New BART Cars Show Agency is on the Right Track

New BART car arriving in California. Image: BART.
New BART car arriving in California. Image: BART.

BART seems to be digging itself out of a month’s worth of power problems and delays on the Pittsburgh/Bay Point Line. But, no doubt, it’s only a matter of time before BART gets slammed again, given the age of its fleet. Indeed, its rolling stock is so old, the agency is reduced to searching for spare parts on eBay.

That’s why a good-transit-news-starved media was abuzz with the arrival of the first of BARTs new cars. Dubbed the “Car of the Future,” they boast more doors (for faster loading and unloading), more comfortable seats, better seals to keep them quiet inside, and–one hopes and assumes–far more reliability. According to a BART release:

BART is now one step closer to providing much needed capacity relief with the arrival of its first new train car now set to begin a crucial onsite testing phase. The first train car was unveiled today at BART’s testing facility in Hayward, marking the beginning of the arrival of a new fleet of 775 train cars over the next five years.

“This next testing phase is critical to having safe and reliable new train cars,” said Board President Tom Radulovich. “As these new cars arrive and get approved for passenger service, we can finally start running longer trains. That’s something every line on our system needs right now. In fact, the need is so great we’ve been able to get the manufacturer to increase the monthly delivery rate from 10 cars per month to 16 per month, putting the final car delivery 21 months earlier than the original schedule.”

It's subtle to the untrained eye, but rail experts say the standard, tapered wheels of BARTs new cars will reduce wear and improve performance. Image: A still from BART's promotional video
Wheels on the new cars have a tapered profile more like standard train wheels. Experts say this is more efficient and quieter. Image: BART promotional video

Replacing cars isn’t going to solve all of BART’s problems. BART’s electrical infrastructure and computer control systems also date back to the 1970s and need to be replaced. But BARTs problems are about more than just wear and mileage. An exposé done by NBC spells out how well-meaning, young, and ambitious engineers back in the 1970s set out to metaphorically (and, to an extent, literally) re-invent the wheel. BART advanced rail technology such as regenerative braking–wherein energy from braking trains is recouped and used to accelerate other trains. But all of the new technologies came at a cost: nobody knew how they would hold up over the long run. The Nixon-era engineers were doing a long-term experiment and we are the Guinea pigs.

John Zuspan is a train-and-track specialist with over forty years of railroading experience on systems all over the world. Moving forward, he warns transit leaders to heed the lessons of the past and be wary of engineers who abandon tried-and-true practices. “Look out for engineers who think they have the best thing since sliced bread, claim something will last forever or say ‘we know what we’re doing so everybody else shut up,'” he said, referring to historic attitudes that lead to BART’s modern meltdowns.

But Nick Josefowitz, a BART Director representing parts of San Francisco, in his editorial supporting a complete BART upgrade, argues against bemoaning the engineering decisions of the past. “Now is not the time to point fingers at the mistakes made by previous generations, but to throw ourselves into tackling the problems they have left us to secure BART for future generations,” he wrote.

BART wheels have a flat surface where it makes contact with the rail. Image: BART promotional video
“Conventional” BART wheels have an unusually flat surface which increases rail wear and noise. Image: BART promotional video

Maybe so, and, clearly, upgrades need to be made regardless. Some of the larger and more infamous decisions made by the original designers–going with a wider, nonstandard track gauge, for example–simply can’t be fixed. That would require changing all the rolling stock, replacing 100 miles worth of rails, and rebuilding every station platform.

But in the future, BART will have to consider: if it builds a second Transbay tube, should it abandon its odd-ball standards and instead adopt a platform, track, and voltage that will allow it to share tracks with an electrified Caltrain. A white paper from the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) recommended this as an option to consider for a second Transbay tube and extension. Ratna Amin, Transportation Policy Director for SPUR, said BART has to consider decoupling the “BART” brand from BART technology.

That’s a long-term vision. In the short term, as BART rebuilds its core, it should also standardize whatever it can. It seems to be moving in that direction. For example, it’s impossible to miss the howling noise generated by BART trains. Zuspan blames that on rail “corrugation”: when train wheels slip, they cause small rippling deformations in the rails. Over time, this results in inefficiencies–and noise.

