Metro Celebrates Purple Line Extension 1 Tunnel Machines, Set to Start in August

Cutterhead of Elsie, one of Metro's Tunnel Boring Machines extending the Purple Line. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Cutterhead of Elsie, one of Metro's Tunnel Boring Machines extending the Purple Line. All photos: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

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In a ceremony this morning, Metro celebrated the two tunnel boring machines (TBM) that will dig the Purple Line subway westward. The $2.8 billion Metro Purple Line Extension phase 1 will tunnel 3.9 miles under Wilshire Boulevard from Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard.

The festivities took place at the Metro Wilshire/Fairfax construction yard, across from the L.A. County Museum of Art. On display were the massive purple TBM cutter heads and the cylindrical TBM shield. Both are 21.5 feet in diameter.

The ceremony featured L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, L.A. City Councilmember David Ryu, Metro Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins, and two students who won contests to name and decorate the TBMs. Fairfax High School student Marianne Gutierrez submitted the winning essay naming the TBMs. Gutierrez named them “Elsie” and “Soyeon” – for astronaut Yi Soyeon and pioneering engineer Elsie Eavers – in order to encourage more women and girls to achieve in scientific careers. Palm Crest Elementary School student Lauren Park won the TBM art contest. Park’s winning drawing graces the TBM’s outer shell or shield.

Metro broke ground on the Purple Line phase 1 construction in late 2014. Today, Wiggins reported that the project is 34 percent complete with “excellent progress on all fronts.”

Tunneling for phase 1 will begin in August and will continue for about two years. In order to advance more quickly, tunneling for this phase includes two identical TBMs. The tunnel machines will be lowered into the ground at the site of the future Wilshire/La Brea station and will initially tunnel east until they are adjacent to the existing Wilshire/Western station. From there they will be extracted and returned to La Brea. Then they will tunnel west to La Cienega, where they will actually be set aside and retired without being extracted.

The Purple Line subway extension phase 1 cutter head measures 21.5 feet in diameter
The Purple Line subway extension phase 1 cutter head measures 21.5 feet in diameter
Left to right: Mayor Eric Garcetti, student Marianne Gutierrez who named the TBMs, Councilmember David Ryu, and Metro Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins
Left to right: Mayor Eric Garcetti, student Marianne Gutierrez who named the TBMs, Councilmember David Ryu, and Metro Deputy CEO Stephanie Wiggins
TBM artist Lauren Park and her parents, in front of the TBM shell that features her artwork
TBM artist Lauren Park and her parents, in front of the TBM shell that features her artwork
Leaders assembled after Lauren Park's TBM artwork was unveiled
Leaders assembled after Lauren Park’s TBM artwork was unveiled

The first Purple Line extension west is planned to open to the public in 2023.

Two additional phases are also underway. Phase 2, which got under construction earlier this year, will take the line to Century City. It is forecast to be completed by 2025. Preliminary construction activities are underway for Phase 3, to the Westwood VA Hospital. The third phase is expected to open in 2026.

Three-phase Westside Purple Line extension map - via Metro
Three-phase Westside Purple Line extension map – via Metro

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