Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority light rail

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Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail
Santa Clara VTA logo.svg
VTA light rail san jose penitencia creek station.jpg
A Santa Teresa-bound VTA train waiting at Penitencia Creek Station
Locale Santa Clara County, California
Cities: Campbell, Milpitas, Mountain View, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale
Transit type Light rail
Number of lines 3
(plus 1 peak hour express line)
Number of stations 62[1]
(plus 4 planned)
Daily ridership 33,600 average weekday riders
(Q1 2013)[2]
Annual ridership 10.486 million (2012)[3]
Website Santa Clara Valley
Transit Authority
Began operation December 11, 1987[1]
Operator(s) Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority
Number of vehicles 99 Kinki Sharyo light rail vehicles
(low floor)[1]
Train length 90-180 feet (1-2 LRVs)[4]
System length 42.2 mi (67.9 km)[1]
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
(standard gauge)[4]
Electrification Overhead lines, 750 V DC[4]
Top speed 55 mph (89 km/h)[1]
System map
VTA light rail system map

VTA Light Rail (reporting mark SCCT) is a light rail system serving San Jose, California and its suburbs in Silicon Valley. It is operated by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, or VTA, and consists of 42.2 miles (67.9 km)[1] of network comprising two main lines and a spur line on standard gauge tracks. Originally opened in 1987,[1] the light rail system has gradually expanded since then, and currently has 62 light rail stations in operation on the three lines. VTA operates a fleet of 99 Kinki Sharyo Low Floor Light Rail Vehicles (LFLRV) to service its passengers.[1] The system's average weekday daily ridership as of Q1 2013 is 33,600 passengers,[2] having peaked at 37,536 in August 2008.[5]

Current service[edit]


VTA Light Rail Car
Interior of a VTA Light Rail Vehicle

VTA operates 42.2 miles (67.9 km) of light rail route on 3 lines.[1] There are 4 major corridors of light rail which the lines run on. The first and most important is the Guadalupe Corridor in South San Jose along CA-87 north to Tasman Station, which runs through Downtown San Jose and the business areas of central and North San Jose. It is serviced by two lines, making frequency along this corridor around 7.5 minutes. Other corridors include the Tasman East/Capitol Corridor in East San Jose, the Mountain View/Tasman West corridor in Northwest Silicon Valley, and the Winchester corridor, which services communities in Campbell and West San Jose. Frequency along these corridors are around 15–30 minutes.

All the lines and the corridors they run through are designed to move commuters from the suburban areas of Santa Clara Valley into the major business areas in Downtown, the Santa Clara County Civic Center, and the high-tech and office areas of northern Silicon Valley. Light Rail also serves to connect commuters/travelers to the San Jose International Airport, Diridon Station and the transit systems it serves: (Caltrain, ACE, the Coast Starlight, the Capitol Corridor); and moves LRT riders to and from Silicon Valley, the Greater Bay Area, and beyond. Eventually BART and California High Speed Rail will connect with light rail and the other rail systems served by Diridon Station.

Alum Rock–Santa Teresa[edit]

Designated as 901, this line runs from the Alum Rock Transit Center in east San Jose near Alum Rock to Santa Teresa station in the Santa Teresa neighborhood of San Jose, passing through Milpitas and downtown San Jose on the way. There are 36 stops on this line. South of downtown San Jose, the line operates in the median of State Route 87 and 85. A proposed future expansion will extend the line past Alum Rock along Capitol Ave. and Capitol Expressway to the Eastridge Transit Center, which would effectively duplicate (and possibly replace) the current service by the 522 bus line along this corridor.[6]

Commuter Express light rail service[edit]

Introduced in October 2010 as a complementary service to the Alum Rock–Santa Teresa light rail line, the weekday, peak-period only Commuter Express light rail service currently operates between Baypointe and Santa Teresa stations. This service, with three trips each in the morning (to Baypointe) and in the afternoon (to Santa Teresa) stops at every station, with nonstop service between Convention Center and Ohlone/Chynoweth stations. This service offers free WiFi on board, and fares are the same as other local light rail services.[7][8]

Mountain View–Winchester[edit]

View of the Hamilton Station.

