VTA Light Rail Trains Return, Passengers Are Next, Possibly This Week

Drivers and pedestrians were surprised today by flashing lights warning them to stop for light rail trains humming along Silicon Valley routes. Another surprise? No passengers.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority began to run trains along selected test routes on Aug. 24, in preparation for restoring passenger service as early as the end of the week.

At a a late-morning news conference, Carolyn Gonot, the general manager and chief executive for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, updated plans for resuming service on the light-rail line shut down since the deadly mass shooting May 26 at the VTA rail yard near downtown San Jose in which nine employees were killed by a coworker.

The authority was proceeding cautiously, sensitive to concerns from workers and complaints from employee unions about the lingering trauma among workers two months after the killings. Still unresolved is what is to become of the rail yard where workers lost their lives.

VTA says today’s return of light rain trains to their tracks indicates the system is making progress implementing a phased plan to restart light rail service. The current “Phase 3” involves track inspections, employee recertification and retraining and lastly, trains out on the tracks.

“These trains are not in service for customers but the system is considered ‘live.’ “ the VTA reported on its website. Operators, along with supervisors and support staff, are running test trains from the Guadalupe yard to Baypointe Station in North San Jose along North First Street.

“Safety on the tracks is paramount,” the system warned.

“Not having trains running for the past three months may have led bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists to let their guard down around tracks. We urge the public to keep an eye out for trains and maintenance vehicles on the tracks. Everyone near the system should stop, look, and listen for activity,” the website cautioned.

Phase 4 of the plan, expected to last one or two days, also includes test trains only, with no passenger service,allowing train operators to run their regular route without support staff in the cab.

“Passenger service, which is Phase 5, is expected to begin towards the end of this week,” the VTA statement read.

In the meantime, VTA is offering substitute bus service along First Street in San Jose, from the Paseo de San Antonio Station to Baypointe Station, then over to the Milpitas Transit Center along Tasman Drive. The bus service will serve all the light rail stations along the way, and will operate every 30 minutes on weekdays from 5:30am to 8:30pm, and hourly on weekends from 7am to 7pm.

Fares will not be collected for this temporary solution which will continue until light rail service has been restored.

In a special effort “to ensure employees feel safe, secure and confident to return to their jobs,” employees will be informed of changes such as interim work locations, new processes or procedures and security measures.

Light rail operators this week are operating trains in non-revenue service with no passengers before operating in revenue service, as power and signal check out their new work location and visually inspect the line rather than start actual inspections or repairs.

“VTA’s priority is to put our people first while also achieving the goal of providing critical transit services to our community,” the website report continued.
“We ask that you keep in mind that the reopening of light rail service is a significant process considering the work that we are putting into making sure our employees are ready to return,” it continued.

Three decades of journalism experience, as a writer and editor with Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Lee newspapers, as a business journal editor and publisher and as a weekly newspaper editor in Scotts Valley and Gilroy; with the Weeklys group since 2017. Recipient of several first-place writing and editing awards, California News Publishers Association.


  1. I still like that other guys’ idea of just shutting down the unused and unneeded service permanently. Give the “workers” 5 years salary and OT and just let them stay home as severance for those years. Or they can go get a real job and make triple pay for 5 years. Turn the 1900’s era trolleys and metal rails over to recycling. Taxpayers will save billions of dollars. No one even remembers that we had a VTA trolley anymore anyway. No one will miss anything. Traffic will flow better without the empty trolleys taking priority over road traffic. Not using electricity on empty trolleys is good for the environment. Shutting this unused service down is clearly the green thing to do. And with the 5 year sabbatical for the existing “workers” there it is a win win all around.

  2. Four to six people will be grateful, I know.

    (That’s patrons, not rolling home dwellers technically without homes.)

    Closure and conversion to cycle tracks or true bus expressway lanes (keeping overhead electrical to support electric buses), either might serve more people. This isn’t Westwood-Van Nuys, or in and out of LAX.

  3. Yeah, it’s a sad waste seeing the empty trains roll by. I’m convinced the windows were darkened so that outsiders would have trouble seeing the emptiness.., really, given the valley’s climate and topography, the train right of way repurposed as bike lanes would be been an efficient and cheap way for bicyclists to get around safely…

  4. We are glad to hear this news. We use it for commuting. The pandemic has caused fewer riders, but that will change soon. It’s a great way to get around with fewer vehicles of all types clogging up the roadways.

  5. New York City subways and other mass transit was not shut down for four months after 9/11 . It’s necessary for the survival of New Yorkers and transit workers got up and carried on as the ER people did, as everyone did. Yet those workers are all unionized too. We must have every sympathy for the people present at the event, but converting Light Rail into a social services agency for four months and abandoning the vital control center, very expensive to reconstruct, is not acceptable. Having to reconstruct the control center and rewire the system would shut everything down for more than four months.

    We live in disaster-prone California. Will transit and all other services just shutdown if we have The Big One? The long shutdown needs to be investigated in detail and a report published, with actual names redacted. Emergency plans for other functions have to be similarly investigated. When emergency plans may endanger the public they have to be changed, or the function privatized or eliminated.

    I have used the Light Rail myself for a couple of contracts and it is a great convenience. Further, the population and commercial building density in the county is increasing rapidly making the service more viable. But if it’s not reliable, who would use it?

  6. As was noted repurposing the VTA right of way as a bike trail would likely multiply the number of users by 100 to 1000 times… and possibly a lot more. That is a really really good idea. Plus, after the conversion, it requires little maintenance and a lot less electricity. Brilliant.

  7. I can not believe they would think of shutting down rail yard … maybe create a memorial for victims of the shooting

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