VTA Light Rail
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VTA Light Rail
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail
VTA logo 2017.svg
VTA light rail san jose penitencia creek station.jpg
A Santa Teresa-bound VTA train waiting at Penitencia Creek Station
LocaleSanta Clara County, California
Cities: Campbell, Milpitas, Mountain View, San Jose, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale
Transit typeLight rail
Number of lines3
Number of stations62[1]
(plus 4 planned)
Daily ridership47,300
(Q4 2018)[2]
Annual ridership8.5 million
WebsiteSanta Clara Valley
Transit Authority
Began operationDecember 11, 1987[1]
Operator(s)Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority
Reporting marksSCCT
Number of vehicles99 Kinki Sharyo light rail vehicles
(low floor)[1]
Train length90-270 feet (27.43-82.30 m)
(1-3 LRVs)[3]
System length42.2 mi (67.9 km)[1]
Track gauge [3]
ElectrificationOverhead lines, 750 V DC[3]
Top speed55 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 Q3 2018 is 28,800 passengers;[4] the greatest daily average recorded over a month was 37,536 in June 2008.[5]

Current service


VTA Light Rail Car
Interior of a VTA Light Rail Vehicle
Average Daily Ridership, San Jose, Light Rail, Jan 2002 thru Nov 2016

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

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. When BART inaugurates service from Fremont's Warm Springs Station to San Jose's Berryessa district , this VTA line will connect with BART's Milpitas Station at VTA's Montague Station. 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

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 operated between Baypointe and Santa Teresa stations. This service, with three trips each in the morning (to Baypointe) and in the afternoon (to Santa Teresa) stopped at every station, with nonstop service between Convention Center and Ohlone/Chynoweth stations. This service offered free WiFi on board, and fares were the same as other local light rail services.[7][8] On August 2, 2018, the VTA Board voted to discontinue Commuter Express service effective October 8, 2018 to reduce operating costs.[9]

Mountain View-Winchester

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

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. As of April 2019, VTA has planned to discontinue the line due to low ridership and in favor replace it with bus lines 64a and 83.


Santa Clara Station in Downtown San Jose.

Unusually for light rail systems in the United States, most VTA Light Rail stops are made by request. Similar to VTA's bus network, passengers must be visible to the operator while waiting at stations, and must notify the operator using the bell before the train arrives at their destination. Trains will typically skip stops (other than line termini) if no one is waiting on the platform and no one requests to disembark.[10]


As of January 2019, the fare for one single ride for adult passengers is $2.50. This fare is standard for both Light Rail and Bus transit, and is good for two hours of travel. No transfer fees between light rail vehicles are required, but upon inquiry riders must provide a proof-of-payment.[11]Passengers without a ticket could be fined up to $250, under Penal Code 640.[12]

Clipper cards

Monthly passes loaded onto Clipper cards are also valid on Light Rail.[13]

Rolling stock

From 1987 when the system was launched until September 2003, the system was served by a fleet of high-floor light rail vehicles (LRVs) built by Urban Transportation Development Corporation and designated ALRV.[14] The original high-floor fleet was leased to investors (for a 33-year term, starting in 1998), and then subleased back to VTA. In May 2003, VTA sub-subleased the UTDC LRVs to other light rail operators for an initial 13-year term, with a renewal term of 9 years; VTA retains responsibility for LRV operation, maintenance, and insurance.[15] 29 were sent to Utah Transit Authority (UTA, $5.2 million rental payments),[16] and 21 were sent to Sacramento Regional Transit (RT, $4.1 million rental payments). In September 2013, RT exercised its option to purchase the 21 sub-leased vehicles at $1,000 each.[17] UTA subsequently exercised its purchase option for the 29 sub-leased vehicles in 2017.[18] 28 of the UTA vehicles, renumbered 1042-1069, were sold at auction on December 26, 2017.[19] The UTA cars were withdrawn from service in 2018.

In 2002, VTA introduced new Kinki Sharyo low-floor LRVs. The Kinki Sharyo LRVs are equipped with a low floor over 70% of the passenger area at 14 in (356 mm) above top-of-rail (ATOR), with the remaining high-floor area 35 in (889 mm) ATOR and up to three LRVs may be coupled into a single train.[20] The low-floors initially operated only on the Tasman West line (Downtown Mountain View to I-880/Milpitas) because their floor height only matched the 14-inch (356 mm)[21] platform height along that line. After VTA reconstructed platforms along North First Street from the Japantown/Ayer stop northward (with wooden ramps provided for the lead car's front door elsewhere), VTA replaced the entire fleet in 2003 with low-floor LRVs. Currently, all stations provide level boarding at all doors.

