New BART Train Goes into Service–but a Glitch Arises

One of BART's two new trains blew through Lake Merritt yesterday afternoon. This one is testing only and not carrying passengers. All photos: Streetsblog/Rudick
One of BART's two new trains blew through Lake Merritt yesterday afternoon. This one is testing only and not carrying passengers. All photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

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After a ribbon cutting and celebration on Friday, it seems BART’s “Fleet of the Future” has, once again, experienced a glitch. Fox 2 KTVU reported yesterday that two cars were removed from the train (BART had one complete, 10-car ‘pilot train’ in revenue service). Fox linked the recent problem to ongoing issues with the manufacturer, Bombardier. And NBC Bay Area, citing unnamed sources, said the train cars had a problem with their brakes, which came on unexpectedly Friday.

BART, however, is denying that the accounts are fully accurate.

“The NBC Bay Area story is incorrect but we are not going into a lot of specifics other than to say it was a minor issue,” wrote BART spokesman Jim Allison in an email to Streetsblog. In an email sent yesterday, Allision also said that:

Two of the 10 cars are undergoing maintenance today. This is not unexpected – we had projected that about seven out of the 10 new cars would be available for passenger service on any given day for the initial period of passenger service due to several factors: with any new machine of considerable complexity, issues will occur that will require attention; some of the cars are due for preventative maintenance (lubrication, changing filters, etc.) because they’ve already logged more than 75,000 miles of testing; our train operators and technicians face a learning curve in terms of how to deal with minor maintenance issues. Bringing a car into the yard for detailed analysis after an issue occurs serves the long-term goal of having a safe and reliable new fleet.

Allison added that the bottom line is that BART is “… confident the fact that two cars are undergoing maintenance today does not extrapolate into a larger, systemic problem. The pilot cars have passed all our tests and all of the California Public Utility Commission’s tests.”

Streetsblog rode the train from Lake Merritt to Hayward this afternoon and spoke with a BART technician on board about the reported brake issue (the technician withheld his name so he could speak freely). It remains unclear why the train was stopping unexpectedly Friday, but two cars were going into ‘fail-safe’ mode. That means the problem is probably not with the brakes per se, as NBC reported. On any properly designed modern train, the brakes are designed to come on automatically if any crucial system isn’t receiving the electrical signals it’s supposed to receive. Thus, if anything goes wrong, it’s supposed to ‘fail safe’ by stopping the train (at least in theory). It may, indeed, be a minor glitch; this kind of thing happens with the old fleet all the time. But it’s impossible to say until BART knows exactly what went wrong.

Technicians
The cab was open and a handful of BART workers were monitoring systems as the train headed from Oakland towards Warm Springs.

So, technical glitches aside, what do passengers think about the new cars? Tae Tolbert, who was taking BART from Lake Merritt to Coliseum, just said “wow!” when the shiny new train pulled into the station. “When did they get new trains?”

She had mostly praise for the rail cars. “I like the openness, I like the board,” she said, motioning towards the computer display by the door that shows the location of the train on a map of the system.

Tey
Tae Tolbert took her first ride on BART’s new equipment this afternoon from Lake Merritt to Coliseum.

She was a little concerned about the thin padding on the seats. “I don’t think these will be very durable.”

New seats
Generally, people liked the colors and comfort of the new seats, although one rider was concerned about their durability.

Tolbert was also excited about the additional handholds. “Those are good for people who are short.”

Train interior more
The new train interior has a more open feel, with lots of handholds and plumbing to grab onto.

“It’s a lot more open, cleaner–and I love the interactive screen,” said Angie Nelson, who was on her way to Dublin. “It shows people where they are in different languages. This is friendly for tourists.” Unlike Tolbert, she had nothing but praise for the seats. “They are comfortable and ergonomic. And I like the vibe of the blue and green contrast.” She added that the noise and dirt of the legacy cars deter her from taking BART to San Francisco.

Angie
Angie Nelson loved the openness of the new trains.

“I’m a big fan,” said Eric Hagen, who was amazed that he could be understood without shouting over the noise of the train. “It’s a much quieter ride…you can really hear.” He added that the biggest plus of the new cars was cleanliness. He wondered how much better the old cars would be if given more thorough cleanings.

IMG_20180123_121819
Eric Hagen thought the new cars were quiet and clean.

“It looks clean and fresh,” said Sydney Jackson, another passenger on her way to Coliseum. “Like a breath of fresh air.”

BART, meanwhile, has two new train consists currently on the tracks. Both are running between Richmond and Fremont/Warm Springs. The passenger-carrying ‘pilot train,’ seen below, was featured in the press. It started carrying riders on Friday. The other, seen in the lead image, is not yet certified to carry passengers and is testing only.

