A rendering shows a re-purposed Chicago train car at a luxury housing development in Chicago, one idea BART turned to for inspiration for retiring its BART cars. (Courtesy of Property Markets Group

Soon-to-be-retired BART cars could become Airbnb hotels, homeless shelters or housing

Will Bay Area transit enthusiasts one day book BART trains as Airbnb hotel rooms?

That’s one possible future as BART considers outside-the-box ways to retire its aging rail cars when the long-delayed Fleet of the Future is slowly phased into service.

“What I really love about these options is we asked people in government to be creative. So guess what? Our staff is being creative,” said BART Board Director Lateefah Simon, who represents San Francisco, among other counties.

While no decisions have yet been made, the BART Board of Directors will get an early look at retirement options for its fleet at a meeting Thursday.

There will be some 670 rail cars eligible for retirement by BART between last year and 2022, when about 775 Fleet of the Future railcars are expected to have been delivered, according to agency documents. BART estimates it will complete its fleet retirement process by the end of 2023.

Most of the options can be divided into one of two categories: selling the old cars, or donating them.

SEE RELATED: Where Muni buses go to die

BART is considering selling vehicles to another transit operator for use, for recycling or scrap “to the highest bidder,” for re-use for housing or as a restaurant, or as memorabilia, according to agency documents. One party has even reached out to the agency about buying BART cars to use for Airbnb listings,

On the donation side, BART is considering giving rail cars to museums, keeping some for “special service,” or donating them for use in art projects, to the U.S. Army for exercises and drills or to technical schools to encourage trade students to learn engineering skills.

Another particularly outlandish idea, burying the carbon steel subway fleet in the ocean to use as an artificial reef, is something the agency said in documentation is infeasible because of the rail cars’ aluminum composition.

But Simon, one of the BART board directors, particularly liked the idea of donating the cars for use as homeless shelters, or temporary shelters. Redwood Valley Fire Recovery asked for old BART cars for that very purpose, according to BART documents.

“How do we house the houseless?” she told the San Francisco Examiner. “The last thing you’d think about is a BART car. But I tell you we’re about to put hundreds of new cars on the rails, and we have old cars we’re getting rid of.”

“It gets cold at night,” she said.

BART staff also plans to “harvest” usable parts from the retired vehicles, which may influence where they are ultimately sold or donated. They will also hang onto as many older cars that operate well as fleet yard capacity will allow.

One major concern is the federal government: When deciding whether to donate train cars or sell them, agency staff warned in a presentation to the board that BART may owe the Federal Transit Administration about 70 percent of the rail cars’ worth, since the administration paid the lion’s share to purchase them decades ago.

So every railcar BART donates could take some money out of BART’s pocket and send it straight to the federal government.

BART isn’t the only agency to consider creative afterlifes for their vehicles. Muni buses have been repurposed as emergency vehicles for the San Francisco Fire Department, San Francisco International Airport shuttles, book-mobiles for school children courtesy of former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch. Some retired Muni buses have even seen second lives as mobile showers for the homeless.


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