A Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail train travelling northeast towards downtown San Jose killed two people when it smashed into a car travelling north on Lincoln Avenue today at 12:33 pm. The Mercury News reported that witnesses said that “the car ran through the train tracks while the barrier was down and collided with the light rail.”
The VTA train, moving at over 50 miles per hour, instantly crushed the car and its two occupants, and pushed the wreckage about 120 feet northeast down the tracks from Lincoln Avenue. The impact caused both cars of the two-car electric train to completely derail from the tracks but remain upright.
A video from a surveillance camera at Hapa’s Brewing Company shows the VTA train and crushed car grind to a sudden halt in front of an outdoor patio filled with customers. None of the twenty passengers on board the train reported injuries, nor did anyone else in the brewery or on the street at the time.
“I was there at Hapa’s when this happened,” commented resident Sarah Simpson on a thread in the Facebook group Willow Glen Neighbors. “I thought a bomb went off.”
While in this case VTA can easily blame a scofflaw motorist for the crash and resulting deaths because “the barrier was down”, the agency has a long and shameful track record on light rail safety, killing people regularly in collisions and then taking no action to prevent future deaths. One of the most shocking deaths was that of 14-year-old Danika Tyler Garcia, mowed down by a VTA train in January 2014, just one mile southwest of today’s crash, at Stokes Street next to Del Mar High School where Garcia was a student. VTA blamed Garcia for her own death, saying she didn’t heed the approaching train’s horn, and then refused to install pedestrian gates at the rail crossing on the south side of Stokes Street.
The light rail deaths continue. A VTA train struck and killed a bicyclist in July 2017 and two pedestrians in December 2017. VTA continues to pour billions of dollars into expanding highways for more car traffic rather than investing in simple and low-cost safety improvements for its light rail system. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is Chair of the VTA Board of Directors, which determines the agency’s priorities and expenditures.