BART shows off new ‘Fleet of the Future’ car

BART’s new, more spacious cars are undergoing testing in the East Bay and agency officials hope to get the first of them on tracks by the end of this year.

The first car of the agency’s “Fleet of the Future” was shipped by truck last month from Plattsburgh, New York, where the Bombardier Transit Corp. is building 775 train cars. After the first car is thoroughly tested, BART officials hope to have 10 in place by December.

The replacement cars are sorely needed as a mysterious electrical spike along the Pittsburg/Bay Point line has been damaging cars and forcing them out of service. BART has been running shorter trains along all its lines as a result.

“This car represents that help is on the way,” BART director Robert Raburn said at the Hayward maintenance complex Wednesday as BART showed off the new car to reporters.

BART will poll riders on the first 10 cars and finalize the interior design, at which point it will begin mass-producing the remaining cars, putting all 775 in place by the end of 2021.

The new cars have only one or two fewer seats than the existing cars, but narrower seats leave the center aisles wider with more space for standing, which should help alleviate crowding on the busiest rush hour trains. The seats have also been raised slightly, creating space for luggage and guide dogs underneath.

There will be three doors per car instead of the current two so passengers will have more options for where to board, shortening lines on platforms. Each car has designated bicycle parking with new racks that hold three bicycles each.

Air conditioning units have been moved from the windows to the ceiling, LED screens have been added to the walls to display dynamic maps showing train location, and signs with station announcements have been added to each end of the cars.

“It’s a lot of little changes but we think it’s meaningful,” Raburn said.

The cars will be tested extensively at the test track at the Hayward complex and will be loaded with various configurations and weights of up to 45,000 pounds, project manager John Garnham said.

They will also test the propulsion and magnetic compatibility and have the California Public Utilities Commission review their findings.

While the new cars will immediately increase the standing capacity of each BART car, with more cars added to the existing fleet, crowding should be alleviated by enabling the agency to run longer and longer trains, so eight- or nine-car trains at the busiest stations would become a thing of the past.

The most congested area of the BART system will remain the Transbay Tube. Trains into the East Bay become so crowded during rush hour that some commuters resort to boarding a train going the wrong direction and then turning around at another station, Raburn said.

Ultimately BART management wants to have trains going through the Transbay Tube more frequently, which should be possible, but will require upgrades to the control system. Right now BART can run a maximum of 23 trains per hour between Oakland and San Francisco, but Raburn said with a new control system, it could be 30 trains per hour.

Such improvements are included in a $3.5 billion bond BART is planning on asking Bay Area voters to approve in November. The bond would include $400 million to upgrade the control system.

The bond would also include improvements to the power system, the source of frequent headaches as power problems not only along the Pittsburg line but in the Transbay Tube has mysteriously damaged train cars in the last few months. More than $1.2 billion would be allocated for the power system.

“We are focused on getting the system right and spending our money wisely,” Raburn said.