So why is BART noisier than other trains? One of BART’s “innovative” design features left over from the 1970s is its cylindrical wheels. Nearly all other trains in the world use tapered, slightly conical wheels. Standard railroad wheels, because of the taper, naturally self-center the train between the rails. BART’s unusual wheel design, which was supposed to provide a more comfortable ride, actually just slips more and corrugates the rails faster, explained Zuspan. Thankfully, BART’s new cars, as seen in the picture above, have standard wheels. That, along with good track maintenance and better sound insulation, should finally eliminate BART’s  infamous howling sound.

There’s no way to turn back the clock, but by moving to off-the-shelf railroad parts wherever and whenever possible, BART can reduce breakdowns and failures and, when they do occur, get replacement parts and recover more quickly. And way in the future, the redundancy of a second BART tube will at least make it so when breakdowns do occur with BART’s remaining non-standard gear, the repairs will be a little more manageable. In other words, the BART of the future has to become less unique to become better.

  • RichLL

    “BART will have to consider: if it builds a second Transbay tube, should it abandon its odd-ball standards and instead adopt a platform, track, and voltage that will allow it to share tracks with an electrified Caltrain”

    Wouldn’t that make the new BART network incompatible with the old BART network? In which case it wouldn’t really be BART at all, but rather a completely new and different system. Which in turn would rule out any meaningful interchange with the existing BART system?

    If the solution to having two incompatible rail systems it to create a third system, then we’re really just compounding the current problem of incompatibility and inter-operability.

    For all its flaws, BART is the only real network we have. CalTrain and Amtrak aren’t networks because they both have just one line.

  • Track gauge is just one of the many areas that make BART incompatible with conventional rail. Platform height, car height, car width, turning radius, power, etc., all have to be the same for the systems to be interoperable, and none of those things is the same for BART and Caltrain (or Amtrak or ACE or whatever).

    Subways out in the rest of the world almost never interoperate with the conventional rail network, even where gauge is the same. There are almost always separate commuter/conventional rail networks and subway networks. Third rail power and short cars are preferable for tunneling; overhead wire power and double-decker cars preferable for long distances at-grade. Double-decker cars enable shorter platforms for the same number of people.

    Many of the decisions made by BART planners in the 1960s probably weren’t the right ones, and we might have done better to plan a smaller subway system that reached out less far into the outer areas, and a more extensive commuter rail system. And maybe the second Transbay Tube should try to remedy that. But this idea that BART would be so much more interoperable if they’d just made the tracks the same width apart is just untrue.

  • David

    The’ve already created an incompatible network, eBart is standard guage.

  • Andy Chow

    The thing was that the planners thought they could have a one size fits all rail system (and they meant a rail system as a hardware system). A single train system that operates in the urban cores and the suburban fringes. Perhaps this might be the product of the suburban sprawl mentality of the 60s and 70s.

    Rail systems now should be thought as a software system. Trains may be non-inter-operable, but still one logo, one brand, one ticket, one fare, and riders couldn’t tell a difference. If that’s the case, more rail can be build in more places using the most cost-effective method. Diesel trains can serve the suburban fringes rather than urban subway cars.

  • david vartanoff

    Yes, we are committed to BART’s non standard dimensions. So a second transbay tube –needed already; we need to start now–must be compatible with the existing network. That said, other mistakes are correctable. We need a small “short turn” relay capability just east of the portal from Lake Merritt Station. Coliseum Station needs a second platform and 3rd (preferably 4th) track to accommodate crowds leaving events. Bayfair also needs a second platform 3rd track so that trains from Pleasanton can more easily connect riders to Fremont/Warm Springs. Any new underground stations need to be shallower–one flight of stairs from the sidewalk to platform–faster, more convenient for riders and less wear and tear on escalators/elevators. These may seem small things but they effect the capacity of the system. Recent talk of Embarcadero being over capacity precisely relates to insufficient stairs/escalator throughput which is exacerbated by having to travel 3 flights to the sidewalk. Adding direct connections between the Muni and BART platforms would also increase circulation capacity. Provision for same was built into Civic Center but then closed off w/bars.

