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Take a Look at the New BART Car

First new car arrives, preps for gauntlet of challenges

Your BART train is here. And it only took three weeks.

The transit agency, presumably very happy to have something to talk about other than a recent volume of mechanical failures comparable to the success rate of ACME rocket skates, announced the arrival of the first car in its fleet of the future today, after a cross-country expedition from New York that began in mid-March.

The 70-foot long, 65,500 pound, $2 million dollar train car is here for testing, and will now be subject to a variety of trials, including "wheel to axle resistance, noise, and electromagnetic compatibility."

That last point is particularly important, since incompatibility would mean that the interaction of the car and the rail system creates interference that can muck up nearby electronics, including some medical devices like pacemakers. The "Don’t Kill Heart Patients" test is something of a must for any mass transit agency.

But what the public really cares about is the interior.

It looks roomy, partly due to having fewer seats (an average of 4.6 fewer seats per car). Some had to go to make room for crash-buffer zones, and the rest were removed to make room for the third door on each side.

Cutting down on seating seems paradoxical when the system is more crowded than ever, but BART argues that more trains means more seats in total, even if fewer of them are on your particular train. The system also yanked some seats from the old cars in February, a move framed as a way to free up standing room.

BART also promises that the silicone foam in the new seats will stay springy, that better soundproofing will cut down on that screeching noise in tunnels, that the upholstery-free design will be easier to clean (bowing to certain urban realities after 40 years), and that a more efficient cooling system will keep things brisk when the doors are closed.

If the car proves itself worthy in the trials, 774 of its brothers and sisters will join it by 2021, with a goal of buying more than 300 additional new cars after that. The first 10 could be in service by the end of the year.