BART Howl Becoming a Whisper?

Streetsblog rides "Fleet of the Future" through Transbay for a true test of noise insulation

The new BART train about to leave Civic Center station. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The new BART train about to leave Civic Center station. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

BART’s new “Fleet of the Future,” whatever other problems it may have, is really, really quiet.

When Streetsblog took a review-ride on one of BART’s new train sets when it first went into limited service last year, it was hard to evaluate one of the most important differences between the new fleet and the old: noise levels. There’s a big distinction between how a train sounds running on a viaduct or through a short tunnel in Oakland, versus cooking along at 80 mph in the 3.6 mile tunnel under the Bay.

Obviously, the latter generates far more noise and reverberation. So riding the new train in the East Bay only says so much about its noise performance. And for a long time, that was the only place BART was running them.

Peering out the front in West Oakland, moments before the moment of truth--the Transbay crossing
Peering out the front on approach into West Oakland, moments before the moment of truth: the Transbay crossing

But the agency is now running them under the Bay to San Francisco as well.

The first time I set out to ride one under the Bay last month, the run was cancelled due to an unspecified glitch. Yesterday, I finally got to go for a trip through the tube, on an off-peak train assigned to the Green Line between Warm Springs and Daly City.

What a difference 40 years of sound-proofing and wheel-on-rail interface technology can accomplish! The ride was smooth, quiet and–well, the only thing I can liken it to is riding the Eurostar train through the Channel Tunnel. There’s just a whirring sound.

BART has also been working steadily to replace and grind rails and wheels on the conventional fleet to make them quieter too. Once that’s done and the new fleet is fully deployed, the BART howl will become just something to read about in history books.

Well done, BART.

The interior of a new BART train, in service, in San Francisco

BART is spending a reported $2.6 billion for 775 new cars, which will be delivered over the next several years. “As of November 2018, 45 new cars are available for revenue service, with two 10-car trains in regular service,” according to a BART release. “By end of year 2018, BART expects to have at least three 10-car trains in regular service on the yellow, green and red lines.”

Have you ridden the new trains across the Bay? What were your impressions? Post below.

  • iibw

    I found it interesting that BART has color coded routes, but as a passenger on the platform, I never saw colors on the signs or on an approaching train to indicate it.

  • John French

    The colors were previously only on the maps, but the new trains display a colored dot next to the destination on the LED display (and display the route color on the internal LCDs as well).

  • Richard_Mlynarik

    Strretsblog, you’re so adorable!

    Here’s the thing: in the industrialized first world (you know, representative democracy, open markets, all that jazz) for the last five or more decades years or so, the only way to know that the train you were in is moving is that that the landscape around is moving. Not that YOU NEED TO STICK YOUR FINGERS IN YOUR EARS BECAUSE OF THE HOWLING AND HUNTING.

    “What a difference 40 years of sound-proofing and wheel-on-rail interface technology can accomplish!”? More like: “How adorable that BART is finally entering the 1800s with the whole tapered wheel profile thing!”


  • Chuck

    I haven’t ridden BART in a long time, but those new BART cars seem really nice!

  • Daniel Carroll

    So have you?

  • thielges

    This is progress though I’ll be a little nostalgic for that squealing and howling sound which I’ve come to know as the Sound of the East Bay.

  • Ditch the stupid color coding. No one ever refers to the lines by color.
    There is a lot less screeching between 24th/Mission and Glen Park, not from the new cars, but from that noise abating project from a few years ago.

  • Michael Escobar

    I haven’t taken the new trains across the Bay yet, but I have taken the new train from Warm Springs to Bayfair within the last 6 months; it was still loud in the tunnel underneath the park in Fremont.

  • John French

    As I understand it the noise problem is a bit more complicated than just “new trains are quieter than old ones”. The unusual flat wheel profiles on the old trains not only produced more noise than standard conical wheels, but also caused the tracks in curved sections to become worn into a corrugated pattern over time. This makes those sections louder even with new trains (or old trains which have been retrofitted with new wheels).

    So perhaps the section of tunnel you’re referring to hasn’t had its rails re-ground to a flat surface recently.

  • crazyvag

    While you’re factually correct, you forgot the larger context that BART was created back when US was still “innovating” in transit. The non-conical wheels were to provide a smoother ride due to reduced hunting. To this day, the 50 year old BART cars don’t hunt when compared to Muni Bredas or Caltrain Gallery cars.

    The ATO system was in place from onset and to this day provides better performance than what DC is grappling with. NYC would can only dream to have ATO capability on their subway.

    So yes, the wheel design does have a noise flaw that probably wasn’t apparent when system was brand new.
    The wide gauge was a hedge to enable running under Golden Gate Bridge, but at least we enjoy wider cars which will be better utilized with the new fleet.

    I will say that wheel noise should’ve been researched at least 10 years ago when it started to get really bad.

  • crazyvag

    BART said that rail profile can’t be tweaked until all flat wheels are replaced with conical ones. Hopefully that will address the tunnel problem you described.

  • LazyReader

    more excuses for unionized civil servant incompetence and
    irresponsibility.The $2 billion spent on the San Jose Extension sits
    unused because BART couldn’t win a battle of wits with a toilet brush. Billions in new expenditures while BART ignores it’s massive maintenance backlog and the inevitable wrath of dregs and bums waiting to use these new trains as their personal toilet.

  • 1 Less Car


  • You carry an audio recording device in your pocket everywhere you go. Why in the world would you write this article without recording what the new cars sound like??? Talk about low effort.

  • keenplanner

    I ride the tube twice daily but haven’t ridden the new cars yet. A few year back, I downloaded a decibel meter app to my phone to measure the noise levels in the tunnel. It reached levels that the meter indicated were “dangerous” if sustained for 10 minutes or more, which never happened on the train. Still, though, the noise is really discomforting for most riders, so it’s great news that the new cars are successful in blocking it out.
    And bike racks, finally!

  • NFA

    Keep the color coding. Use numbers. Don’t use letters for two reasons: not to confuse the unfamiliar that BART is same system as MuniMetro and letters based on end terminal like, D or F may change when service patterns are altered or lines extended. Done.

  • NFA

    Bart needs to adopt a graphic bullet that has lie color for reference but also a number. See NY or Paris or literally dozens of other metro systems.


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