Passengers hoping to catch a ride on the first train in BART’s quieter and cleaner new fleet can start scouring stations beginning in September, agency officials said Monday.
The first 10-car train has been on the mainline tracks for testing overnight since November, but engineers started running the train during regular operating hours last week, marking a milestone in the testing process, said John Garnham, the project manager for BART’s new fleet. The agency is in the process of replacing its 669 train cars with 775 new ones, a roughly $2.6 billion effort it hopes will improve passengers’ experience with a quieter ride, increased capacity and more reliable equipment.
The cars are outfitted with a bright and cheery blue and green color scheme, new digital display boards, overhead air conditioning, a third door to ease loading and unloading, plush vinyl seats and onboard bike racks.
“We’re really getting close,” Garnham said.
Once completed, engineers hope to put the first 10-car train into service, likely sometime in September. At the same time, BART plans to start accepting the first “production vehicles,” or train cars that have design changes and modifications identified during testing already incorporated into them. It’ll put those cars through additional testing before they start carrying passengers, which BART hopes will be sometime in October.
It’s been a long haul for BART to complete testing, which has been beset with delays as engineers ironed out kinks in the propulsion systems, brakes and electrical systems. The agency is 16 months behind its original schedule for testing and 10 months behind its estimate to start accepting production vehicles, Garnham said. It had initially hoped to have 60 new cars in service by the end of the year.
The agency received its first test car from manufacturer Bombardier, Inc. in March 2016. But Garnham said testing actually began in 2014, when engineers started visiting factories in Mexico, Japan, China and in cities throughout the United States, where the components of BART’s cars are being made. Then, each of the components were tested as a system at a simulation lab in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before BART had even received its first car.
Testing on BART’s test track in Hayward got off to a rocky start in April last year when the first car slowly derailed into a sand berm. Engineers determined the derailment was due to a faulty wire that shorted when it got pinched in the train doors, something that wouldn’t normally happen when the trains are in service. But, the experience helped expose problems with the system’s auxiliary power supply system, a component that controls everything from the car’s lighting systems to its air conditioner, doors and secondary brakes.
New problems have since emerged with the train’s electrical systems and software, but Garnham said fixes are in the works. There are 391 tests in all, for everything from whether the train stops at the black tiles at the platform to how well it stops when the tracks are slippery to its passenger information system to the lights and doors. Delays in the testing phase are normal, Garnham said.
“It always seems like there are delays with the engineering (phase), and then they make it up in production,” Garnham said. “We’re working with Bombardier to ramp up their production to a higher rate, (and) we anticipate we’ll be able to do figure out some way to do that.”
BART plans to have all 775 new train cars in service by the end of 2021.