  • Andy Chow

    Only if you thought that BART should only be a system limited by its hardware and technology. Like everywhere else, transit systems are not limited to a single technology, but whatever it operates under its brand.

    So BART can merge with Caltrain, extend it to Oakland, connect with the legacy BART line, and you will be able to take BART from Pittsburg to Palo Alto via a 2nd tube with one cross platform transfer. It does mean Caltrain needs to install faregates and accept BART magnetic tickets? Well magnetic tickets are outdated too. Smart card based fare cards work with both faregates and proof of payment. BART and Caltrain can and should eventually go all-plastic.

    The same can be said about BART and Muni.

    There’s no requirement that all lines operated by one agency should be inter-operable, and that doesn’t necessarily translate to a high quality transit experience. If inter-operability requires more expensive hardware to be built in areas that don’t need it, and results in less transit that can be provided/built, that is bad for transit overall.

    Look at all the money spent on extending the legacy BART. I can say that they can expand rail with less costly technology such as light rail in more areas for the same price. Just stick the BART logo on the light rail.

  • It’s possible to build dual gauge railways that allow trains to share the same ROW. That’s what could probably be done in a second set of tunnels.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    As long as we’re shopping for a new pony, can we have more fare gates?

  • Andy Chow

    No. I don’t agree that 2nd tube needs to be BART technology. The primary reason is that there’s no 2nd BART core to connect to in Downtown San Francisco. Any of the ideas of it going under 3rd and then Geary, and then 19th Ave are all unfundable unbuildable independently, or co-currently with the 2nd tube.

    A Caltrain extension would however allows access to TBT (a downtown station within proximity to the two BART’s most busiest stations) and then to SOMA and beyond. A cross platform transfer in Oakland is all it is needed.

  • Andy Chow

    And eBART is something affordable enough that it can be extended all the way to Stockton, something that couldn’t be done with legacy BART.

  • Jimbo

    we need a new cross-bay bridge for cars and buses as well. why not add bart tracks onto an above ground bridge. 2 lanes cars, 1 lane buses, 2 lanes BART

  • John Zuspan is a train-and-track specialist with over forty years of railroading experience on systems all over the world. Moving forward, he warns transit leaders to heed the lessons of the past and be wary of engineers who abandon tried-and-true practices. “Look out for engineers who think they have the best thing since sliced bread, claim something will last forever or say ‘we know what we’re doing so everybody else shut up,’” he said, referring to historic attitudes that lead to BART’s modern meltdowns.

    Without engineers abandoning tried-and-true practices, there’d be no innovation and many things that are now considered “tried-and-true” only became that way because people experimented.

  • david vartanoff

    @Andy, no, we need both guages available transbay. That said, the redundancy of a second BART tube will obliterate the excuses for failing to run 24/7. That said, OF COURSE there should be a transbay connection from TBT(Port Authority Bus Terminal West) to the Cap Corridor tracks.

  • david vartanoff

    We already have THREE different rail routes to Stockton. We don’t need to build a fourth; we need to upgrade what we have and increase frequency.

  • There’s a difference between trying things out and building an entire system on unproven ideas.

    But maybe you’re right–the innovation of the eastern span, we wouldn’t have new ideas in how not to build things.

  • 94110

    The interesting thing about this article is it mentions BART as the first system to use regenerative braking, without providing evidence or going into how huge a feature it is these days on everything from trains, to hybrid taxis, to electric bikes.

    You could write a book about how regenerative braking has impacted the world, and instead the article chastises BART for trying new things.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    “In 1886 the Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company, founded by Frank J. Sprague, introduced two important inventions: a constant-speed, non-sparking motor with fixed brushes, and regenerative braking.”

  • 94110

    Well BART advanced it. I’m going to start advancing more things.

    Wonder what Rodger was trying to say there.

  • RichLL

    OK, wait, there’s Amtrak, ACE and what is the third service?

