BART Faces New Delay in Rolling Out 'Fleet of the Future'

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A car from BART's 'Fleet of the Future,' right, alongside one of the transit agency's old cars at Pleasant Hill Station in October 2016.  (Dan Brekke/KQED)

BART is trying to sort out a problem that could derail its plan to roll out the first of its anxiously awaited new train cars by the end of the month.

The agency has been conducting intensive testing and refinement of the cars, which the agency calls the Fleet of the Future, ever since receiving the first of the new vehicles early in 2016.

The agency now has 10 cars on the tracks, and last month said it was ready to put them into revenue service -- transit-speak for carrying paying passengers.

Just one hurdle remained: The California Public Utilities Commission, which oversees rail transit agencies in the state, needed to conduct its own safety testing and sign off on the cars.

Which brings us to last Friday morning, when all 10 of the new cars were running as a "consist" -- transit-speak for a train -- with a team of four CPUC inspectors on board. Everything was fine, apparently, until the train pulled into San Leandro's Bay Fair Station.


For reasons still not fully explained, the onboard system controlling the "consist" decided at that point it was a three-car train, not a 10-car train. The system automatically locked the doors to cars four through 10, and the operator could not get them to open.

BART says the cars went into a "safe mode" as the train approached the Bay Fair station. "The train acted in a fail-safe manner as intended," the agency said in a statement.

The result: The CPUC flunked the train and on Monday sent BART a letter denying permission to use the new cars. Further, the commission told BART it must diagnose, explain and correct the problem before scheduling a further "ride check" with the agency's inspectors on board. That test run will include a trip through BART's entire 110-mile system, including stops at all 46 station platforms.

BART says it's conferring with the cars' manufacturer, Montreal-based Bombardier, to get to the bottom of the problem.

Will the new cars roll by the end of the month? BART says it's too early to say.

The agency's statement said the issue must be analyzed and a fix identified "before we can assess the impact, if any, on the planned operation of the cars in passenger service around Thanksgiving."

BART says the long series of delays getting the Fleet of the Future on the rails -- the agency at one point hoped to have new cars carrying riders in 2016 -- should not affect its long-term plan to have 775 new cars running by 2021. Officials have said that once all the bugs in the cars are ironed out, Bombardier will be able to rapidly ramp up production of the new vehicles.