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Delayed again: BART to San Jose, Milpitas sets June opening target

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At least one thing hasn’t changed

An under-construction train station, with red lettering reading “Berryessa.”
Berryessa Station in San Jose
Photo by Pi.1415926535

With budget shortfalls and empty trains, BART has endured weeks of terrible news, but the beleaguered transit agency has one bright spot on the horizon: Train service will finally begin on the long-delayed Milpitas and North San Jose/Berryessa stations this year.

But not until June—two months later than the most recent optimistic estimate, and a full six months after what BART once framed as an absolute, drop-dead deadline at the end of 2019.

At Thursday’s BART Board of Directors meeting (held virtually), BART’s Assistant Chief Engineer Shane Edwards updated board members about the still-ongoing project. Progress is ongoing, and Edwards said training for drivers at the new stations began on Monday.

Service is still months away, with multiple layers of testing and certification to come. Edwards particularly cited the importance of getting a timely thumbs up from the California Public Utilities Commission, and the commission could potentially hold up completion even longer if they deem the new stations need additional safety tests.

It’s just one more hold-up for a project already years behind schedule. BART and the South Bay-based Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) radically altered testing schedules late last year in a bid to make good on promises of BART service to San Jose in 2019, but ultimately that fell through.

Conservative estimates at the time suggested an April opening was possible, but now that’s off the table too.

Edwards says that the ongoing COVID-19 emergency (which is costing BART tens of millions of dollars) is not to blame for the delays, and that BART crews are working in small groups to maximize social distancing. Workers falling ill would mean “a major change in the schedule,” Edwards said, but thus far no one has reported sickness.

The 10-mile, $2.3-billion extension of the lines that currently end at Warm Springs Station broke ground in 2012. Once upon a time, BART hoped to rides to San Jose in 2015—heady times.

VTA projects that by 2030 roughly 20,000 passengers will use Milpitas Station each day, and 25,000 will pass through Berryessa Station, the first of the planned San Jose stops. A further six-mile extension into San Jose has yet to begin construction.

In other BART news, trains are now running 30 minutes apart on weekdays, the latest in a string of service reductions the system has made in response to the collapse in ridership since March, with ridership down to just six percent of what it was in February.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, BART Assistant General Manager Pam Herhold warned the board that even after shelter-in-place orders lift that ridership may not return to previous levels, and that future budget shortfalls are possible.