What needs to happen before VTA light rail service returns

It’s been six weeks since the deadly mass shooting at the Valley Transportation Authority light rail yard in San Jose. The lack of the three routes linking east, west, and south San Jose is impacting riders dependent on that service.

"I always ride the light rail. I’m depending on the light rail all the time. Because I have to go to work," said VTA rider Olymeia Taisacan.

She would normally ride VTA’s light rail line up North 1st Street, to get to work at a San Jose casino. But without that service, she says she now walks an hour in the wee hours of the morning, to make it in on-time, because the bus doesn’t run that early.

"Pretty much (of an inconvenience)," she said. "I liked it better (relying) on public transportation."

VTA’s light rail service has been shut down since May 26. That day, Sam Cassidy entered the Guadalupe light rail yard and killed nine co-workers before taking his own life.

"It’s been a few weeks now where we have had employees given time off to grieve and attend funeral services. And many of those have concluded. And now it’s time to work the plan to bring back light rail service," said Brandi Childress, a VTA spokeswoman.

She said the authority is using a five-phase plan in hopes of resuming service by the end of July.

The first phase, finished last week, had some of the 300 yard employees return to collect personal items. Phase two is identifying and repairing damage done to two buildings within the yard. And hiring new employees to fill roles vacant following the murders. The third phase will see employees returning to work, and engineers inspecting equipment and lines. The fourth phase is running trains to complete testing without passengers, and service would resume in full in the fifth phase.

"We still have a team that can rise, and will rise to the occasion," said Childress. "We have a number of employees that just want to help and get back to providing the public service that we owe our communities. Because after all that is why VTA is here."

The news of a sooner-not-later return to service is welcome for riders such as Taisacan, who only has bus service for the return trip home from work, but another long walk in the coming days..

"I don’t go back to work until Thursday," she said.

Once service is back, VTA officials will determine the frequency of the trains. They’re also considering demolishing and rebuilding the two structures at the yard that were damaged in the mass shooting.

A public memorial for the nine victims of the mass shooting will be held July 18.