BART Unveils Cleanest, Best-Smelling, Quietest Cars Ever

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Monday's media ride-along on one of BART's new cars. (Dan Brekke/KQED)

The brand-new BART train -- the Midday Monday Media Special -- was late getting to South Hayward Station. And when it started up, it sent its first carload of passengers -- or some of us, anyway -- flying.

More on that later. But first, let's go down the list of things you, the riding public, will love when BART starts operating its new generation of train cars.

The cars are clean. They smell great. The air-conditioning is awesome. They have signs telling passengers that vaping and panhandling are verboten. They're actually quiet enough that you can talk to the person next to you without shouting.

And the wait for the so-called Fleet of the Future is almost over. BART officials on hand for a media ride-along Monday say that they hope to begin using the first 10 new cars, the vanguard of the 775 the system hopes to put into service over the next four years, by late September.


That September timetable depends, though, on BART and the fleet's manufacturer, Montreal-based Bombardier, working through the last in a long list of bugs that have appeared since the first cars were received last year. BART say the delays are due to vehicles that sound fantastically complex, with 30 computers and 180 software packages running each car.

"If we're going to take a delay, this is the point where we want to take the delay and resolve all the engineering and technical issues," said Paul Oversier, BART's assistant general manager for operations. "What Bombardier is best at is manufacturing, and the more stable the car is when they start manufacturing, the quicker they can produce the cars."

John Garnham, who has spent most of his seven years at BART managing the Fleet of the Future program, said testing has been slowed by the fact there's no testing facility at Bombardier, or anywhere else, that could handle BART's unique track gauge and voltage requirements.

That has meant limited hours for testing and longer waits to solve problems as they've arisen, Garnham said, "whereas if we were at the factory and got behind, we could test for three shifts. We can't do that at BART."

Garnham said that BART and Bombardier are closing in on the last items on their fix-it list, including the trains' new dynamic map display and an issue with flickering lights.

So -- what about that late train and that wild start?

The media mini-throng was told the new train would arrive at 12 noon. The appointed hour came and went.

At 12:20, Oversier, the BART assistant general manager, explained that they'd had a problem working in the media train among the in-service trains carrying paying passengers.

Then, in the distance, a new five-car train rolled into view from the south.

"Here it comes," Oversier said. "It's moving. That's a good sign. At full speed -- that's an even better sign."

Once the assembled print, TV and radio types were aboard, the train got started rolling. As it was picking up speed, it jerked to a halt. Those who weren't hanging on to an overhead strap or one of the new cars' nifty grab bars, your correspondent among them, were sent flying, or at least staggering in a state of surprise, across the car.

Doug Sovern of KCBS captured the scene:

Kirk Paulsen, a BART train operator who's been helping debug and break in the new cars for the past year, was riding with us.

"I'm going to tell you probably exactly what happened," Paulsen said. "There's a stop button" -- akin to an emergency stop mechanism -- "on the opposite side from the cab seat. And all you have to do is hit it a little bit and it'll stop the train."

He speculated that maybe an extra media day rider in the cab had touched the button by accident and triggered the jarring stop -- perhaps another kink to be worked out of the Fleet of the Future.