“The trains will run on the Richmond to Warm Springs/South Fremont line during non-peak hours Monday-Friday (9am-3pm and 8pm until Midnight) and on weekends,” said Allison. The trains will not go to San Francisco because BART does not yet have the confidence to risk a breakdown in the Transbay tunnel.

When will that change? “We don’t have a deadline for that other than when we think it’s ready.”

IMG_20180123_122328
The new train departing Hayward on its way to Fremont.

 

  • mx

    On a related note, what’s up with Muni’s LRV4 trains? They’ve been “in service” since November, yet it’s not uncommon to check the SFTRU tracker and see no trains in service. Is there a problem or is Muni just not bothering to use them?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Seems like these trains might have been more reliable if they were permanently configured as ten-car trains, without a lot of connections and logic about how many cars are connected together. This would also have greatly increased the capacity of the train.

  • MPPBruin

    It would probably also increase operating costs because they don’t want to run longer trains when they don’t need to.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Is it my imagination, or aren’t there lines where the trains are always 10 cars? It seems to me that Pittsburg/Bay Point trains are ten cars at all times.

  • MPPBruin

    I’m not sure, but I could also see some scenario where they only need a 7 car train, so now they’re spending an extra 30% on each ride.

  • David S

    I thought this as well, but it’s not technically true. A really involved take on operating costs is done by Alon Levy:
    https://pedestrianobservations.com/2018/01/22/base-train-service-is-cheap-peak-train-service-is-expensive/

    The take-away is “In an environment in which costs are dominated by capital acquisition, it makes sense to operate expensive machinery for as many hours as possible. This means running maximum service whenever possible, subject to spare ratios and maintenance needs.” In that post he goes through the approximate proportion of capital and maintenance costs in the total operating cost (in $/car/km) and determines that adding extra trains off peak (where you already have trains sitting around anyway) does not increase the cost of operating them proportionally.

    That is to say, according to Levy, BART should always just be running 10 car trains (and more frequently on the weekends and nights off peak).

  • DrunkEngineer

    Alon conveniently ignores energy costs. BART’s annual electricity bill is $40 million.

  • David S

    That adds $40*10^6/670 cars/10^5 km ~ $0.60/car/km (using the current number of BART cars currently and the average annual mileage from his article for an underground train). This is < 10% of the costs he mentions.

  • DrunkEngineer

    BART reports to FTA that they run ~65 million annual vehicle revenue miles. So figure 40/65=$.61/car/mi. Now, how many additional tens of million car miles are you proposing to run with your 10-car trains? The cost will add up very quickly. And that is just one data point — there is also track wear, labor costs, etc.

  • MPPBruin

    This implies that BART has a significant amount of reserve cars that could be put into use to maximize service. Unfortunately, BART doesn’t have extra cars to increase capacity. Given the high cost of acquiring new cars, it wouldn’t make sense to increase this beyond what they reasonably expect to use. Additionally, lumping operating and capital costs together doesn’t work because the sources of funds for those two uses are distinct. Increasing operations costs should only be taken into account for the operating budget, which is primarily funded by farepayers.

  • Sean

    Running 10 car trains to the end of the line every time isn’t efficient and robs the core of potential additional service. 75 years ago private train companies decoupled cars, for example to run half a train to an outer suburb while the other half turned back to better serve the core. BART knows this and this is a major reason for E-BART. If the cars ever go autonomous (which would be much easier than any other transit mode in the entire Bay Area), they could be run with smaller consists at higher frequencies off peak and weekends.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I googled around and that seemed to confirm my observation that BART runs ten car trains on the Pittsburg/Bay Point line at all times, every day of the week. So at least they have decided that your logic doesn’t hold.

    All of your points are good but it’s evident that the flexibility comes at the cost of complexity, and the complexity delays the project, which costs a lot of money. I’m not sure the benefit of flexibility is really worth the cost. In addition we are foregoing the extra capacity that we would get from the open gangway that would exist on a permanent train.

  • Sean

    Look at the BART vision plan and the proposed ‘Purple line’, as well as the current Pleasant Hill limited train, which doesn’t go all the way to Pittsburg. They know running that many car miles out to outer limits means empty trains that could have been turned back to clear platforms in the core.

  • David S

    You’re not wrong! The point is that the *marginal* cost is much lower than buying new cars to increasing off peak capacity. Note, though, that BART doesn’t have a large peak/off-peak ratio of trains in service (from Levy:
    https://twitter.com/alon_levy/status/956345025423659008
    ) so my point isn’t as effectual. It would be a better lesson for Caltrain.

  • theqin

    They won’t risk it breaking down in the transbay tunnel, yet they ran in on 12/14/17 in the morning, past the Embarcadero station (I have a photo)…

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