Santa Monica Air Line

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Santa Monica Air Line
Type Light rail
System Pacific Electric
Locale Los Angeles
Termini Pacific Electric Building
Santa Monica, California
Stations 15
Opened May 26, 1909[2]
Closed Regular service: 1931
Special service: 1953
Freight service: March 11, 1988 [1]
Owner Southern Pacific Railroad
Line length 16.88
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification Overhead lines
Route map
Pacific Electric Building
Bellflower Long Beach San Pedro
7 8
F F 9
11th Avenue
Culver City
Home Junction
Santa Monica

The Santa Monica Air Line was a Pacific Electric streetcar between Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles which ran from 1909 to 1953[3] and has been reactivated as the Expo Line.

Built in 1875 as the steam-powered Los Angeles and Independence Railroad, it was intended to bring mining ore to ships in Santa Monica harbor's Long Wharf and as a passenger excursion train to the beach. Eventually purchased by Southern Pacific Railroad, it was leased to the Los Angeles Pacific Railroad for electric passenger and light freight use in 1909. Pacific Electric purchased the line in 1911, along with all the other lines owned by Los Angeles Pacific. The Santa Monica harbor Long Wharf closed to shipping traffic in 1913.[4][5][6]


Beginning at the Pacific Electric Building at 6th and Main streets in downtown Los Angeles, the line traveled south with other lines alongside what is now Long Beach Boulevard and the Blue Line. At 25th Street, the Air Line turned west onto an exclusive right-of-way alongside Exposition Boulevard toward Santa Monica Beach. The currently abandoned section between the Blue Line tracks and USC is the primary difference between today's Expo Line and Air Line routes.

  • Stops on the line in 1911, with miles from LA:

Major depots in bold.

Service decline and end[edit]

With the (then) sparse population along much of the route, service on the Air Line was reduced as early as 1924 with passenger cars running only during rush hours. At that point most passengers traveled to Santa Monica on a different rail line which ran primarily down Santa Monica Boulevard.

Passenger service on the Air Line was completely discontinued on September 30, 1953; however, freight service remained. Because the Air Line route was also connected to the Santa Monica Boulevard line via tracks on Sepulveda Boulevard, it was the only way for freight trains to reach West Los Angeles, Beverly Hills and Hollywood warehouses (usually at night due to city regulations).

However, as the overall use of rail for transporting freight gradually declined, the tracks along Santa Monica and Sepulveda boulevards were removed and service became sparse. The tracks alongside Exposition Park occasionally also served a special purpose to hold circus trains throughout the 1980s and to store various companies' passenger cars during the 1984 Olympic Games. The final freight run was from Fisher Lumber in Santa Monica on March 11, 1988.[1]

After abandonment, ownership was maintained by Southern Pacific, which leased various portions of the land for semi-permanent structures. By the mid-1990s parking lots, storage facilities and some retail buildings had almost completely covered the tracks west of Sepulveda Boulevard - with unused signal cantilevers and crossing gates being the only clue to its former existence. East of Sepulveda Boulevard, tracks, bridges and tunnels remained intact but overgrown.

Oddly, a lone Southern Pacific Railroad boxcar was marooned on a freight siding which once serviced the Sloane Furniture warehouse, at 10151 National Boulevard.[7] However, in 2005 the site was leveled and the boxcar cut apart and removed to make way for a self-storage facility.[8]


The right-of-way was purchased by a predecessor to Los Angeles Metro. Track replacement and various construction tasks began in 2006, and the first phase of the "Expo Line" from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City opened in April, 2012. Service for the second phase to Santa Monica began on May 20, 2016.

While most parts of the Air line have been completely replaced in reconstruction, two major structures from the Air line passenger service days remain: The steel bridge over National Boulevard was deemed structurally sound and was used again in conjunction with a new twin bridge for a second track; and the tunnel under the Santa Monica Freeway, which began construction just as passenger service was being discontinued.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]