  • Ted King

    He might be referring to CAHSR which is currently under construction. Also, Sacto.’s LRV’s are getting close to Stockton’s northern border.

  • Dexter Wong

    In 1927, with the opening of the second Cascade Tunnel (in Washington state) by the Great Northern Railway, the first practical regenerative braking system was built to return electricity generated by braking trains to the powerhouse. (Previously electricity generated by braking trains was dissipated by running it to roof resistors which vented heat into the air. This is known as dynamic braking.)

  • ¤ Why are these new BART cars being driven from New York to California if BART has tracks that go all the way to Pittsburgh, which is in the state right next to New York?

  • @Jimbo – Not worth it, cars are very inefficient use of very expensive bridge capacity.

  • @Marven Norman – Correct in the abstract, but hasn’t panned out in the Bay Area for a long time. Fortunately(?) so much of the world has gotten so far ahead that we can adopt the tried-and-true and reap amazing benefits.

    Who knows, we might even figure out local and express service someday.

  • AndreL

    Insurance and costs of transportation for oversize loads. They are not the same gauge so they can’t just be pulled along normal tracks, they require plank cars etc.

  • neroden

    BART is finally fixing their wheel profile! After only 40 years! Thank goodness!

  • crazyvag

    Well, that doesn’t mean they can’t be loaded onto a flat car. Surely it can’t be cheaper to ship 700 oversize loads across the country vs via rail.

  • DragonflyBeach

    Caltrain has neither the frequency nor funding base (its mostly grant funded and farebox) to pull of BART-style service, even with electrification. And BART technology is ideal for this situation, which is close, metro-style service.

    Via the 2nd tube, new BART metro lines onto Geary and onto Lakeshore are ideal, and can be funded with large bond measures. BART’s suburban expansions that are miles long are quite expensive already.

    2nd tube can use Caltrain if need be, but first and foremost, the heaviest ridden system with the most frequent service and already well-established routes throughout the East Bay, should be first and foremost. And that’s BART.

    And honestly the rail gauge is not that big of a deal, nobody should be running foreign rolling-stock on BART routes that are already increasingly congested. The only issue with the gauge is that the train cars can be harder to order, but thats it.

  • Andy Chow

    Funding base and frequency are non-issues. Basically, the two agencies can merge and whatever funding mechanism that is used to fund BART can be used to fund running FRA compliant trains (which would have a BART brand). It is not as if somehow running FRA compliant trains are somehow significantly more expensive to run than proprietary broad-gauge trains, Nor would there be physical constraints that prevents a standard gauge corridor with grade separation from running trains as frequent as broad-gauge trains.

    The problem with the idea of BART under Geary and onto 19th is that there’s no way that under the current political and funding environment that it can be done before or co-currently with the 2nd tube. I also expect difficulty with building a rail yard in SF which would likely be required to support this. A Caltrain first 2nd tube would result in a more complete system much sooner.

    I certainly challenge the notion that “metro” service can only be accomplished with certain train designs. In Hong Kong, the East Rail line is now managed by the same agency that runs the subway (and is considered as a part of the subway network). Trains on the line use mainline railroad electrification (25kv AC, same as to be used by Caltrain) and actually share tracks with locomotive hauled intercity trains. Trains run as frequent as every 4 minutes.

    In Seattle, the new line between downtown and University of Washington is all subway, but uses light rail vehicles that can run on street median. The downtown tunnel is also shared with buses.

    Denver recently opened a new rail line between downtown and airport. Trains run every 15 minutes direct to terminal, so service level is comparable to BART at SFO. But the trains are FRA compliant, have grade crossings, and use mainline electrification (25kv AC).

    What I want to see is BART being more than a hardware system of broad gauge trains, but about a more diverse hardware systems that offers common experience (software). That’s where integrated fares and schedules, cross platform transfer, and ticketing technology comes in. (for example, BART’s stripe fare card system is incompatible with proof of payment, but that technology is old and should be replaced by smart card or smart phone technology that are compatible with proof of payment.)

