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Metro tunnels are one of the safest places during an earthquake, officials say

By Rachel Garcia
Published: Wednesday, August 15, 2012, at 08:58AM
Boarding the Metro Red Line at 7th / Metro Station Eric Richardson / blogdowntown

Riders board a Red Line train at 7th / Metro station in Downtown L.A.

Every weekday Derek James takes three different trains from his home in Burbank to his job at USC, passing through subway tunnels along the way. He seemed discomforted at the possibility of an earthquake hitting during the underground portion of his daily commute.

"I don't even want to think about being down here during an earthquake," James said while standing in the Metro tunnel at 7th and Flower.

However, Metro officials say tunnels are one of the best locations to find yourself when a quake strikes.

"Tunnels are the safest place during an earthquake because tunnels move as one unit with the ground," explained Murthy Krishniah, executive director of Transit Project Delivery for Metro.

L.A. Metro tunnels were designed in 1984 based on criteria developed by Metro engineers and the California Institute of Technology. Taking into account local fault lines, the structures were designed to withstand up to magnitude 7 earthquakes. The structures' test came in 1994 with the 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake, which the tunnels withstood without damage, Krishniah said.

In the event of significant shaking, underground recording centers are notified. The auto-setting in the system brings the trains to a complete stop, then reduces their speed to 5 mph or less, said Scott Norwood, emergency and preparedness manager for Metro.

Following large earthquakes, engineers inspect the tunnels, looking for cracks and other damage to the structures. Metro tunnels have not been significantly damaged due to past earthquakes, according to Krishniah.

"[During an earthquake], I would rather be in a subway tunnel than anywhere else," Norwood said.

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