Part of the Bay Area News Group

color my BART

By enelson
Friday, May 11th, 2007 at 4:31 pm in air travel, BART, Caltrain, connectivity, Funding.

metro-red-line.jpgOne thing that I, as a former Washingtonian (as in DC), couldn’t help but notice when I arrived in the Bay Area in March of last year was how much the BART system resembles the capitol’s Metro system.

The cars appeared identical, although I learned later that there were some important differences. The tracks, although a different gauge, use the same side-rail system to bring power to the cars. And what really made me homesick were the farecard machines, which became the butt of many Metro jokes when introduced in the mid-1970s.

What also struck me were the system maps, with their fat, brightly-colored lines connecting the system’s five outer points.

Then came the surprise difference: Waiting for a train at Embarcadero, I fully expected to see the same bright colors on signs designating the trains.

Instead, there was “Pittsburg/Bay Point,” “Dublin/Pleasanton” and other places I’d never heard of. I wanted the Red Line, and had to go back to a map to translate that after missing a Richmond train because I didn’t realize that it was the line designated red.

This bit of navigational confusion is something people at BART have been aware of for a while, but the idea of elevating the colors to their highest and best use has yet to catch on.

During Thursday’s proposal for improved service on the San Francisco International Airport extension, however, I noticed that “Yellow Line” had crept into official parlance.

Now that BART officials have negotiated full custody and child support from San Mateo County’s SamTrans system, they’ve devised a scheme to double service that SamTrans had rolled back and at the same time run trains directly from Richmond to Millbrae.

And they’re calling it the Red Line.

“The Yellow Line will always go to the airport under this plan,” said BART spokesman Linton Johnson, who teaches us all how to refer to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. “Then from Monday to Friday, from start of service until 7 p.m. and on weekends and holidays, the Red Line will go to Millbrae.”

And there are more details, such as “Red Line” trains starting at 4 a.m. so those Silicon Valley commuters could hook up with Caltrain quickly at Millbrae and still get to work by 8 a.m.

The new BART plan is much easier to understand when you color-code it. The Red Line and Yellow Line aren’t defined by their starting points or ending points, they’re means to an end. All we have to do now is wrap them in their respective colors, or at least put a red or yellow dot in the front window.

Photo of Washington Metro Red Line train from

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

7 Responses to “color my BART”

  1. david vartanoff Says:

    Transit and commuter services figured these things out decades ago. Give the rider the easiest ways to decode the system. But, BART deliberately threw out the “old subway” model for a Buck Rogers fantasy. They originally had no hand grabs on the ceilings because”everyone would have a seat”. NO signage on the actual trains because the electronic signs would tell all. “Destination signs may be giving wrong information. Please listen to announcements from the train operator.”

  2. Mike Says:

    Referring to the lines by color makes a lot of sense. I use the SFO extension a few times per year, and I always see people with luggage trying to figure out the map.

    I also like the proposed service changes. I stopped transferring to BART at Millbrae when Samtrans reduced the frequency and made all trains to into the SFO station after leaving Millbrae. It cost more and didn’t save any time. I no longer commute this direction but would look into trying it again for Sharks games and the like.

  3. Samatakah Says:

    Maybe because BART is the only subway system I’ve ever used, I’ve only had one problem taking “the Pittsburg train” or “the Fremont train” to get around. And that was because the very first time I took BART to Oakland, my mom told me to take “the Concord train” and, like most native San Franciscans who never cross the bay unless they’re going to Tahoe, I had no idea where the east bay cities are, I didn’t know that Concord was “this side” of Pittsburg.

    I love BART. I’ll love it more when they enact electronic cards like the Fastrak that lives in my vehicle.

  4. Doug Faunt Says:

    This could be a win, since the train direct to Millbrae should arrive soon enough to make transfers to Caltrain headed south possible without a 20 minute wait.

    I don’t see any mention of the route from Millbrae to SFO and return.

    Obviously, doing a wye at San Bruno is possible, and if the timing of the trains is right should be quick enough.

    Has this been mentioned anywhere?

  5. Inside Bay Area > The Capricious Commuter > poverty and the suburbs: a short commute Says:

    […] you see, will¬†connect the Pittsburg/Bay Point Line, or Yellow Line, if you will, to the eastern Contra Costa County communities near the Sacramento […]

  6. Guy Span Says:

    When built, as one poster noted, every BART rider was to have a seat. Thus no stantions were built on the first series of cars for the “strap hangers.” Brian Stokes, the first GM, promised us a “Swift, virtually noiseless and vibration-free electric train”. We got an electric train.

    Average speed – 45 mph. Noiseless – a db meter shows that BART routinely exceeds 90 db, due to unground track and tight clearances. This exceeds OSHA limits.

    In 1957 Japan designed a quiet 127 mph electric railway while here in the most advanced Western Country, we designed a scremingly loud 45 mph electric railway.

  7. Tom Says:

    Average speed is actually 33 mph I believe. Fantastic.

    Maybe we should realize and admit we’re not the most advanced anymore, and do better.

Leave a Reply