  • DragonflyBeach

    If we’re talking about politically unfeasible things, merging BART with Caltrain (i.e. eliminating JPB) is dead on arrival. JPB isn’t giving up its own position. Thats a lot less likely than BART down Geary, which is put on a county-ballot, I’m very doubtful would fail. Even with Geary business owners making a fuss, SF would surely vote for that new routing. SF, by far, votes the most in favor of BART (as the recent bond polling for 2016 shows). And understandably so, because the area with the fastest, most efficient transit in San Francisco, is the Mission and Outer Mission segments of the BART line.

    And funding bases are very real issues, its the reason DTX wasn’t done in 2000. Caltrain’s lack of funding, and inability to have a tax structure, means the system is on rails just to barely maintain itself, let alone capital projects. Had Caltrain had BART’s county-tax base, DTX likely would’ve already been finished.

    ” co-currently with the 2nd tube”
    Absolutely, it can be done. It would be a multi-phase project. It would require multiple bond passings likely, but its again, unlikely SF or Alameda county would vote against it. And, it MUST be done. 2nd tube without BART metro routing would just be a billion-dollar convenience for Transbay Tube 1, which isn’t even at capacity yet. BART’s technology is ideal for close-range commuting.

    ” I also expect difficulty with building a rail yard in SF which would likely be required to support this.”

    Why would a rail yard be needed for a Geary route? No preliminary BART planning as indicated a necessary rail yard. And the Colma yard works fine, considering the 19th ave routing leads straight to it. The Geary Outer Richmond terminus could easily be a dead-end, turnback. No need for a rail yard. And if mechanical issues arise, again, Colma is well within range.

    ” A Caltrain first 2nd tube would result in a more complete system much sooner.”
    Firstly, I’m unsure if the East Bay has any interest in Caltrain. Secondly, Caltrain’s electrification isn’t even going to be much more frequent. Caltrain plans on running 30 min intervals WITH electrification. (I.e., BART Sunday service on the Bay Point line.) Caltrain is not a good model for metro-systems, but rather commuter rail. Thirdly, its seemingly unnecessary. If DTX and Embarcadero integrate, Peninsula commuters from the East Bay would just transfer there. Why toss another train underwater, build another expensive bore, for a small amount of commuters?

    “The downtown tunnel is also shared with buses”
    Right, and easily clogged. But seemingly not as clogged considering the infrequency of the light rails. SoundTransit’s model is not ideal.

    Running separate rolling stock on a single line, I don’t have an issue with. But that requires integration, and in the provincial strong Bay Area, that’s unlikely to happen. The Market Street subway is actually a stellar subway concept, having segregated trains on different levels, easily accessible. Its only issue is the lack of penalty free-transfers. Which could be accomplished with transit fare integration and a stairway exclusively between Muni metro and BART.

    “What I want to see is BART being more than a hardware system of broad gauge trains, ”

    I want to see that too, outside of the core. Having 3rd rail, Indian gauge trains is wasteful and expensive on suburban routes. It should’ve been catenary. 3rd rail requires frequent substations, which only work well in the urban core. Rail gauge was an engineering mistake, thinking trains might tip over turning overhead segments. Needed better center of gravity. Its an issue with future rolling stock, but gauge-wise, within the urban core, I don’t see it as an major issue. I don’t expect freight trains running down from Ashby to MacArthur.

    But I also want to see current BART technology, which area-ridership indicates is most used between Berkeley-SF-Oakland, expanded within those areas. It is the fastest, most efficient form of transit in the whole region as of current. And is being under-utilized by going to places like San Jose, rather than Geary, Lakeshore, or Emeryville.

  • Andy Chow

    Why do you think your plan is politically feasible and mine isn’t? The tube itself regardless of technology will be expensive and complex enough that it could suck out all the regional transit funding for at least 20 years. You think that there will still be leftovers, and you think that someone else in San Francisco and East Bay wouldn’t want the leftovers for their projects? SF voters may be transit supportive, but any realistic funding program will need to take consideration of maintaining Muni and take care of other subway proposals like extending the T to North Beach and M under 19th, among others.

