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BART's Latest Service Meltdown Comes at a Tricky Time for Transit Agency

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A passenger watches a train go by at the Lake Merritt BART station on March 13, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

For the second time in less than 72 hours, BART suffered a service meltdown on Wednesday morning due to problems along its tracks near downtown Oakland.

A rail maintenance vehicle derailed near Oakland’s 19th Street station around 3:30 a.m., about an hour and a half before the day’s first trains were scheduled to run through the area, the agency said.

The lengthy process of getting the maintenance vehicle back on the rails prompted BART to cancel service on its Red Line between Richmond, San Francisco International Airport and Millbrae.


Other service impacts included:

  • Passengers from the six East Bay stations the Red Line serves exclusively — Richmond, El Cerrito del Norte, El Cerrito Plaza, North Berkeley, Downtown Berkeley and Ashby — were advised to get on Orange Line/Berryessa trains and transfer to Yellow Line trains for the trip across the bay.
  • Riders needing to get to Millbrae, where they can make a direct connection to Caltrain, were told to transfer to a shuttle at SFO.
  • Trains on the southbound Orange Line running to Berryessa
    station in northeast San José were forced to detour from 12th Street in downtown Oakland to West Oakland before then turning around to continue to Lake Merritt.

BART offered no estimate of when normal service would resume.

Wednesday’s problems follow a major disruption on Sunday afternoon that started around 2:30 p.m. when a train suffered an equipment problem and stopped between Lake Merritt and West Oakland.

“The train wouldn’t move, so we coupled it with another train and towed it out of the way,” Alicia Trost, BART’s chief communications officer, said in an email.

But the delays weren’t over. Shortly afterward, Trost said, a rail defect was found at an interlocking — a switch point where trains can cross over from one set of tracks to another — outside West Oakland station.

Crews repaired that problem. Then, yet another train suffered an equipment issue, this time while traveling through the Transbay Tube.

Via social media, BART reported major delays for more than four hours into early Sunday evening and was forced to halt direct trains between Berryessa and San Francisco and limit service between Dublin/Pleasanton and the city.

The latest disruptions come at an especially sensitive time for BART, which is joining with other transit operators in a campaign to craft a 2026 tax measure that would help the agencies head off a fiscal catastrophe resulting from fare revenue lost in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facing annual deficits of more than $350 million a year starting in July 2026, BART has said it would consider cutting some lines, reducing service hours and closing some stations if it doesn’t identify new sources of revenue.

In an email last week to a new Metropolitan Transportation Commission committee charged with crafting the tax proposal, BART General Manager Bob Powers highlighted the ambitious program of service improvements the agency has undertaken in response to long-standing rider complaints about service reliability, crime, cleanliness, fare evasion and the growing presence of people on the system suffering various modes of crisis.

Those improvements are partly driven by demands from state lawmakers, who agreed to approve emergency operating funds for BART and other agencies on the condition they address concerns about their service.

BART’s efforts have included increasing police presence, hiring crisis intervention specialists, rolling out new fare gates, a focused effort to keep trains and stations clean, a customer-friendly night and weekend schedule and operating all of its service with its new generation of train cars. The agency has even hired attendants at its busiest stations to ensure clean restrooms are available for customers.

But those efforts don’t appear to be luring customers back to the system, largely because of the continuing pandemic-driven shift in work habits. BART ridership has returned to just 43% of its 2019 level, and that growth has slowed dramatically in the past year.

In a Monday afternoon meeting of transportation agency executives, Powers warned that without a workable tax measure, BART would be forced to consider service reductions that would be felt throughout the region.

“I’m well on the way to do a Plan B and a Plan C,” Powers said. “… Nobody’s going to like my Plan B. … It’s going to impact every single person around this table one way or the other. And my Plan C is going to be catastrophic for many people around this table.”

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