Designated as 902, this line runs from Downtown Mountain View station in Mountain View through Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, and San Jose along Tasman Drive, North First Street, Downtown San Jose, and the Southwest Expressway on its way to its terminus at the Winchester station in western Campbell. It has 37 stops, 14 of which are shared with the Alum Rock–Santa Teresa Line. To reach San Jose Diridon Station (interchange to Amtrak and commuter rail services) the line tunnels under the station and rail yard. South of Diridon Station, the line travels alongside Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks en route to Winchester.

Almaden Shuttle[edit]

Designated as 900, this is a 3-stop spur from the Ohlone/Chyoweth station to Almaden station at the Almaden Expressway in the Almaden Valley. The Ohlone/Chynoweth station provides connection to the Alum Rock–Santa Teresa Line, the intermediate stop serves the Westfield Oakridge mall, and the Almaden station connects to VTA bus service. The shuttle, which runs a single 1-car train, takes about 4 minutes to travel between Ohlone/Chynoweth and Almaden. This line has one track, with sidings at Almaden and Ohlone Chynoweth.


Santa Clara Station in Downtown San Jose.


As of August 2012, the fare for one single (120 minute) ride for adult passengers is $2.[9] This fare is standard for both Light Rail and Bus transit and can be used for a total of 90 minutes on light rail vehicles. No transfer fees between light rail vehicles are required, but upon inquiry riders must provide a proof of payment. Passengers without a ticket will be fined up to $250.[9]

Clipper cards[edit]

Main article: Clipper card

Monthly passes loaded on to Clipper cards are also valid on Light Rail.[10]

Rolling stock[edit]

A Kinki Sharyo Low Floor Light Rail Vehicle in Tasman Station, used by VTA since 2002
UTDC-built high-floor light rail vehicle, used by VTA from 1987 to 2003, pictured later in Salt Lake City but still wearing an old Santa Clara paint scheme

From 1987 until September 2003, the system was served by a fleet of high-floor light rail vehicles built by Urban Transportation Development Corporation. In 2002, VTA introduced new low floor light rail vehicles by Kinki Sharyo into the fleet. The low floor vehicles initially operated only on the Tasman West line (Downtown Mountain View to I-880/Milpitas) because the vehicles' floor height matched the platform height only at that line's stations and was only able to provide level-boarding there. In 2003, after VTA reconstructed platforms along North First Street from the Japantown/Ayer stop northward (with wooden ramps provided for the leading car's front door at all other stations), VTA replaced the entire fleet with low-floor light rail vehicles. Of the high-floor light rail vehicles, 29 (802–830) were sold to Utah Transit Authority and 20 (831–850) were sold to Sacramento Regional Transit, with the remaining car retained as a wrecker. Currently, all stations provide level boarding at all doors.

VTA Light Rail Cars
Designation Car numbers Manufacturer Year of Manufacture First used Retired No. of Seats/
Overall Capacity
Low-Floor LRV 900–999 Kinki Sharyo 2001–2005 2002 In service 64/170 100
High-Floor LRV 801–850 Urban Transportation Development Corporation 1987 1987 2003 67/155 50

Major accidents and incidents[edit]

Virginia station derailment[edit]

On March 21, 2008, at approximately 7:10 p.m., a southbound 2-car light rail train derailed just north of the Virginia station. Four people, including the train operator, were injured, and the train was heavily damaged. At the time of the accident, trains were operating on a single track through the area because of construction at three nearby light rail stations. The train involved was attempting to switch between tracks when it derailed. The investigation into the accident is ongoing, but the VTA has ruled out mechanical or equipment failure as a cause for the accident.[11]

Future service plans[edit]

Proposed new system alignment[edit]

In 2009, VTA included plans for new light rail line configuration as part of its Short Range Transit Plan. The plan calls for the Almaden spur line to be integrated into the entire light rail system, with trains from Mountain View terminating at Almaden instead of Winchester. Trains from Winchester would instead be rerouted to terminate in a loop around the Downtown San Jose transit mall. Additionally, the Santa Teresa-Alum Rock line would be elevated to an express line, skipping stops between Ohlone/Chynoweth and Convention Center. VTA is currently testing the feasibility of running full-time express trains in between these stations with its current Commuter Express service. This plan would improve on-time reliability for riders on both the corridors between Tasman and Mountain View, and Convention Center to Winchester. In the long term, VTA plans to also add a new line from Old Ironsides to Alum Rock to shuttle future BART riders, which would skip unpopular stops west of Tasman Station, and run to Mountain View at peak hours.[12]

VTA has also proposed to fully name light rail lines by line color. Currently, VTA only refers to lines by their route number, or by their destination.

