Culver City Expo Line station

After months of delays over the past six years and a jaw-dropping $260 million over budget, Metro pushed its Exposition Line passenger service all the way to Culver City today, offering a brisk ride from Downtown L.A.’s 7th Street Metro Station in a mere 30 minutes — a freeway deal-breaker with speeds sometimes topping 50mph.

Expo's controversial Farmdale station also opened with LAPD and Metro security keeping close watch on the tracks that lie smack up against Dorsey High’s property line. The real test of the tight-fit crossing will come this Fall when the kids are back in class.

But passengers taking advantage of opening day’s free rides seemed delighted. One man happily handed out copies of the old Red Car track map. Happier still were folks in Culver City pubs this evening celebrating the long-awaited return of light rail to their town at the citywide Summer Solstice Happy Hour.

Even without service to Culver City, more than 11,000 rode the Expo on average every weekday in May, some 9,000 on Saturdays and 7,000 on Sundays. Still, it's early. Over the past two years, Gold Line passenger loads have increased by 10,000 riders on weekdays while nearly 8.5 million rides happen monthly on the entire Metro rail system.

Today, the massive, ground-level free parking lot adjacent to the Culver City station was virtually empty, ready to swallow up cars as locals experiment with their new transportation alternative and new residents move in, lured by a fast, hassle-free commute to the City Center.

There were a few minor hiccups including some jolting fits and starts on clear stretches of track. The automated P.A. announcer got hopelessly lost somewhere around La Brea, calling out the wrong stations all the way down the line, helpfully corrected by the baffled engineer. At the 7th Street Metro Station, another recording told passengers the train would only run as far as La Cienega. Oops.

And there was the horn-happy engineer blasting away on the trip downtown and most likely pissing off everyone living along the right of way. Quite a few homes near the tracks have had their windows upgraded with double-pane glazing — but not all. Riding back to Culver, a different engineer never honked once. A Metro spokeswoman claimed she’d investigate.

But it was a great day for mass transit in the City of Angels. Just wait until Expo leaps across Venice Boulevard, making a 6½-mile beeline to the corner of Colorado and 4th Street in Santa Monica by 2016. Construction on the $1.5 billion project has already begun with crews smoothing out the old Southern Pacific rail bed that carried L.A.’s first-generation light rail. Here’s a 1911 shot of the Red Car station in what would become Culver City six years later. Back to the future. All aboard!