Transportation

An Update on BART's "Fleet of the Future" and Train Control Modernization Project

BART Warm Springs Opening
Noah Berger

Earlier this year, the blog provided a sneak peek at the long-awaited first new BART rail cars rolling into service around the Bay Area – and, with them, the promise of smoother, quieter, more comfortable and more spacious train rides for commute-weary Bay Area residents. In that post, we went into some detail on MTC’s essential role in funding and supporting BART’s $4.2 billion “Fleet of the Future” project to purchase and deploy the 1,081 new rail cars that will replace BART's existing fleet and expand the system with more trains. 

But it’s worth stepping back a bit from the funding mechanics to get a better understanding of the difficult realities that make these new rail cars and other related modernization projects so essential: BART is the region’s backbone for Transbay traffic but the system is way past its intended capacity, it is operating on 45-year old equipment, its geographic footprint is growing, and projected regional housing and job growth patterns suggest future demand will only increase. 

In the below video – taken from a presentation to MTC’s Programming and Allocations Committee earlier this month – staff from BART provide an overview of, and update on, the expansion and modernization projects that BART is undertaking to increase capacity and meet future demand. The presentation provides answers to key questions, such as: What are the main constraints with the current system? How exactly will capacity be increased if the system is already past capacity? What’s the project schedule and who is paying for it? 

Naturally, addressing all of these issues while still maintaining daily service levels will be an extraordinarily complex endeavor with a lot of moving pieces. The new rail cars happen to be the biggest piece of the puzzle, but the overall success of the effort depends on several other unsexy but essential elements: a new train control system, a new maintenance and storage facility, and new power systems. 

Fleet of the Future (1,081 Rail Cars)

$4.2 billion

Train Control Modernization (Communications-based Train Control)

$1.15 billion

Hayward Maintenance Complex

$581 million

Source: BART

Altogether these projects totaling nearly $6 billion represent one of the largest long-term transit investments for the nine-county Bay Area. When all is said and done, the new replacement and expansion rail cars (which will provide more trains with more space for more people), the new train control system (which will allow more trains to safely operate closer together on limited track space), and the supporting maintenance and power infrastructure behind it will expand BART’s peak-hour capacity into San Francisco by 45 percent

That is a pretty significant efficiency gain and will be indispensable to the region in meeting travel demand over next 30-40 years. As stated by BART staff in the video, these investments will essentially buy the region time until another Transbay crossing can be built – which, of course, is the ultimate Holy Grail in improving travel to and from the region’s primary employment centers. 

As for those new rail cars, there should be 20 cars in service by the end of this month and 200 cars in service by Sept 2019. Close to 800 new rail cars are expected to be in operation by the Spring of 2022. 

Key Documents

BART Presentation to MTC Programming and Allocations Committee – April 11, 2018

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