VTA Light Rail Vehicles
Type Car numbers Manufacturer Built Image Into service Status Seats/
Total capacity
High-Floor LRV 801-850 Urban Transportation Development Corporation 1987 Salt Lake City LRV 1066 - ex-San Jose and still in Santa Clara VTA livery (2011).jpg 1987 Retired 2003 67/155 50
Low-Floor LRV 900-999 Kinki Sharyo 2001-2005 VTA Tasman Station (August 11th, 2005).jpg 2002 In service 64/170 100
VTA Light Rail Vehicle comparison
Parameter UTDC high-floor/ALRV[14][22] Kinki Sharyo low-floor[20]
Length[a] 88 ft 6 in (26.97 m) 90 ft (27 m)
Width 8 ft 8 in (2.64 m) 8.67 ft (2.64 m)
Height 12 ft 5 in (3.78 m) 11.08 ft (3.38 m)
Weight 98,700 lb (44,800 kg) 99,980 lb (45,350 kg)
6/1 6/2
Motors 4×190 hp (140 kW),
2 motors/powered truck
Wheels 26 in (660 mm) dia.
Bochum 84
Capacity 50-75 seated
180 standing
65 seated
Max Speed 55 mph (89 km/h) 62 mph (100 km/h)
Acceleration 4.4 ft/s2 (1.34 m/s2)
Deceleration 5.1 ft/s2 (1.56 m/s2)
  1. ^ Over couplers

Historic fleet

VTA also maintains a small historical fleet of streetcars, which are free to ride in History Park at Kelley Park.[23]

VTA Historical Fleet[24]
Type Car numbers Manufacturer Built Image Notes Ref.
Streetcar 1 Sacramento Electric 1905 Used in Sacramento (1903-06) and Santa Cruz (1906-23). Discovered as derelict in Santa Cruz in 1985. Seats 36. 39 ft × 12.4 ft × 8.25 ft (11.89 m × 3.78 m × 2.51 m) (L×H×W) and 38,000 lb (17,000 kg). [25][26]
73 Jewett Car Company 1912 Built in Newark, Ohio and was owned and operated by San Jose Railroad. Used as a house in 1934 along with Car 124. Seats 36 with 20 standing. 43.5 ft × 11.25 ft × 8.5 ft (13.26 m × 3.43 m × 2.59 m) (L×H×W) and 38,000 lb (17,000 kg). [25][27]
124 American Car Company 1912? Built in St Louis, Missouri and was owned and operated by San Jose Railroad. Used as a house in 1934 along with Car 73. [25]
143 St Louis Car Company 1922 History San Jose (16858105417).jpg Built in St Louis, Missouri and was operated in Fresno. Designed by Charles Birney. [25]
168 ? 1934 Built in Portugal and operated in Porto; moved to San Jose in the early 1980s. [25]
531 Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board 1928 Retired from Melbourne Trolley system in the 1980s and purchased in 1986 for $30,000. Seats 48 with 40 standing. 48 ft × 10.5 ft × 9 ft (14.6 m × 3.2 m × 2.7 m) (L×H×W) and 38,000 lb (17,000 kg). [25][28]
2001 Officine Meccaniche Lodigiane [it] 1928 Originally from Milan, Italy and donated in the mid-1980s. Seats 40 with 44 standing. 44.3 ft × 10.6 ft × 7.75 ft (13.50 m × 3.23 m × 2.36 m) (L×H×W) and 40,000 lb (18,000 kg). [25][29]

Major accidents and incidents

Virginia station derailment

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. VTA ruled out mechanical or equipment failure as a cause for the accident.[30] An investigation indicated human error ("the train traveling southbound stopped over the switch and reversed, which are violations of operating rules").[31]

Lincoln Avenue collision

On July 8, 2018, at around 12:34 p.m., a northbound single car light rail train collided with a car in the Lincoln Avenue crossing near Auzerais Avenue on the Mountain View-Winchester Line. Two occupants of the car were killed. The train operator was taken to a hospital according to standard operating procedures. The twenty passengers on the train were not seriously injured. The lead segment of the train (934B) left the tracks and knocked down a pole supporting the LRT catenary wires.[32]

Rail infrastructure


VTA Light Rail corridor history

The VTA light rail system consists of multiple rail corridors, mostly double-tracked, with overhead catenary wires. The Guadalupe Corridor was the first, opened to revenue service in four stages between 1987 and 1991; the short Almaden Corridor was also opened when Guadalupe was completed in 1991.[33] The first major expansion opened in 1999, extending the rails via the Tasman West extension to Mountain View.[33] Mountain View is the second connection between VTA light rail and Caltrain, after the Tamien station was added to the Guadalupe Corridor in 1990.

