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Hey BART, can you float me to the airport?

By dcuff
Tuesday, December 9th, 2008 at 11:18 am in air travel, BART, light rail, rail.

BART may consider old and new technology — buses, cable cars, and a floating train held up by magnetic forces — as options for a long-waited service to carry train riders to the Oakland International Airport directly from BART’s Coliseum station.

BART is going back to the drawing board for an airport connector project because its $386 million elevated tramway plan has hit a dead end.

The transit system announced last month said that it couldn’t find private partners it needed to help fund the project, a 3.2-mile direct link between the Coliseum station and the airport.

BART isn’t giving up, though. Transit board members and managers said they still believe the region needs a direct airport service more convenient and reliable than the current AirBART shuttle buses.

Those vehicles can get caught in traffic jams, and boarding the shuttles requires train riders to descend from the station platform to catch buses.

So BART is looking at new options — especially if they’re cheaper than the tram plan.

One low-tech idea is to establish dedicated bus lanes to the airport. This plan win points on lower costs, but Oakland officials are not likely to rush to surrender space in city street for bus lanes.

A cable car system also could get another look, BART officials said.

BART rejected a cable car years ago when it was thought the 3.2-mile-long route to the airport was too long for a single cable to pull cars.

But technology has changed since then. Now developers think a cable system that relies on a series of shorter cables could haul cars along the route, said BART spokesman Linton Johnson.

BART also may look at the emerging technology of Maglev trains, Johnson said. (For more info on maglev, visit this site:

Maglev, a train technology in use in a few places in Germany, China, and Japan, uses opposing magnetic forces to levitate and propel a train. The trains lift just enough to move quickly and quietly.

Wow. Wouldn’t neighbors of BART train tracks welcome this technology to avoid the screech of train wheels grinding along the tracks?

BART has no timetable or process yet for assessing different options, which also could include a modified version of a tram.

However, Gail Murray, the BART board president, said the agency doesn’t want to give up on the connector service and expects the board will discuss it in 2009.

If you’ve got ideas for an airport connector, share your comments below.

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8 Responses to “Hey BART, can you float me to the airport?”

  1. Chuck Says:

    BART’s attention to prudent spending here is appreciated. Murray is right, however, that the board should get moving on this ASAP. Whatever the technology, it seems like exactly the kind of infrastructure project that could get some fast-track cash and some more good jobs going in our area.

    If they did do dedicated bus lanes, what do you suppose the odds would be of having a transfer point on the new bus rapid transit line as well?

  2. Michael Krueger Says:

    Maglev? For a people mover? You’ve got to be kidding, right?

    Bus lanes are obviously the most cost-effective improvement, the one that can be done soonest, and the one that will cost the least to operate and maintain; given the way transit dollars are typically spent in the Bay Area (cough-cough, BART to SFO, cough, Central Subway, cough-cough, BART to San Jose, cough), this will undoubtedly place bus lanes at the very bottom of the bottom of the list of project alternatives.

    As for the fact that “Oakland officials are not likely to rush to surrender space in city street,” this just shows how meaningless Oakland’s “transit-first policy,” adopted in 1996 and enshrined on p. 133 of the city’s General Plan, really is. Yes, yes, by all means, “transit first,” but we couldn’t possibly use any precious street space to accommodate transit if it might inconvenience drivers . . . far better to blow hundreds of millions of scarce transit dollars on the most expensive solution conceivable!

  3. Queen Says:

    I feel inexorably drawn to the maglev idea because people with huge magnets could mooch rides, creating an entire subculture just as railroad trains did with hoboes in the 1920s.

  4. Friday Snippets – Home Girl Says:

    […] magnetic buses: what next? BART looks at options — including a floating train — for a connection to Oakland airport [Hat-tip Curbed […]

  5. D Says:

    What’s wrong with the AirBART buses? I’ve used them probably a dozen times over the last two years. They travel on city streets (instead of the freeway) and I’ve never encountered traffic.

    Yes, having to go down a set of stairs is a pain. If I have a lot of luggage, I take a door-to-door shuttle. But, all-in-all, the buses work.

    This seems like a solution in search of a problem.

  6. dcuff Says:

    In response to D’s comments: “What’s wrong with the AirBART buses?” It’s a good question.
    I have used the AirBART shuttles a few times, and found they offered good, quick service – except one time when a shuttle got stuck in traffic and delivered me to the airport slower than I would have liked.
    Little incidents like that are partly why BART proposed a new airport connector service to provide more reliable, convenient and “seamless” service to the airport.
    BART also figures fewer people would drive to the airport if a new rail link was available.
    I’ve personally recommended the AirBART shuttles to friends and relatives and found some liked it and others were reluctant to try it with explanations like this: “I don’t want the extra hassle of transfering from a train to a bus when there are enough things to worry about to get to the airport on time?”
    Is it worth a big new project for a little more convenience and reliability to get to Oakland airport?
    I can’t say. In the mean time, the shuttle isn’t a bad option.

  7. david vartanoff Says:

    In utopia, a rail line would be nice. Given where we are the shuttle will be the mode for a long time. Two improvements occur to me.
    1 indeed some dedicated roadway would solve most of the reliability issues.
    2. Baltimore Airport’s shuttle to Amtrak/MARC commuter trains is FREE. Much easier than fumbling for change at yet another TVM.

    BTW the Baltimore Light Rail which starts @ the north door of the Terminal concourse connects to the downtown Amtrak/MARC Staqtion. Some planners actually thought.

  8. Kim Moore Says:

    I suggest that everyone investigate suspended guideway technology at It is a type of monorail system with dramatically reduced per mile costs, both in construction and right-of-way, compared to ground-based train-on-track approaches.
    It offers a real solution, now, for many passenger and freight demands, with available hardware/software. It can be stand-alone or serve as a transit bridge between systems or extend existing systems at line’s end.
    For decades we have allowed the search for the “perfect” solution to prevent the design and implementation of “good enough”. Let’s begin building “good enough”, where urban and suburban density justifies funding.

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