    Sure the state legislature could somehow impose a subway down Geary and 19th along with a 2nd tube, but then would people living in Geary and Sunset want that kind of interest. There’s a lot of push backs on high speed rail on the Peninsula and Central Valley, even though these communities were not asked to contribute local funding for HSR.

    Merging Caltrain and BART can be done easily by an act from the state legislature. The state has taken bold steps to consolidate the ferry agencies in the Bay Area (SF Bay Ferry/WETA) and eliminated redevelopment agencies and taking their funding away. And they don’t really have to merge, they just need an arrangement to share brand and keep funding and management separate. There are cities such as Phoenix where there’s only one transit brand but are separately managed and contracted by participating cities.

    Whatever service plan Caltrain has should be taken with a grain of salt. A 2nd standard gauge tube isn’t going to have trains every 30 minutes because some Caltrain plan proposes 30 minute frequency down the peninsula after electrification. It will run as frequently as demand requires and the infrastructure allows, and operating funds to support the service level can be arranged in many different ways (and it is an issue even if it is broad gauge, since BART train operators require a salary no different than Caltrain engineers).

    And you still haven’t explain why a standard gauge rail system with 25kv overhead electrification can’t run trains as frequent as a 3rd rail broad gauge system. Some label like commuter rail, or current service level, aren’t factors.

    The benefit for the joint bus and rail operation is that the tunnels can be used to the maximum extant immediately. Seattle has big plans for rail, but then like I have shown it is a multi-decade effort. If the tunnel is rail only, it would be running with reduced service levels until most of the rail lines are done, which is expected to take 20 years or so.

  • DragonflyBeach

    Supporting a BART bond measure doesnt take away from Muni at all, unless Muni is help funding the project, which it should since BART down Geary and 19th Ave. would alleviate large amounts of LRV and bus crowding. BART down Geary is feasible, because I’m assuming based on the well-established popularity of BART within the city, and frankly its higher popularity over Muni, that if BART puts up a hefty bond measure for the project (and we already know it has support from the Mayor and some supervisors who’ve advocated for it), SF will certainly meant the 66.7% criteria to go for it. People in SF know how stellar the BART-Mission line is, and how a subway is needed under Geary (or possibly over). Unlike merging transit agencies that require support nobody’s yet advocated for, nor does the average person even understand, a Geary subway is a lot more politically feasible. There are conditions, however. BART needs to construct smaller stations, without large Fed funding the project will likely take a little under a decade, and Muni expansions would be neglected, but what Muni expansions should get priority?

    -M-Ocean View subway isn’t really a project yet, more like an idea, but if BART did the routing it specified 2014 preliminary study, BART already covers literally that corridor. And honestly it wouldn’t alleviate much anyways, going to Daly City, unless it went through Daly City, which isn’t happening.

    -If they wanted to extend the Central Subway to Fisherman’s Wharf then it should’ve been part of the initial plan. And the reason it wasn’t, was because it was a political favor to Chinatown, very little to do with sensible urban planning. And that’s going to be funny anyways. Can’t wait for all the Chinatown residents to take it a few stations and then transfer to the 8-Bayshore bus, which the majority of them use anyways.

    “There’s a lot of push backs on high speed rail on the Peninsula and Central Valley,”
    That’s entirely different though. HSR is an unknown system thats not remotely as popular as the widely considered successful BART. Those are farmers who would be against any rail project, and on the Peninsula, they hate it because they think it neglects Caltrain and duplicates an already established line. Suburban communities have the LOWEST opinion of BART (66.0% ish), according to bond percentages, yet they’re always the ones asking for the system.

    I’m very doubtful any amount of Geary Blvd. lobbying and anti-BART campaigning or comment-time whining to the BoS is going to stop the majority of SF for asking for one of the biggest subway expansions since 1972, on a corridor everybody knows needs it. Especially, if it’s BART. Tell people on the Peninsula BART will be coming to duplicate Caltrain and everybody would ignorantly vote for it, just as they voted for BART to San Jose, even though it doesn’t go to the Peninsula.

    “Merging Caltrain and BART can be done easily by an act from the state legislature.” Thats the only way its possible. It’ll never make it as a county measure, and Caltrain (run by the vocal JPB) would not endorse it. If not flat out slandering it.

