We Promise: Not Another Word on New BART Cars -- Except for This

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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)

We have an editor here at KQED News who says he doesn't want to hear another word about BART's Fleet of the Future until the long-promised/eagerly awaited train cars are actually on the tracks and carrying passengers.

Likewise, BART's media team sounds like it's getting a little weary of fielding reporters' queries about when the cars might finally carry paying passengers. "When there is news, we'll issue an advisory," is how one team member put it Tuesday.

Yet: We still want to know. BART has been saying the cars have been coming for more than a year. The agency said their debut was imminent in the fall. Then a couple of things went wrong during a required test run with inspectors from the California Public Utilities Commission, which must certify the cars as ready for revenue service.

The new fleet is at the core of the agency's promise to improve service -- a promise that looms more urgent as BART continues to watch ridership decline. Weekday ridership declined by 2.8 percent during the first quarter of the system's current fiscal year -- July 1 through Sept. 30, 2017 -- compared to the same period in the previous year. The lower number of riders is a budget hit for an agency that depends on fares for about 75 percent of its operating budget.

BART intends to buy 775 cars from Montreal-based Bombardier, at a cost of $2.6 million each, to replace its current fleet. The district also hopes to find the cash -- perhaps in a regional bridge toll measure expected to go to voters in June -- to buy an extra 300 or so cars -- a number that would help it to ramp up transbay service and handle expected ridership demand on its Silicon Valley expansion.


So with the current and future scenarios all set, here's a scrap of new-car news: BART General Manager Grace Crunican told the BART board of directors last Thursday that it conducted a test of a pilot train on Jan. 9 with CPUC inspectors aboard.

Crunican said the cars "performed very well," but added that there had been one problem: The train doors refused to open at the Downtown Berkeley Station. "I'm sure that wasn't a political statement on the part of the doors," Crunican quipped.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Tuesday the problem was due to wayside equipment at the Berkeley station, not with the train.

The precise nature of the problem aside, Crunican told the board last week that BART's safety team was meeting with the CPUC to determine what steps are still necessary to get the regulators' safety certification.

Crunican also said BART has received 20 of the new cars. More are in the pipeline. And, as we see from social media posts, they're being spotted all over the country -- on their way from Bombardier's plant in Plattsburgh, New York, to BART's Hayward testing facility. Below -- a recent sighting near Fort Wayne, Indiana.