Track and station improvements[edit]

VTA has considered plans to increase the overall speed of its light rail system. These include adding fences along track on North First Street, which would increase speed along this corridor to 45 mph, and a new Great America station to better facilitate transfers to commuter rail.[12]

Planned extensions[edit]

In 2000, voters approved Measure A, which was to provide funding for two new light rail corridors.[13] Some of the proposed corridors were through office parks in Sunnyvale and Cupertino, an extension further into Santa Teresa and to Coyote Valley, Stevens Creek Boulevard, El Camino Real, and routes in North County and Palo Alto. However, VTA ultimately opted to build line going through Campbell to Winchester and the Vasona Junction, a route along Alum Rock Avenue to Downtown San Jose, and an extension along Capitol Expressway.

VTA completed most of the Vasona extension in 2005, and plans to begin construction on the light rail extension along Capitol Expressway in 2012. However, VTA lacked sufficient funds to build light rail along Alum Rock Avenue. The originally planned light rail route in Alum Rock, as well as one on El Camino Real, will instead be built as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).[6]

Vasona light rail extension[edit]

In 2005, VTA extended light rail service to Winchester station, completing most of a proposed light rail extension to Los Gatos, California.[14] The Vasona Light Rail Extension would complete the original proposed extension. The additional extension is 1.57 miles long and will run alongside Union Pacific Railroad lines. Construction will include lengthening of platforms at the Winchester, Campbell, Hamilton, Bascom, Fruitdale and Race stations. Two new stations (Hacienda and Vasona) will be constructed with the entire project costs projected to be $157 million.[14] The VTA Board of Directors approved a Supplemental Environment Impact Report in February 2014[1]. The construction schedule is dependent upon available funding.

Capitol Expressway extension[edit]

This extension will run on an elevated median on Capitol Expressway. It will be designed to provide a competitive commute time to driving on the expressway, which is generally considered one of the most congested traffic corridors in Silicon Valley. VTA will first improve pedestrian and bus conditions on Capitol Expressway, which is currently taking place, and will complete in late 2011. When finished, it will include new sidewalks, bus shelters and improved landscaping.[15] VTA will then commence the first phase of the light rail extension, which will continue south of the Alum Rock Station to the Eastridge Mall's Transit Center. This construction is planned to begin sometime in 2012. There will be two stations: Story Road and Eastridge, with an optional intermediate station at Ocala Avenue. The pedestrian improvements and first phase of construction is expected to cost $60 million. The second phase of extension will travel south of Eastridge into South San Jose, and will connect with VTA's Capitol station. [16]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "VTA Facts - Light Rail System Overview" (pdf). Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "APTA Ridership Report - Q1 2013 Report" (PDF). American Public Transportation Association (APTA) (via: May 2013. Retrieved 2013-06-22. 
  3. ^ "APTA Ridership Report - Q4 2012 Report" (PDF). American Public Transportation Association (APTA) (via: March 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-13. 
  4. ^ a b c "Santa Clara - Valley Transportation Authority - Technical Data" (pdf). Kinkisharyo International, LLC. Retrieved 3 March 2013. 
  5. ^ "VTA Ridership Hits Record High". Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority. Retrieved 2008-08-09. 
  6. ^ a b "Downtown East Valley Project". Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  7. ^ "VTA introduces Commuter Express Light Rail service". Retrieved 2012-08-02. 
  8. ^ "VTA Commuter Express". Retrieved 2012-08-02. 
  9. ^ a b "VTA Fares - Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority". Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-02. 
  10. ^ "Wondering how to make the move to Clipper?". Clipper Cards. Retrieved 2012-08-01. 
  11. ^ Swift, Mike (2008-03-23). "'Mechanical causes' Unlikely in Derailment". San Jose Mercury News. Retrieved 2008-03-26. 
  12. ^ a b "Projects, Studies and Programs: Light Rail System Analysis - Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority". Retrieved 2012-08-02. 
  13. ^ "" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-08-02. 
  14. ^ a b "Projects, Studies and Programs: Vasona Light Rail Extension Project - Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority". Retrieved 2012-08-02. 
  15. ^ "Projects, Studies and Programs: Capitol Expressway Light Rail Project - Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority". Retrieved 2012-08-02. 
  16. ^

External links[edit]