    “And you still haven’t explain why a standard gauge rail system with 25kv overhead electrification can’t run trains as frequent as a 3rd rail broad gauge system”

    Did I say it couldn’t? I said Caltrain’s plans don’t indicate that level of frequency. I’m not at all arguing technology. I don’t mind Caltrain in the 2nd tube, though I’m doubtful it’ll happen, but to say its more necessary than BART in the 2nd tube? No way. BART is far more efficient, and once we replace the ATC this coming Nov., we’re talking 30 secs-2min rush hour train blocking, even with the old rolling stock, and now we’re getting new stock, right now. Meanwhile, thanks to Caltrain’s terribad funding thats unlikely to be changed, they’ve been theorizing and not materializing electrification, DTX, and a electrified rolling stock for 2.5 decades. In that same time, BART’s been busy with SFO ext. and Dublin ext, and now Warm Springs.

    I’m not making a rolling stock tech argument, I’m making a routing, funding feasibility and density argument. BART’s expansions should be within the core of the Bay Area, that requires a 2nd tube. Caltrain, is a system that if prioritized over BART (which would never happen: East Bay doesnt care about Caltrain, Caltrain can’t fund a transbay tube/BART can) wouldn’t make sense. We shouldn’t spend billions helping East Bay-Peninsula commuters. We should instead be getting more people out of their cars and on public transit between SF and Oakland, where the vast majority of the Bay Area lives, by making the system more subway like. Yeah, build the suburban routes with overhead, but dont do that with the metro lines, its fine as is, and will only make the current core system incompatible

    “The benefit for the joint bus and rail operation is that the tunnels can be used to the maximum extant immediately”

    Thats fine, but that would’ve been a nightmare if buses, streetcars Muni Metro and BART, even with compatible tech, did all that under Market st. And its kinda a moot point anyways, this cant be done with heavy-rail, no matter the gauge.

    Point is: I agree BART needs to adopt the Caltrain route. But I don’t agree with your dismissal of the BART Geary route. You seem to chalk it up to political bickering on the boulevard, but it’s not like Geary votes alone, and frankly, outside of a few business owners, the Richmond and Sunset (let alone the rest of the city) would ADORE the project. Gas stations are plentiful along the corridor, making ample placements for stations, density is there, and with BART we can maybe get more condo housing on the corridor. There’s going to be complaints, sure, but BART is not HSR, Caltrain or even Muni. It’s far more popular. Seldom do you hear local communities shooting down BART extensions. If anything, they’re begging for stations and parking lots.

  • Andy Chow

    I just I can take you seriously. It seems like you’re either in college or just fresh out of college. I was young before and had big ideas (and still do), but things change very slowly, whether it has a BART brand or not.

    I can assure you that some big BART bond to only pay for a Geary and 19th subway along with 2nd tube co-currently isn’t going to happen. I don’t think that politicians want BART this bad not to want funding for other transportation projects, especially if they represent areas that aren’t and will not be served by BART. Secondly, the federal government will not allow it. The federal government will only fund it (partial funding) if it is planned in phases. The federal government doesn’t want to be in a position of having to bail out when things go wrong, or be sued when having to bail out means cutting transit service.

    The reason that the Central Subway is the way it is because of all the reasons I’ve explained. Politicians need to scale the project small enough so that funding is available for other needs. The federal government want it phased in so to reduce the funding need and keep the risk manageable. Once the plan is approved, you can’t just suddenly add a mile or two just because it seems like a good idea. That mile or two will have to be considered as a separate project, studied, environmentally cleared, and get into funding queue.

    This current BART board understands that BART the transit agency and BART technology are separate, and that BART the agency can and will run trains outside the wide gauge design. That said, there’s no reason that BART could not fund or even operate standard gauge trains from Oakland to SF and beyond on tracks used by Caltrain. In other cities, the main transit agency there operate different train systems that are incompatible (SEPTA, LACMTA, Denver RTD, MBTA, etc). What it matters is not whether there’s a single hardware rail system, but that separate hardware systems work as a single network with single branding and easy transfers. Subway trains in New York City is actually consists of two incompatible networks (one network uses numbers and the other use letters), but everybody knows New York Subway as a single system.

