Coronavirus Impact: VTA suspends light rail service indefinitely after employee tests positive for COVID-19

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- All VTA light rail service has been suspended indefinitely Wednesday night after the transit agency learned of a light rail operator trainee tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Parking lots were empty and not a single person was seen waiting on the platforms at the Santa Teresa VTA station in San Jose Thursday morning.

"We acted swiftly, broadly and immediately to shut down the light rail service," said Ken Blackstone, spokesperson for VTA.

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A release from the agency states light rail service was shut down at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday night while six trains were still in operation.

The transit agency said the employee who tested positive for COVID-19 is a light rail operator trainee who worked in the classroom and shadowed on some rail cars. His supervisor stressed the trainee had limited interaction with the public.

As of Thursday morning, 60 light rail operators and dozens more maintenance staff were placed on leave as the transit agency works to determine more information about the infected employee.

"They were told to stay home indefinitely and our communications are on-going with our employee," said Blackstone.

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Some employees have been told to quarantine for two weeks, said ATU Local 265 President John Courtney.

ATU Local 265 is the union that represents rail operators and maintenance staff.

Courtney said he's been fielding a number of concerns from his union members.

"We're kinda like machines. We work all day, we come home, we protect ourselves as much as we can, but what are we bringing home? We don't know" he said.

A release by VTA mentions that there were light rail cars that were set aside for this potential scenario, but given ridership has dropped by 82% since Santa Clara County enacted a shelter-in-place order, the decision was made to suspend rail service altogether.

The transit agency is now asking for riders to depend on bus service until further notice.

VTA announced earlier this week that effective Monday, March 30, there would be significant cuts to bus and rail service, prioritizing routes to hospitals, food banks, and shelters.

For a list of changes click here.

RELATED: Everything to know about San Francisco Bay Area's shelter-in-place order

Now as dozens of VTA employees are waiting to learn the next steps in regards to their own safety and when they might be back to work, union leaders are hoping for continued transparency.

"We stand with our riders, we stand with our members. We will do what we need to do to get through this" said Courtney.

Courtney added that he also plans to speak to local government officials to try an add transit operators to the list of essential workers who receive preferential coronavirus testing (like police, firefighters, and medical staff) to ensure that VTA employees aren't inadvertently passing the virus on to riders.

Go here for the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus.

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