Purple Line Extension progress: both tunneling machines have now reached future Wilshire/Fairfax Station!

The tunneling machine has reached the portal on the right. The other machine being used on the project reached Wilshire/Fairfax on April 4. Photo by LA/Metro.

Metro today reports that both of its massive tunneling machines have officially reached the future Wilshire/Fairfax subway station near the La Brea Tar Pits in the Miracle Mile. Tunneling for the first three miles of this four-mile initial project section is now complete.

The 1,000-ton, 400-feet long Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) named “Soyeon” started at the Wilshire/La Brea station in October of last year and broke through the eastern side of the planned Wilshire/Fairfax station site about one mile away on Thursday, May 21. Metro’s first TBM “Elsie” broke through to Wilshire/Fairfax on April 4.

Reaching this dual milestone is a significant win for Metro. The underground soil conditions in this area of Los Angeles represent some of the most challenging for the entire project. The agency’s modern, high-tech TBMs have mined through a unique combination of soils and geologic conditions, including tar sands and methane gas.

The breakthrough also marks another milepost in the decades-long effort to extend L.A.’s subway farther west underneath Wilshire Boulevard, one of the busiest and most congested urban thoroughfares in the United States.

“This has been an enormously complex operation that Metro and its contractor Skanska Traylor Shea have successfully conducted,” said city of Inglewood Mayor and Metro Board Chair James T. Butts. “When this project is ultimately completed, we will have fast, frequent and reliable subway service connecting downtown L.A. and West L.A. in just 25 minutes. That will be a game-changer for all of L.A. County.”

Public works projects like the Purple Line Extension Project are considered essential activities during the COVID-19 public health crisis. Metro and its contractors are committed to ensuring the safety of all project workers.

The TBMs were originally lowered into the ground at Metro’s Wilshire/La Brea station site in the Miracle Mile area of Wilshire in October 2018 and advanced about 60 feet per day. They worked five days per week, 20 hours a day.

Metro’s TBMs are pressurized, closed-face machines that minimize ground settlement during excavation. The tunnel is lined with precast concrete segments that are bolted together to form a ring. Segments are also gasketed to make the joints between segments water- and gas-tight.

When tunneling is finished for this entire project section, both of Metro’s TBMs will have mined nearly a half-million cubic yards of earth — the equivalent of filling 2.3 million bathtubs with dirt.

“We are proving once again that we can successfully mine through some of the most challenging conditions that any subway project in the world is likely to face,” said Metro CEO Phillip A. Washington. “We have a world-class project team that has extensive tunneling expertise. We are well on our way to delivering this vitally important transit project to taxpayers.”

Metro’s TBMs will next head farther west to the final Section 1 station at Wilshire/La Cienega. The TBMs are expected to reach the end of this first four-mile tunneling section in the city of Beverly Hills this fall.

The TBMs were manufactured in Germany by Herrenknecht AG. Metro has contracted with Skanska Traylor Shea (STS), a joint venture to design and build the first section of the project.

The $9.3-billion Metro Purple Line Extension is a nine-mile underground subway project that will extend the Metro Purple Line from its terminus in Koreatown to the Westwood/VA Hospital in West Los Angeles. Section 1 is expected to be completed in 2023, Section 2 in 2025, and Section 3 in 2027.

For more information on the Purple Line Extension Project, go to www.metro.net/purplelineext.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Metro Media Relations has B-Roll video footage and photos of the official Wilshire/Fairfax TBM breakthrough.  Please visit https://www.dropbox.com/sh/smvmtir76a1935t/AAC-f7KOejL4TBJ3zyl4gbESa?dl=0 to obtain these media resources.

11 replies

  1. When I look at the subway map above, it makes me wonder why the route could not have been slightly altered instead of going right under Beverly Hills High School on the way to Century City.

    • Why should it have been altered? It’s more safe to tunnel under a school than to go through an earthquake fault on Santa Monica Blvd.

      The Century City Station will be at its most sensible spot – Ave of the Stars & Constellation, with the potential for Murillo portals.

      Tunneling under Santa Monica Blvd would have put a station across the street from a golf course.

  2. So the segment from Wilshire/Western to Wilshire/LaBrea is already done, so when the TBM’s reach La Cienega, all the tunneling will be done for Segment #1 ?
    When does the tunneling start for Segment #2 and what directions, or in other words, what the tunneling plan ?

  3. You say “Metro’s TBM” and “Metro … its” and “The agency’s modern, high-tech TBMs”.
    But, every time people ask why there are 4 and why TBMs don’t get reused, you are quick to not claim ownership of them and say they are the contractors. Which is it? Are you claiming ownership of the construction companies’ other equipment too?

    Agency speak with forked tongue.

    • Hi William;

      The subway project is divided into three sections and the contractor building each section will use their own tunnel boring machines. The section 3 tunnel machines will dig between Century City and the VA Hospital although right now I’m not sure of the direction of travel for the machines.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  4. “When this project is ultimately completed, we will have fast, frequent and reliable subway service connecting downtown L.A. and West L.A. in just 25 minutes. That will be a game-changer for all of L.A. County.”

    You guys sure about this?

    It already takes 12-15 min on average just for the Purple to travel from LAUS to Wilshire/Western. Are we really Expected to believe that It won’t take more than an extra 10-13 min to go from Wilshire/Western to VA? Don’t get me wrong, 30 min (more realistic) is still good timing but this only yet still proves the point that A) Rail Lines have too many stops and B) If we are going to Insist to build stops less than a mile apart, we need Express tracks going forward.

    And people insist on the Purple Line going to LAX via Westwood like it’s going to be any faster.

    • From the west, you’d probably measure downtown as the 7th/Metro station and not Union Station. That cuts off a good chunk of closely-separated stops. So, 25 minutes is probable.

      West of downtown, the only purple line station that likely would not have built today is Normandy. Wisely, Metro (partially due to pressure from Hancock Park residents) gave up on a stop at Crenshaw. Yes, the western terminus should’ve been further into Brentwood, but I’m not wasting energy on that anymore.

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