BART Disruption Highlights Need for Second Transbay Tube

West Oakland BART Tuesday morning. Photo: Raymund@Miim0ngzkii
West Oakland BART Tuesday morning. Photo: Raymund@Miim0ngzkii

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It was a bad BART morning straight out of the Before Times, with overcrowding, canceled trains, and a dangerously overflowing West Oakland BART platform, as seen in the lead image.

The backups were caused by a person entering the trackway somewhere between Embarcadero and Montgomery. And although the situation didn’t take long to resolve, it lead to cascading delays.

Of course, given the subway shooting that just transpired in New York, people were especially on edge.

Some ironic if minor collateral damage from the delays was a presser featuring Senator Alex Padilla and Mayor London Breed, celebrating the results of federal aid that helped BART continue to run. The event was postponed about an hour to allow media and officials riding BART to get there. From a statement about the event:

U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) joined San Francisco Mayor London Breed and leaders from the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to highlight a new investment of nearly $386 million in additional American Rescue Plan funding for BART and SFMTA operations. To date, the American Rescue Plan has delivered more than $1.6 billion to BART and SFMTA to support their operations and to keep transformational transit projects on track.

And:

The event comes as 80 percent of employers in a Bay Area Council survey say they plan to bring workers back to the office this month or already have done so, and as BART experiences a 23 percent increase in ridership at downtown San Francisco stations compared to the previous month.

Senator Alex Padilla at Powell BART this morning, about an hour later than planned. Photo: Padilla's office
Senator Alex Padilla, Mayor London Breed, and Bay Area transit officials at Powell BART this morning, about an hour later than planned. Photo: Padilla’s office

“Public transportation is critical to the success of our city, and as we continue to emerge from the pandemic, we need to do all that we can to make sure our systems remain safe and efficient,” said Mayor London Breed at the event.

But the morning’s delay, of course, also highlighted BART’s ongoing vulnerabilities.

It may have been temporarily forgotten, but before the pandemic, the entire economy of the Bay Area–not to mention hundreds of thousands of daily commuters–were regularly held hostage to BART service disruptions. Many of those are the result of being forced to rely on a single set of tubes to cross between San Francisco and Oakland.

transbaytubeortunnel

The region is currently planning for a second set of tubes that, ideally, would have four tracks, as seen in the diagrams above: two to carry conventional trains and a second pair in BART’s wide gauge to build in redundancy and increased capacity. As this editor has experienced firsthand, medical emergencies and people entering the trackway are not situations unique to the Bay Area. Travel to Paris, New York, London, or other cities with robust transit systems, and these kinds of problems cause delays, yes, but trains can be rerouted so the entire system doesn’t come to a screeching halt. And major breakdowns can be handled and repairs made without stranding the whole city. Until the Bay Area gets some redundancy, its entire economy is skating on proverbial thin ice.

 

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