In 2000, voters approved Measure A, which promised the construction of a Downtown/East Valley light rail line, connecting downtown, San Jose City Hall, and San Jose State University via a new alignment along Santa Clara Street, meeting the Capitol line at Alum Rock station and then turning south to Eastridge Mall. Measure A also provided funds to develop plans for two new light rail corridors.[34] Other potential corridors that were studied using Measure A funds included:

  • Sunnyvale/Cupertino, extending south from the Tasman West corridor
  • Santa Teresa/Coyote Valley, extending south from Santa Teresa station
  • Stevens Creek Boulevard, extending west from downtown San Jose
  • North County/Palo Alto, extending north from Downtown Mountain View station

The Tasman East extension pushed into Milpitas by 2001, and was completed in 2004 along with the Capitol extension, which extended the line east to Alum Rock station.[33] The first phase of the Vasona extension was completed in 2005, extending the VTA light rail line from downtown San Jose through Campbell to Winchester. The Vasona extension mostly followed the Union Pacific right-of-way and also added a third connection to Caltrain at San Jose Diridon.[33]

Since 2005, no new lines have been added to the system, but VTA has proposed several more. By 2007, VTA was planning for the Downtown/East Valley route along Alum Rock and Santa Clara to Downtown San Jose (either by rail or bus),[35][36] and the Capitol Expressway extension south from Alum Rock.[37]

The extensions with the most complete plans are the Capitol Expressway extension (phase 1, to Eastridge) and completion of the Vasona extension (phase 2, to Vasona Junction).[33] VTA completed most of the Vasona extension in 2005, and planned to begin construction on the light rail extension along Capitol Expressway in 2012. However, VTA lacked sufficient funds to build the Santa Clara / Alum Rock corridor as light rail. That route as well as another route along El Camino Real/Monterey Road, will instead be built as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).[6] With the completion of the Berryessa phase of the Silicon Valley BART extension, the first connection between BART and VTA light rail will be at the Montague (to be renamed Milpitas) station.

Service history of VTA light rail corridors[33][38][39]
Corridor Phase Opened Terminus 1 Terminus 2 Length Stations Ref.
Guadalupe 1 December 10, 1987 Old Ironsides Civic Center 6.8 mi (10.9 km) 12 [40]
2 July 17, 1988 Civic Center Convention Center 1.8 mi (2.9 km) 5 [41]
3 August 17, 1990 Convention Center Tamien 1.6 mi (2.6 km) 3 [42]
4 April 25, 1991 Tamien Santa Teresa 8.6 mi (13.8 km) 8 [43]
Almaden N/A Ohlone/Chynoweth Almaden 1.1 mi (1.8 km) 2
Tasman West N/A December 17, 1999 Old Ironsides[a] Downtown Mountain View 7.6 mi (12.2 km) 16 [44][45]
Tasman East 1 May 2001 Baypointe I-880/Milpitas 1.9 mi (3.1 km) 2
2 June 24, 2004 I-880/Milpitas Hostetter 2.9 mi (4.7 km) 4 [46]
Capitol N/A Hostetter Alum Rock 3.5 mi (5.6 km) 4
Santa Clara / Alum Rock N/A TBD San Fernando Alum Rock 4.3 mi (6.9 km) 11 [35][47]
Vasona 1 October 1, 2005 Convention Center Winchester 5.3 mi (8.5 km) 8 [48]
2 TBD Winchester Vasona Junction 1.5 mi (2.4 km) 2
Capitol Expressway 1 TBD Alum Rock Eastridge 2.4 mi (3.9 km) 3 [47][49]
2 TBD Eastridge Capitol 5.7 mi (9.2 km) 6 [47][49]
  1. ^ Baypointe station and Champion infill station were added as part of Tasman West project.

Proposed reconfigurations

Light Rail Efficiency Project (2010)

Planned reconfiguration of lines after Light Rail Efficiency Project and proposed extensions

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.[50] These were eventually bundled with other capital improvements into a larger Light Rail Efficiency Project, which resulted in two completed sub-projects:[51]

  • Santa Clara Pocket Track and Double Crossover, which added a third track on Tasman
  • Mountain View Double Track, which double-tracked the line between Mountain View and Whisman

The original scope of the Light Rail Efficiency Project included the following planned improvements:[52]

  • Reconfiguration of lines:
    • Red Line (Mountain View - Alum Rock), connecting Caltrain (at Mountain View) with a new Milpitas BART station (at Montague), as the sub-project Northern Express
    • Blue Line (Santa Teresa - Alum Rock), expanding the pilot Commuter Express to an all-day service bypassing stops between Convention Center and Ohlone/Chynoweth, as the sub-project Southern Express
    • Green Line (Almaden Local), extending the Almaden Shuttle all the way to Mountain View
    • Purple Line (Winchester - Downtown San Jose), slightly extending the Vasona extension north to St. James, where passengers would transfer to Blue or Green Line trains
  • System speed improvements to prioritize transit signals and increasing vehicle speeds from 35 to 45 mph (56 to 72 km/h) along North First Street
  • Special event service along the new Red Line to bypass certain stops for peak commute hours and connections to Levi's Stadium

