Lead Story West Edition

MTA introduces tunnel-boring machine in South L.A.

LOS ANGELES — A machine that will soon begin drilling tunnels for a new light rail line through South Los Angeles was named in honor of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, the abolitionist “conductor” on the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape bondage in the 19th century.

“Harriet” the boring machine was lowered during a ceremony Feb. 1 at the Expo construction yard to mark the beginning of tunnel excavation work for the 8.5-mile light rail line from Crenshaw Boulevard to Los Angeles International Airport.

The name was chosen via a student contest and incorporated into artwork for the machine’s tail shield.

The 950-ton German-made machine, a Herrenknecht AG, is 21 feet in diameter and 400 feet long. It will be lowered in segments and assembled over the next few weeks. Tunneling is expected to last 13 weeks.

The $2 billion light rail project, known as Crenshaw/LAX, will connect the Green and the Expo lines and include eight stations in neighborhoods in Inglewood, the Crenshaw area and near LAX.

Mark Ridley-Thomas, chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, noted that it was fitting for the machine to be named after Tubman.

“I can think of no better way to kick off Black History Month than to name the Crenshaw/LAX Line’s tunnel boring machine after Harriet Tubman, legendary conductor of the Underground Railroad,” said Ridley-Thomas, who is also a Los Angeles County supervisor.

“I am confident that this marvel of engineering now known as ‘Harriet’ will carry on its namesake’s legacy of forging new paths to greater opportunities,” he said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said the name is reflective of a project that “represents progress and opportunity.”

“The Crenshaw/LAX Line will serve riders who have been historically under-served. And in doing so, it will ease congestion and will get Angelenos to the people and places they love,” he said.

“As we celebrate this exciting milestone for the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project, we want to thank the business community along the alignment for its patience,” Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts said.

Local restaurants Earlez Grill, Brooklyn Deli, Jordan Hot Dogs and Southern Girl Dessert all named a dish “Harriet” to honor the machine.

“The lowering of the tunnel boring machine is a big milestone for our communities,” MTA board member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker said. “While [the MTA] begins the underground excavation of tunnels, the business interruption fund, Business Solution Center and the promotional marketing campaign Eat, Shop, Play, will continue assisting the small mom-and-pop businesses impacted by the construction of the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project.”

“Harriet” will dig 60 feet per day. When it reaches the Leimert Park Station it will be disassembled and returned to the Expo Yard, where it will be lowered again and launched to excavate the second tunnel.

“The progress we’re seeing today is only the first of many exciting milestones we’ll experience in 2016,” MTA CEO Phillip A. Washington said. “In March, the Gold Line Foothill Extension to Azusa will open and in late spring we will cut the ribbon on the Expo Line extension to Santa Monica. These developments demonstrate that investment in transportation moves our county forward now and in the future.”