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BART races to make deadline for new cars

“It may happen within the week; then again, it may not”

BART is racing to keep its new trains on schedule, with a looming, self-imposed December 15 deadline to get at least as handful the multi-million dollar, upgraded vehicles operating.

KTVU 2 reports a pre-2018 roll-out now “appears unlikely,” although the network doesn’t cite any particular source saying that this is the case; it appears to be more of a judgment call based on the constant sequence of delays and redacted deadlines all year long, plus the latest batch of technical difficulties.

Even BART is not yet sure about the timetable for their new coaches. Agency spokesperson Jim Allison tells Curbed SF via email:

“The 10 pilot cars are still being tested and are not yet ready for passenger service. Two steps need to occur: we need to schedule the CPUC [California Public Utilities Commission] to come back for another inspection ride and, assuming everything goes as planned, the CPUC needs to formally approve the cars for passenger service.

Both of those steps could happen within the next week; then again, they may not.”

Not much concrete to work with there. But BART is at the mercy of timing and technology, after the new vehicles failed a last-step CPUC test in November.

In a letter released this week, BART gives the gritty details on what derailed the test. First, two train systems that monitor how many cars are running (there were ten at the time, but only three registered) came up with different results and confused the system:

The resulting mismatch between the two, independent train-length measuring schemes forced the [vehicle] to re-identify as a three, according to the safety protocols programmed into its vital software.

[...] For the short term, Bombardier [the train manufacturer] will design and install a rotary train-length switch in each cab car. The train operator will be required to manually rotate the switch to indicate the number of cars in the train.

On top of that, most of the doors on the ten-car test train wouldn’t open at the station:

During the test, one of the two TWC boards [Train/Wayside/Communication antenna] experienced a hardware failure in the lead car. [...] With this condition, even the manual door-open push button is disabled, which explains the train operator’s announcement that they “lost control of the doors.”

A new train car under construction at the factory.
Some assembly required.
Photo courtesy of BART

The doors on the opposite side did open at the next station, because a second, non-failing device manages those doors. BART’s letter tells regulators that the equipment responded to the malfunctions as designed, which, ironically, caused the problems in the first place.

Originally, BART hoped to have a few cars in service by the end of 2016. Then the plan changed to 60 by the end of 2017. Now it’s a race against time and technology to see if ten can make the grade for the holidays.