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We’re Making Progress Fixing Aging Infrastructure


The state of good repair is a priority for VTA as it is for rail systems throughout America. And as it is for those other rail systems, age is a challenging foe. VTA is making great strides in assuring our system is safe, reliable and able to move at the intended speed.
In an effort to rehabilitate our aging infrastructure, VTA has been repairing trouble spots on the light rail tracks that have caused our service to run at a slower pace or where equipment has reached the end of its useful life. We are down to two more repair projects in the current budget cycle. There are more projects slated for next year. It’s the reason you may have noticed so many shutdowns along parts of the system, with bus bridges providing temporary service during construction.
VTA maintains approximately 80 miles of trackway and 61 stations. The first set of tracks through downtown San Jose opened for service in 1987. The next 21-miles opened in 1991, with four more extensions opening between 1999 and 2005. Like any decades-old infrastructure, upkeep and maintenance are critical.

Aside from the trackway, the concrete at intersections and in-between the rails takes a pounding over time which has a direct impact on the embedded rail in downtown San Jose and at intersections all along the alignment. Steel crossover connecting pieces, called "frogs" wear over time, and depending on the use and impact of light rail vehicles, may require replacement.
Maintenance workers on light rail tracks along First St. in San Jose 
The overhead wires don't last forever either. Depending on the speed and frequency of the trains, the natural sag of the wires, and the friction of the pantograph, some areas wear faster and may require replacement. Our light rail cables and rails are outdoors, exposed to the elements day in and day out. At VTA, we inspect the track and overhead wires regularly. If parts need to be replaced, it can sometimes take several months to secure them.
VTA refers to the light rail repair program internally as “Rail Rehab.” There are locations on our light rail network that are currently identified as still usable but needing repair, called “slow zones”, where trains can still run safely at below the designated speed. 
With needed repairs recently completed in 2017 at Capitol Station near the Capitol Expressway Auto Mall, on First Street and 2nd Street near Santa Clara Street, three slow zones were removed from the list and trains can now run up to normal speed in these areas. For pedestrian safety, the designated speed in the downtown stations like Paseo de San Antonio is 10 mph. Rail Rehab work at Old Ironsides, Karina, San Carlos, Ohlone/Chynoweth, and near Whisman station has kept VTA engineers, construction contractors, communications, scheduling, Ambassadors, and bus routing staff busy this year.

Because a light rail car can hold 150 passengers, whereas a bus can carry only up to 60 passengers, operating a bus bridge during rail shutdowns is challenging. We offer multiple buses for each light rail load depending on ridership. We impact fewer riders when we do rail construction on the weekends. We hope this information will help our riders understand why, in some places, the light rail trains can move at a good clip, and in other locations speeds are noticeably reduced. We also want the public to know why we periodically need to shut down service for repairs.
We thank you for your patience as we work to keep your public transportation in tip-top shape.

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