continuous until terminating in a concrete block just west of the century city station, the TBM will be disassembled in it’s tunnel and removed backwards out of the VA terminus. Then when the station boxes excavate down, they will have to cut out and remove the sections of the tunnel that overlap with the station boxes.

    • Tunnel boring machines ARE very expensive, but CANNOT be reused. They are custom made for each project. Most are left in the ground when tunneling is complete.

  4. Clearly Ross is to blame. I wonder if they will keep the generic look that the original stations posses, mainly Union, Civic, Normandie, and Western stations. We’d save some cash in the process.

    • I always thought the original stations were a little overdone and that money could have been saved by making them more compact. The giant empty mezzanines and 30-40 foot ceilings at some of the intermediate stops are unnecessary. Also, every station doesn’t need a public art and urban park area at the entrance. All that are needed are stairs, escalators and an elevator. These wide open spaces just create more maintenance, crime, and homeless issues.

  5. Hooray! nine years, eleven months and two weeks after Measure R was passed we are FINALLY tunneling for a purple line extension.

    It’s a shame it took this long, so happy to finally have achieved this milestone!

  6. I’d like to see what some Purple Line stops would look like if they used side platforms instead of island platforms

    • What’s the advantage of side platforms in a subway? I can understand their use in surface light rail depending on surrounding land, but underground center platforms are cheaper and easier for users.

  7. Joe, Good job on the photos.

    Photos show project progress. Progress keeps the project sold.

  8. Are Elsie and Soyeon truly identical twins? Will the two parellel tunnels be bored simultaneously?