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Behind the Scenes at BART Central

By queen
Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 at 2:38 pm in BART, Misc. Transportation.

A big hello to readers from the Queen of the Road, whose commuter advice column runs in this paper on Wednesday and Sunday! I’m looking forward to working with transportation writer Denis Cuff on this blog.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting BART Central in downtown Oakland. The two-story-high, darkened room, with its vivid red, green, and blue schematics of the BART electrical system and stations on the walls, is the closet thing to “Star Wars” the Queen has ever experienced. You, too, can visit BART central via this BART video.

The Queen took advantage of the opportunity to ask BART personnel some of the questions her readers have often posed.

Something that comes up often is the length of trains, especially during commute hours.

“Commuters always ask, ‘Why isn’t my train ten cars long?'” said Chris Young, operations control central manager.

The problem: “We just don’t have the cars.”

BART has 669 cars, some of which are going to be out of commission for maintenance at any given time. If every train had 10 cars during the morning commute, that would be 620 cars, which would be close to 100 percent.

That would mean that there would be no spares in case of one of Young’s chief nightmares, a breakdown during rush hour.

Young’s fondest dream? “One hundred more cars and one more track in each direction.”

Photo of BART train by Flickr user ol slambert used under Creative Commons license

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11 Responses to “Behind the Scenes at BART Central”

  1. DensityDuck Says:

    What do they think of SCC Measure B? (66.74% as of this post! YEAH BABY!)

  2. Caroline Dalton Says:

    It seems that the 10 car trains are serving the most favorite commuters. For instance, San Francisco to Pittsburg/Baypoint is almost always 10 cars during any commute hour. However, Fremont or Richmond do not get this favored treatment to and from San Francisco. Dublin/Pleasanton is spotty, but not as good as the main SF to Pittsburg/Baypoint. I would like to see people from east of the hills stand up and be squeezed just as much as the commuters from Oakland and Richmond. I bet if that happened, Bart would get more cars.

  3. Queen Says:

    DensityDuck, I am delighted with your sobriquet and your comment! Can you elaborate a bit more about Measure B for those who are not (as it were) up to speed?

    Caroline, your comment is a good one. The Queen herself has noticed this phenomenon; as it happens, I live in Richmond. This one deserves to be run by BART and perhaps addressed further.

  4. Metro Controller Says:

    I work as a Controller for the Light Rail in Sac, a Mickey Mouse operation when compared to BART. But we have the same issues, just in different scales.I would be willing to bet that Pittsburgh/Concord trains are 10 cars are because there are no other service going in that direction, while those going to Richmond and Fremont can take other trains and transfer at Oakland. So from San Francisco to Richmond or Fremont, there are more trains (albeit, some with transfers) compared to those going to Concord. Just cause having X amount of cars, doesn’t mean they all have to be in service. Some are down for maintenance, repair, upgrade or held as spares, in case of train failure, track blockage, special events, or any other events that is beyond the norm. BART also has only so many cars that have operator’s cabs and they can limit the amount of trains that can be assembled (a BART train needs a cab car on both ends). As a controller, sometimes you have to pick your poison, do you run shorter trains (crowded) while keeping schedule or run the longer trains, with some trips very late or even cancelled (also causing crowded conditions). If these were your resources, what would you prefer?

  5. Queen Says:

    Great point, Metro Controller! It’s v. useful to get an explanation from the inside. Maybe we should create a Public Transit game (PubTrans? Commuter Maze?) on this blog in which readers can be the controllers and make the decisions.

  6. former Capricious Commuter Says:

    I would add that on the Richmond-Fremont line, the rides tend to be shorter hops, meaning riders can put up with a little straphanging (if they had straps!) somewhat better than people riding from Outer Delta Exurb into Urban Corecadero. If we teach all these people to fold newspapers lengthwise into quarters, they’ll be able to read with one hand and hold on with the other. That will make the minutes pass more quickly.

  7. Queen Says:

    Eric! We are honored to see from you, the original creator of this blog. Thanks for the insight.

  8. Mike Says:

    Hi Erik! I hear your wife’s reports on NPR from time to time.

    Fremont to Richmond seems to be the line with the shortest trains. At night, the trains are nearly always 3 cars, and can get quite crowded after the Berkeley Rep lets out, etc.

    I do think the reason may be shorter trips plus more overlap. The Dublin line overlaps part of this line and the Pittsburg/Bay Point line overlaps another part. The Pittsburg line has the highest ridership and probably the longest trips.

  9. david vartanoff Says:

    @ Mike, No PBP does NOT have the most riders. It has the highest relative spike in rush hour, but the vast majprity of ALL BART ridership is west of the hills and north of Coliseum–the urban subway section. Several years ago the CCTimes ran an editorial whining thatr CC County had greater populayion than SF but smaller representation on the BOD. Care to guess the ONLY CC station in top ten rider stat? ECDN w/ the bus hub from all over. The Richmond line fills its small trains all day long.

  10. david vartanoff Says:

    Greetings Erik! I too hear your wife on NPR–makes me think of you.

  11. Metro Controller Says:

    I ride BART everytime I come visit my folks, from Richmond to catch the Fremont train, based from observation on this seat. 3-cars off-peak seams like a good length given that even though it gets crowded at Berkeley, by the time it reaches Macarthur, the train practically empties as the majority transfers to the SF bound train. From Lake Merrit to Bay Fair, their is an overlap with the Dublin/Pleasanton train. The next mini-wave are the transfers from the Dublin/Pleasanton going towards Fremont. Three cars times 4 trips per hour has quite a bit of capacity during off-peak on a non-SF train. Having a Fremont-Richmond train longer than this consist seems like a waste of capacity, and undue wear-and-tear on the cars, and more miles accumulated means more cleaners, mechanics and chances for breakdowns even though operator, mainline supervision expenses are the same.

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