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.