State regulators certified five new BART railcars for service on Friday, bringing the total number of certified cars to 90, according to BART officials.
It’s been a slow trickle, transportation officials said, as BART struggles to expand its train fleet and keep pace with a booming Bay Area.
To ease the BART commute’s crushing crowds, the agency commissioned a fleet expansion in 2012 with quieter rail cars featuring new features like onboard computer screens to show upcoming stops, and redesigned seating.
Of the 105 Fleet of the Future cars received by the transit agency to date, the California Public Utilities Commission has certified 90 and 58 are in service.
Janice Li, who represents the 8th district on BART’s Board of Directors, said BART is at a crossroads, faced with plummeting customer satisfaction over issues such as cleanliness and safety. To Li, the timely and reliable rollout of the new fleet is critical.
“I still feel like the fleet is rolling out slowly and I still meet a lot of people who haven’t ridden the new trains yet,” she said.
The last round of certifications happened nearly three months ago on June 27, when the PUC certified another five cars.
Though a number of setbacks has slowed the rollout of the full 775-car “Fleet of the Future,” BART remains dedicated to completing the project by spring 2023, said Anna Duckworth, a communications officer for the agency.
“The challenges have been with our supplier, Bombardier, and we’ve been working very cooperatively with them,” Duckworth said. “The issue is with the pieces that are getting fabricated, brought in and assembled. Bombardier has been working through these challenges this past year on their supply chain and we expect a better rate of production of cars coming into the system moving forward.”
Ian Griffiths, policy director for the public transit advocacy group Seamless Bay Area, said it was “great news” to see BART expanding its fleet — even by just a bit.
“The faster we see these cars in service, the better,” Griffiths said. “Riders seeing more and more new cars in service now is critical to building support for additional investments in transit in coming years.”
According to Duckworth, the new cars are highly customized and packed with much more technology than the nearly 50-year-old legacy fleet. Each car in the Fleet of the Future contains 30 microprocessors and 180 distinct software packages, she said, meaning there are a lot of components to test before getting new trains on the tracks.
She said BART is waiting to fine-tune quality before ramping up quantity of the new cars.
“We’ve made great progress in identifying and correcting issues before most of the fleet is on board so we won’t have a major modification project on hundreds of already accepted cars,” she said.
Bombardier Transportation, the company BART contracted to build the new fleet, originally made the cars in upstate New York and had to ship them to the Bay Area. Manufacture of the Fleet of the Future will soon move to a facility in Pittsburg, California, a move Li said will reduce costs, reduce BART’s carbon footprint in regard to shipping the cars and increase the reliability of the rollout.
“Our ability to roll out these new cars, I know, will improve our customers’ satisfaction,” she said.