The light rail COA is recommending:
1. Trains on the Santa Teresa - Alum Rock line would run non-stop between Ohlone/Chynoweth and Convention Center. Trains on the Almaden line would continue north to Mountain View and serve all stops. Trains from Winchester would turn back in Downtown San Jose. This operating plan is feasible with the current infrastructure.
VTA wants trains from Winchester to end in Downtown San Jose because the Vasona line has two single track segments and most stations there have two-car platforms. It costs $135 million to double track the entire line and lengthen the platforms, which could be avoided if VTA were to route trains from Almaden to Mountain View instead.
2. If BART is built to Berryessa, trains would run from Alum Rock to Mountain View during peak hours, with express service between Old Ironsides and Mountain View (a stop at Lockheed Martin). During off-peak hours, trains would run between Old Ironsides and Alum Rock. This operating plan requires adding another track in Mountain View.
What got dropped?
1. Double tracking on 1st Street in Downtown San Jose to speed up service - This idea is opposed by downtown businesses.
2. 4th Street station at SJSU - VTA considered an idea to have trains from Winchester to end at a new station on San Carlos and 4th Street, rather than having the trains run on 1st and 2nd streets. The cost for a new station is $20.6 million and would have 1400 extra riders, which is lower than having those trains run on 1st and 2nd streets.
What's still left?
VTA has drafted a list of "independent" improvements, which can be funded and constructed individually under any operating scenario. Those improvements include grade separation at 1st and Montague, fencing along 1st Street, a new station at Great America ACE (to replace Lick Mill and Great America stations), etc.
What is surprising is that VTA is anticipating 81,900 weekday riders on light rail in 2018 without adding additional service. VTA assumes land use changes and downtown growth would contribute most of the increase.
When it comes to projecting future ridership, it appears that the light rail planning staff have smoked the same joint as the BART-to-flea market staff. Today, light rail averages 34,305 weekday riders, which means light rail ridership is to be grown by 138% in 8 years!
In reality, between 2000 and 2008, light rail ridership has increased by about 32%, which included additional riders from system extensions. The light rail system has added 45% in route miles within that 8 years. It is ironic that on one hand, the planning staff are using phony projections for ridership, and on the other hand, budget staff are using more realistic projections for finances.
The most important question is how much the new service would cost. VTA is estimating that the express service would add $2.5 million to $3.5 million per year (about 5-6% of the current light rail operating budget). The BART-related service would add $7.3 million per year (about 13% of the current budget).
This COA is a planning document and no immediate service change is expected when VTA board approves this report. What this COA will do is to provide directions to staff for pursuing outside funding and for future service planning.