  • DragonflyBeach

    “but things change very slowly, whether it has a BART brand or not.”
    You’re really obsessed over this separate rolling stock thing, which is fine and we agree so I don’t get why you keep mentioning it, and its not addressing the point I was making about funding and planning.

    ” I don’t think that politicians want BART this bad not to want funding for other transportation projects, especially if they represent areas that aren’t and will not be served by BART”

    What are you talking about? What transit project under SFMTA would take higher precedent over a subway line that covers half of the city? Your argument might’ve made more sense if it were a suburban line (like when SamTrans lost money over the BART-SFO line), but in SF, the popularity and desire for more core BART routes are well-known. BART already serves the Mission, and the new routing would serve Richmond and Sunset. By your logic anyone who’d be against the project are people from the Lower Mission/Bayview area, which wouldn’t make sense because they already got their project (T-Third Street) which was supposed to be a BART corridor to begin with.

    And again, even a reduction in operating costs not even capital projects is likely to occur with the BART line. 38 Geary would see a serve decrease in ridership, along with N, L and M lines. Muni compensates BART for the alleviation on the Mission line, already.

    And you can be hypothetical all you want to, but we know that BART’s highest polling for the new 2016 bond measure is from San Francisco and Oakland.
    Keep in mind, BART hardly serves the city’s populace, yet they’re willing to pay more for BART to modernize. Again, better branding and known popularity. Thats why your HSR comparison earlier was so confusing, they’re not alike politically at all.

    ” The federal government will only fund it (partial funding) if it is planned in phases”
    I’ve said this project would be in phases many times. There’s not going to be some 10 billion dollar BART measure to build everything at once.

    “That mile or two will have to be considered as a separate project, studied, environmentally cleared, and get into funding queue”
    Don’t know why you’re telling this me. I know how phase projects work. I’m spoke about why the Chinatown subway took precedent over a Geary subway, and its numerous flaws. When I said “initial plan”, I didn’t say “phase one”. Chinatown subway is just the 2nd phase in the overall T-Third Street project.

    “This current BART board understands that BART the transit agency and BART technology are separate”
    Right, which is why they’re building with VTA a BART San Jose line with catenary and standard gauge. Right, no, they’re not. While eBART is the right direction, BART is still obsessed with bad technology suburban expansion.

    But in the core? Why? You make the current BART core system incompatible with new urban expansions. You’re also going to force BART to buy new rolling stock for separate urban lines needlessly. It’ll be like New York where particular subway cars can’t run in certain stations.

    “Oakland to SF and beyond on tracks used by Caltrain”
    So you want to make the 72′ system incompatible with new core routes that currently cover the most dense places in the system, just so that Caltrain can run along the same rail in the 2nd crossing? Rather than just building a separate bore? That’s short sighted.

    As I’ve said before since its the subject you’re most obsessed with, I’m not against standard gauge BART. It cuts down on expenses. I’m also in favor of BART absorbing the JPB and administering Caltrain. But within the core, where the lines wouldn’t be as long as suburban routes and primary expenses come from station construct first, subway construction second, a standard gauge BART in the core does really nothing but separate the systems. At least without a system-wide conversion.

  • Reedman Bassoon

    BART does not need a second tube. BART is at capacity in the existing tube for about two hours per day, and only because it doesn’t have any passing tracks in the system. Passing tracks would obviate the need for a second tube, and would also allow for the existence of express trains (which are also presently an impossibility in the BART system).


BART parked a new car from its "Fleet of the Future" at Warm Springs Station when it opened. But the new trains haven't been available for customers to ride--until today. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Look for New BART Train for the Evening Commute

It took a while, but BART’s “Fleet of the Future” is about to become, well, the train of today. Back in March of 2016 the first new blue-and-white BART trains started making their way by flatbed truck from the factory in Plattsburgh, NY to the Bay Area to begin performance testing. The first cars arrived […]