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State Orders Metro to Replace Section of Expo Line Track

State utility and transportation regulators ordered local transportation officials to replace a stretch of faulty track where the Blue Line and recently opened Expo light rail line meet downtown, it was announced Tuesday.

The California Public Utilities Commission also ordered the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to finish installing an automatic train protection system near the intersection of Flower Street and Washington Boulevard downtown.

Regulators are worried that a southbound Blue Line train might derail as cars make a slow, but sharp 90-degree left turn onto Washington.

Metro staff noticed last fall that wheels on some Blue Line cars were experiencing excessive wear at the junction, commonly referred to as a frog.

Crews added a separate piece of metal to try and fix the problem, but at least two breaks were detected in the new weld, according to Emory J. Hagan, head of the CPUC’s Consumer Protection and Safety Division.

In a letter sent Friday to Metro CEO Art Leahy and Expo Construction Authority CEO Rick Thorpe, Hagan criticized the officials for not immediately notifying regulators of the cracks.

Hagan also said the automatic train protection system, which notifies operators of potential problems, has not been working — in violation of conditions set in March for opening the $930 million Expo Line.

Officials opened a truncated, 7.9-mile stretch of the Expo Line, including the junction, from downtown to near Culver City in April. A second station has since opened in Culver City.

“Our concern is with the safety of your light rail vehicles,” Hagan wrote.

Local transportation officials sought to assure riders that the trains are safe.

“We want to assure the public that Metro and the Expo Construction Authority have been monitoring these issues for some time, and at no time was safety ever compromised,” Leahy and Thorpe said in a joint statement. “Trains have made over 100,000 trips through this junction area traveling less than 10 miles per hour.”

The officials said the section of track in question was fixed on Friday, and they have been complying with orders to do visual and ultrasonic inspections of the track.

“Daily inspections will continue while we resolve this issue with the CPUC,’’ their statement said. “Metro and the Expo Construction Authority will ensure the work is performed to the highest standard and will accept nothing less.”