VTA's light rail return plans consider balancing employees and community's needs

Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority's board of directors heard plans Tuesday to resume light rail service, with the goal of getting it back up and running by the end of this month.

This comes after a mass shooting at their light rail yard killed nine back in May. Now, VTA is trying to balance their employees’ needs, with the needs of the community.

It's been weeks since the mass shooting at VTA's Guadalupe yard. Consequently, it's also been weeks since any light rail trains have been running.

VTA officials say that's about to change.

"So the timelines we have are estimates. We hope to get back by the end of July. That's what our goal is," says VTA spokesperson Stacey Hendler Ross.

It's a goal they're on track to meet. They have a six-phase plan that's well underway.

And Tuesday board members, and the brand new CEO worked through the details.

"There are two particular critical elements: one is the infrastructure and one is the people," says Hendler Ross.

Phase 1: identifies alternative work locations.

Phase 2: moves people into the new sites, evaluates employee readiness, and involves hiring where needed. That's all happening now.

Phase 3: comes next and is the testing of equipment.

Phase 4: is running the trains without passengers to complete testing.

And 5: is the resumption of service.

There is now a Phase 6: the hopeful return to pre-pandemic service levels.

"We understand that it is taking longer than most people would like. But we want to make sure that our employees are well prepared to be able to go back to work and that our system is prepared to be able to run," says Hendler Ross.

Riders say while it has been frustrating, they have compassion for the workers who have been through so much: Not just a shooting that killed nine, but the pandemic too.

"I completely understand it's very hard to get around when you're going to certain places without light rail and it can take a lot longer but you have to think about what these employees are going through," says Monica Mallon, a VTA rider and transit advocate.

She says she's pleased with their plan and progress.

"I'd be really happy with that. As long as it's before San Jose State starts I think we'll be in good shape," she says.

Another part of the discussion involves where work will happen.

There are now some interim sites in place. A new permanent yard could be two to five years away, depending on whether they decide to remodel the existing site or raze it completely.