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BART considers turning old train cars into housing

Retired cars could also be donated, recycled, or kept for emergencies.

BART train cars lined up. Photo by Todd A. Merport

As BART slowly begins rotating its newly designed and delivered, multi-billion dollar “Fleet of the Future” cars into service, it must begin pondering what to eventually do with the old train stock.

At a meeting of the BART Board of Directors on Thursday, January 10, BART staff will present a “Legacy Fleet Decommissioning” report posing many potential uses and reuses of now antiquated train cars, including the possibility of recycling old vehicles as housing.

“The decommissioning is a complex process because BART will operate with a mixed fleet of new and old cars for some time,” according to BART blog.

Although “the new and old cars can’t join together in one train,” rider demand means many older trains will continue running for years.

However, according to this week’s planned presentation, around “early 2020” BART will be “nearing storage capacity,” meaning that, between new and old models, the agency will have more trains on hand than places to put them and will have to consider what to do with them.

Among the possibilities the board will begin considering this week:

  • Creating a BART car museum or selling cars to an existing rail museum.
  • Donating cars to the US Army for training exercises.
  • Donating to technical schools so that students can learn about and practice on rail tech.
  • Selling cars to be converted into new housing.
  • Donating cars to be converted into homeless shelters or shelters for fire victims. (At least one California county has already inquired about this.)
  • Donating some old cars to artists for use in future projects.
  • Selling off old cars for scrap.
  • Hanging onto older cars for “emergency service” or other special needs.

The matter is complicated by federal laws and the expectations of the Federal Transit Administration [FTA], which funded some of the existing train stock.

BART blog explains:

If the FTA-assisted property is determined to have a market value that exceeds $5,000 per unit, the FTA is entitled to an amount calculated by multiplying the current market value, or net proceeds from sales. [...]

If a single train car were valued at $10,000, and funded originally at about 70 percent by FTA, [and] that car were sold for scrap, BART must pay the FTA its share back of around $7,000.

And even if that train car were donated free of charge to a museum, the FTA would still have to be paid its $7,000 share, putting BART out of pocket for that money.

Photo by Caitlin Finnell

BART staff notes that “select parts” from old trains will be harvested to aid in future repair work.

Retirement of old cars will start with “bad actors” that frequently break down or need repair, while “good actor” vehicles will stay in service longer.

On the current timeline, BART plans to have 80 new cars in service by April of this year and 120 by fall.

Currently the transit agency has ordered 775 new cars from Canadian manufacturer Bombardier, with funding in place for 425 more.

The first ten new vehicles went into service in January of 2018, after multiple delays pushed back the original 2016 launch date.