A BART open house this weekend: The transit agency is showing off its new "Fleet of the Future" cars on Saturday at the Dublin/Pleasanton station and Sunday at El Cerrito del Norte.
A three-car train will be on the rails from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at each station. The first 200 visitors each day will get a "commemorative toy train" -- actually a foam train car. (See illustration.)
The cars feature a wide variety of improvement over BART's current fleet, which went into service between the 1970s and mid-1990s. Besides smelling brand new, enhancements include:
- Three platform doors, instead of the current two, to make it easier and faster for passengers to get on and off trains.
- Improved ceiling-level ventilation.
- Color-coded route signs visible to passengers on platform.
- Electronic route maps that show trains current position.
- Bike racks on some cars.
- Seats that have been raised a little to make it easier to stand from a sitting position. Side benefit: Carry-on-size suitcases will fit beneath the higher seats.
- Color-coded seats to designate space for riders with special needs.
For what it's worth, the new cars are configured with four fewer seats than the current models. Open-house visitors will have a chance to fill out a survey to tell BART what they think of the prototype vehicles.
Paul Oversier, BART's assistant general manager for operations, said at a Pleasant Hill open house earlier this month that the agency will start testing a 10-car prototype train on its main-line tracks by the end of the year. Passenger service on that train is slated to start sometime early in 2017. After that, BART expect to give the go-ahead to Canadian manufacturer Bombardier to begin full production of the new cars.
"We have to be satisfied with the performance of these 10 cars under real-world conditions -- i.e., the kind of crush-loading we see every day on the system," Oversier said. "So we're going to put these 10 cars through their paces before we tell Bombardier, 'OK, we're ready to accept your production vehicles.'"
BART expects the first 60 of the 775 cars currently on order to be rolling by the end of 2017. All the currently ordered new cars should be in hand by 2021.
The agency hopes to order another 300 or so new cars -- a move that depends on funding from partner agencies -- and would have a total fleet of 1,081 cars. That enlarged fleet would represent a 49 percent in seating capacity on the system and, if other projects fall into place, would allow BART to run 30 trains of 10 cars each into and out of San Francisco during rush hour.
That service expansion depends on BART installing a new train control system that would permit trains to safely run closer together. The new control system is one of the projects the agency hopes to fund with Measure RR, the $3.5 billion bond measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Oversier says the expanded service offers at least a glimmer of hope of better times for BART patrons, who are packed onto the system's trains as never before.
"We know how incredibly crowded the trains are right now," he said. "When I ride, I understand why people are upset. It's just not comfortable. They're crammed into the cars, the air conditioning's not the greatest, and I think these cars are going to represent a great upgrade in the customer experience."