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Light rail returning to LA areas that lost it in '50s; international airport still unconnected

A Metro Expo line train passes dedication ceremonies for the Metro/LAX light rail transit line at Crenshaw and Exposition Boulevards in Los Angeles' Crenshaw district, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. When completed the line will connect the Metro Exposition and the Green lines. a distance of just over eight miles. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

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A Metro Expo line train passes dedication ceremonies for the Metro/LAX light rail transit line at Crenshaw and Exposition Boulevards in Los Angeles' Crenshaw district, Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014. When completed the line will connect the Metro Exposition and the Green lines. a distance of just over eight miles. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Trains are busting out all over the city that long ago crowned the car king.

The expansion of Los Angeles' public rail network continued Tuesday with the ceremonial ground-breaking for a $2.1 billion project that will bring light rail to some of the sprawling region's poorest neighbourhoods for the first time since streetcars were ripped out in the 1950s.

Speakers including U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said that when the tracks open in 2019, historically black areas would see fresh vitality and economic opportunity.

"Folks who have been transferring buses three or four times a day to get to work may soon be able to find a job right down the street," Foxx told a crowd of several hundred.

Soon after a round of speeches, construction equipment began to demolish a nearby school that will be replaced by one of eight new stations on the 8.5-mile line.

An important part of the conversation was a missing mile — the mile between the closest new station and Los Angeles International Airport.

Many world cities have extended rail service directly to passenger terminals. In Los Angeles, the plan is to build the Crenshaw/LAX project while transportation planners sift through various proposals to connect the new line to the airport with a yet-to-be-designed — or funded — people mover.

"LAX, here we come," was the refrain from members of a local troupe, who entertained the crowd Tuesday while dancing in reflective vests and hard hats.

Not quite yet. That light rail-airport connection is projected for 2028. In the interim, passengers likely would transfer to shuttles to reach the terminals.

The Crenshaw/LAX line becomes the third active rail expansion funded by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Most of the funding comes from local sources, principally a sales tax increase that Los Angeles County voters approved several years ago. The balance is a mix of federal and state grants or loans.

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Follow Justin Pritchard at https://twitter.com/lalanewsman

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