(Photo courtesy of Metro)

Get ready to ride the rails on Friday, May 20.

Metro officially announced the opening day of the Expo Line at a press conference in Downtown Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon saying the line would be a boon to the region.

The $1.5-billion, 6.6-mile light-rail project from Culver City to Santa Monica will have seven new stations: Palms, Westwood/Rancho Park, Expo/Sepulveda, Expo/Bundy, 26th Street/Bergamot, 17th Street/Santa Monica College and Downtown Santa Monica.

The first phase of the Expo Line between downtown Los Angeles and Culver City opened in 2012 and when the second phase opens, train trips between downtown Santa Monica and downtown L.A. will take 46 minutes.

“Metro is in the midst of a region-wide transit revolution,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas. “With two rail lines opening this spring and three others under construction, as well as massive highway modernization projects underway, we are easing congestion and changing commuting patterns in all corners of the County.”

Local and Metro officials said the opening will be significant for commuters.

“With the Expo Line Phase 2 to Santa Monica, we have a great example of how Metro is expanding and organizing our transportation network to better serve our region and help ease traffic,” said Metro CEO Phil Washington. “We can safely say that without the taxpayer support of Measure R we would not be standing here today. We’re proud of delivering another great project to help us in our daily commutes.”

Mayor Tony Vazquez said he thought the Expo line could have the highest ridership in the county.

“When you think about it there are 250,000 [people] on any given day in Santa Monica; cause we’re such a job center,” he said. “And now with this, when you talk about [sic] we’re a heavy service industry and most of those folks that work at the hotels they take the bus or they are driving the biggest pollutants. Now we’ve got an opportunity to actually put them on something that is going to be clean, safe and on time. So I’m excited about it.”

City Hall is working on several Expo preparation projects and staff provided updates to Council on Feb. 23.

“I will say that there has been a lot of work that has happened thus far,” said Debbie Lee Communications & Public Affairs Officer for the City of Santa Monica. “We’ve been working on this for many, many years, and we’ve also been working very, very diligently towards preparing as best we can for the arrival of the train.”

There are currently seven groups of city staff associated with Expo, including public safety, first/last mile connection, traffic circulation, maintenance/operations, maintenance yard/buffer park, commuters/riders/outreach and launch/opening day.

Santa Monica Police Lieutenant Dave Hunscke said public safety employees have been training for the last year. Firefighters and police officers have incorporated train-specific incidents into their education programs and local officials are partnering with regional authorities to ensure safety.

“My experience with Metro and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department has been outstanding to date and we really look forward to working with them in the future,” he said.

Staff said the city has several transportation projects in place to facilitate Expo ridership including the Breeze bikeshare, rerouted bus lines, evening bus service and the future arrival of a city-authorized carshare program.

Current traffic patterns, including restricted left turns on Colorado, will remain in place when the train arrives. Testing of trains will continue up to opening day with increasing frequency. Staff said the final days of testing would have trains running on a regular schedule.

Work at Buffer Park has begun thanks to the completion of the adjacent expo maintenance facility. The property was recently transferred from the construction authority to Metro and the park space was handed over to the City. Minor preparation work has begun on the site and staff said more significant work would begin in mid-March. Naming of the park and the possible renaming of Stewart Street Park will be before the Parks and Recreation Commission in March with the goal of opening the new park in 2017.

Outreach efforts are ongoing for all elements of the Expo with more than 65 safety presentations conducted in the last year. Staff will ask council to approve a contract with a marketing company soon to continue outreach efforts.

Santa Monica is planning celebratory events tied to Expo’s opening. The city will host a formal ribbon cutting on opening day and staff said they are working on an open streets event for sometime in June.