Eleven days before the Metro Expo Line begins service to Santa Monica, a host of dignitaries and elected officials got a sneak peek at the line today as they rode a test train from Culver City toward the coast.

The Expo Line Phase 2 extension between Culver City and downtown Santa Monica is scheduled to open May 20. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was among those riding the train, and he said the route is a throwback to “what my grandparents used to do which is get on the Red Car and go to the ocean.” When the 6.6-mile line opens, it’ll be the first time rail service has carried passengers to the beach since the 1950s, officials said. The $1.5 billion extension will stretch the Expo Line from its current terminus near Venice and Robertson boulevards in Culver City to a station at Colorado Boulevard and Fourth Street in downtown Santa Monica. The extension includes seven new stations, including stops in Palms, West Los Angeles and the area just north of Santa Monica College. When the extension is opened, the Expo Line will stretch from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles, ending at the Seventh Street/Metro Center Station at Seventh and Flower Streets. Riders at that station can connect with the Blue, Red and Purple lines, taking them to Long Beach, Union Station, North Hollywood or the mid-Wilshire area. Metro officials said the ride from Santa Monica to downtown Los Angeles is expected to take 46 minutes. Metro will offer free rides on the route on May 20 and 21 to introduce passengers to the new line. Garcetti said he expects the line to be one of the Metro system’s most popular, far exceeding the anticipated passenger count of 30,000 riders a day. “We think it could be probably 40 to 45 thousand, and my prediction is it’ll go well over 50,000,” Garcetti told KNX Newsradio. “The nice thing about a train is we can add capacity. We’re running every 12 minutes to begin with, but if we need to run it every 10 minutes or every eight minutes, we can build that capacity as the ridership surges so that you’re never going to be in a crowded car, but you’ll be able to get in there and get where you need to go.”