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Metro Is Digging The Purple Line Under Beverly Hills. That's A Job For Harriet and Ruth

From left, former Santa Monica Mayor Pam O'Connor, Metro Board Member Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, Ruby Santamaria, Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch, Hans Smallwood and Metro CEO Phil Washington. (Gary Leonard, Gary Leonard)
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We give names to ships, space shuttles and even our cars (shoutout to Goldie Hawnda, my trusty sedan). But the mining industry also has a long tradition of naming the machines that dig underground tunnels.

Los Angeles Metro kept that tradition going this week with the announcement of the names chosen for the two Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) that will carve the next section of the $9.8-billion, nine-mile Purple Line rail extension project.

The machines are named Harriet and Ruth, after legendary abolitionist Harriet Tubman and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The name ideas were submitted by local students and voted on by the public.

Last week, Section 1 of the project had a breakthrough -- literally. One of the two TBMs working on that phase, this one named Soyeon, reached Metro's Wilshire/Western Station in Koreatown, connecting it with the future Wilshire/La Brea Station.

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Harriet and Ruth will start at the future Century City Station and drill about 2.5 miles east through Beverly Hills.

Metro expects to get started on the new subway section early next year. Each TBM is about 10 school buses in length, weighs approximately 1,000 tons and moves at a blistering 4 inches per minute (roughly a snail's pace), according to Metro.

One of the two Tunnel Boring Machines that will drill underneath Beverly Hills to extend Metro's Purple Line. (Courtesy Metro Los Angeles)

Once they're assembled and begin drilling, they'll tunnel five days per week, 20 hours per day and take approximately two years to complete their work. They'll be tunneling a depth range from 50 to 120 feet underground.

"Tunnel boring machines are like a giant cheese grater that go underneath the earth and grate a layer of dirt," said Metro spokesman Dave Sotero. "Then that earth is taken on a conveyor belt to the end of the [TBM] and then put on trucks."

The work has faced heavy opposition in Beverly Hills, including protests and lawsuits, and even an attempt to kill the project by lobbying the Trump administration to pull federal funding.

One area of contention is that the TBMs will dig under Beverly Hills High School and officials there claim drilling could set off a methane gas-fueled explosion, because the school is built on an old oil field.

(Courtesy Metro Los Angeles)

Metro's environmental studies deemed the project safe.

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The Beverly Hills School District has spent an estimated $16 million fighting Metro, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), which is currently suing the district for documents related to lobbying the White House.

Metro also held an art contest, asking local students to mark the second leg of the project with their creative flair. This is the winning student art piece that will adorn the TBMs as they dig, depicting the Metro subway zipping underneath Beverly Hills High School. It will also be featured on a forthcoming commemorative TAP card.

This winning art submission from third-grader Hans Smallwood will adorn the TBMs -- and be featured on a limited edition Metro TAP card. (Courtesy Hans Smallwood via Metro Los Angeles)

The third and final section of the subway line will connect Beverly Hills to Westwood and is expected to be completed in 2027.

Emily Henderson contributed to this story.