The planned improvements would result in predicted 23-30% reductions in travel times at a total cost of $60 million. The Light Rail Efficiency Project was anticipated to complete in 2017.[52]

Next Network Project (2016-17)

Planned reconfiguration of lines after Silicon Valley BART extension and proposed extensions

On January 5, 2017, VTA published the Draft Transit Service Plan as part of the Next Network Project to update routing and frequency with the anticipated commencement of BART service to San Jose. Light rail and bus operations would be reconfigured to provide increased ridership, serving high-ridership areas with shorter headways and decreasing service to low-ridership areas.[53] Lines would be referred to by colors, starting in Fall 2017:[54][55]

  • Orange Line: Mountain View-Alum Rock (new service)
  • Blue Line: Alum Rock-Santa Teresa (matching existing service)
  • Green Line: Old Ironsides-Winchester (truncating the existing Mountain View-Winchester service to Old Ironsides station)
  • Purple Line: Ohlone/Chynoweth-Almaden (matching existing Almaden Shuttle service)
  • Yellow Line: Commuter Express (existing Commuter Express service will gain a separate designation, and service doubles to six trains during commute hours)

New Transit Service Plan (2019)

Planned reconfiguration of lines in late 2019 after completion of BART Berryessa extension

The New Transit Service Plan was developed from the 2017 Next Network Project. Lines would be renamed in accordance with the prior Next Network Project, with two exceptions: the new Blue Line would be truncated at Baypointe, and service on the new Purple Line would be discontinued entirely and replaced with a new bus route. Proposed lines are:[56]

  • Orange Line: Mountain View-Alum Rock (new service)
  • Blue Line: Baypointe-Santa Teresa (truncating the existing Alum Rock-Santa Teresa service to Baypointe)
  • Green Line: Old Ironsides-Winchester (truncating the existing Mountain View-Winchester service to Old Ironsides station)
  • Purple Line: Ohlone/Chynoweth-Almaden (discontinuing the existing Almaden Shuttle service)

In addition, two stations would be renamed: Montague would be renamed to Milpitas upon completion of the new intermodal station for the Berryessa BART extension, and I-880/Milpitas would be changed to Alder to avoid confusion with the renamed Milpitas intermodal station.[56]

In 2018, VTA began installing Orange Line signage at stations in anticipation of the route reconfiguration.[57]

Planned extensions

Proposed stations for Santa Clara / Alum Rock Corridor. Speculative names based on prominent features or intersecting streets (2003).[58] 
  •  Existing stations 
  •  Proposed new stations 

Alum Rock
Five Wounds (28th, walk to future Alum Rock BART station)
Roosevelt Park (21st)
San Jose Medical Center (16th)
City Hall/SJSU (6th)
Transit Mall/Santa Clara (transfer)
McEnery Park
San Fernando
St. James
Paseo de San Antonio
Convention Center

Downtown East Valley project

Using Measure A funds, VTA planned to add two new light rail corridors and provide BRT services from downtown San Jose south along Monterey Road. The two new corridors would be:[47][59]

  • Santa Clara / Alum Rock, running generally southwest along Alum Rock and Santa Clara from Alum Rock station to San Fernando, using single-car service.[35]
  • Capitol, running south from Alum Rock station along Capitol Expressway, then connecting to the existing Guadalupe Corridor at Capitol station (near the intersection of SR 87 and Capitol Expy), using two-car trains.[49]

The projected headway for both lines was 10 to 12 minutes.[35][49] The Santa Clara / Alum Rock Corridor also would have added two additional connections to the BART extension.

Vasona light rail extension

In 2005, VTA extended light rail service to Winchester station, completing most of a proposed light rail extension to Los Gatos, California.[60] 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.[60] 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

The first phase of the light rail extension originally proposed as part of the Downtown East Valley project would continue south of the Alum Rock station to the Eastridge Transit Center. Running on an elevated median along Capitol Expressway, it will be designed to provide a competitive commute time to driving on the corridor.[49] In 2012, VTA finished improving pedestrian and bus conditions on Capitol Expressway, with new sidewalks, bus shelters and improved landscaping. Eastridge Transit Center was rebuilt in 2015. Two stations are included in the plan: 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. VTA approved the final environmental impact statement of this segment in June 2019, with construction expected the following year and passenger service in about 2025.[61]

The second phase of extension would travel south of Eastridge along Capitol Expressway into South San Jose, adding a fourth connection to Caltrain at Monterey Road (Capitol), terminating at VTA's Capitol station.[62]


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