BART to drop big bank on new fleet

BART has its checkbook out and is set to drop $1 billion on a contract for 260 new rail cars this May.

BART’s fleet of 669 cars is literally the oldest in the nation, with most of them about to turn 40. But the highly anticipated plan to replace them with new, sleek, modern cars, has made some serious headway. Today, we got a sneak peek into the future of Bay Area public transit.

The new BART cars will provide riders with smart and thoroughly overdue upgrades, including digital information displays, air conditioning for those hot days, and seats that are easier to keep clean than the funktastic fabric ones we have now. (Y’know, the comfy blue pads which recent lab tests proved to contain several strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and fecal matter.)

Each new car will have three doors for speedy boarding. And each will still have 60 seats. The seating arrangements will be reconfigured though, with traditional rows at both ends of each car, and more seats sprinkled in around standing areas. The designs include designated spots for wheelchairs, bicycles and luggage in each car.

Officials say we can expect to see that familiar brushed aluminum exterior, but it’ll be broken up with color and signs that indicate which line the train is operating on.

Ten new pilot cars should hit the tracks around 2015. Testing should last about eight months before BART gives the nod to start full production of the new fleet. At that point, they’ll arrive in batches every year or so until 2018. In other words, do be excited, but keep your pants on.

If transit officials are happy with their 260 new whips, and if they can raise another $2 billion with continued help from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, they say they’ll buy another 515 cars to completely replace the old fleet by 2023.

None of the five firms that expressed interest in building BART’s new cars are located in the United States. But transit officials have committed to Federal “Buy America” requirements, which require at least 60 percent of each new car’s components be made in the U.S., and that all assembly is done on domestic soil.

Federal law, though, prohibits BART from giving special consideration to bidders that would promise to build the cars in the Bay Area, or even California for that matter, much to the dismay of some MTC members.

“This is Bay Area taxpayers’ money,” said commissioner Scott Haggerty, an Alameda County supervisor, who suggested using the former Nummi plant in Fremont. “It’s really important that these rail cars be built in the Bay Area.”