- The San Francisco region’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system rolled out the first 10 trains of its “Fleet of the Future” last year.
- The new trains will eventually completely replace the noisy, ageing trains currently serving the Bay Area, many of which have been around since the 1970s.
- I rode on one of the new BART trains, and was impressed by how clean, spacious, and bike-friendly they were.
I first arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1987. At the time, public Bay Area Rapid Transit trains were the pleasant and speedy way to get from my home in Noe Valley to the Financial District.
The seats were cushy and fabric-covered, the cars were carpeted, and the trains, unlike with San Francisco’s Municipal Railway, ran on a predictable schedule. It was a first-class ride.
Over the years, the once cushy cars have become covered with a permanent layer of grime. It’s no surprise, considering more than 400,000 people ride the BART system on an average weekday. That’s equal to almost half the population of San Francisco.
Now, the fleet of shiny new cars that BART has ordered are arriving just in time.
In 2012, BART found a supplier to build a replacement fleet of 775 train cars, called the Fleet of the Future. The first 10 trains of this new fleet opened their doors to passengers in January 2018, and the full fleet will be up and running by 2023.
The new cars are quieter than the ones their replacing, and they boast redesigned seats and more passenger space. They also have a better system for boarding passengers in wheelchairs, parking bikes, and stowing luggage.
The first time I found myself on one of the Fleet of the Future trains, I was thrilled. BART’s original fleet, which Duckworth referred to as “legacy cars,” are 30 years old, on average. Imagine trading in your vintage Impala for a sleek new roadster and you’ll get an idea of the feel of the new BART cars.
Here’s what it’s like to ride on San Francisco’s newest public trains.
The new fleet has fewer seats in each car. To me, it looked like a lot fewer.
Seats on the legacy BART cars were positioned in rows close together, which could make it hard to get in and out on a crowded train.
Meanwhile, seats on the new cars are positioned so that you never feel squished against other seats or your seatmate. The seats were ergonomically designed and they are definitely more comfortable than the old ones. The blue and neon green provide a fun pop of colour.
“The hope is that we can fit more people on each fleet of the future car because there’s more standing room,” BART spokesperson Anna Duckworth told Business Insider.
The new cars feel wide open. They include center poles to make it easier for standing passengers of all heights to hang on.
The new cars have three doors per car instead of two to speed loading and unloading and move the trains along more quickly. The red lights above the doors on the new cars are a nice touch, too.
With the new fleet, BART has fully embraced bike-to-transit riders. The cars have a bike insignia on one of the three doors, showing bike riders where to board.
Inside, there are three bike parking docks where you can secure your bike so it doesn’t fall over if the car comes to a sudden stop. I found it challenging to fit my small-wheeled folding bike into one of the slots, but I made it work by wedging my seat stem into the rack. It was nice to be able to step away and watch my bike stay in place as the train started and stopped.
There is a dedicated entrance in each car for wheelchairs. This door has an insignia, like the bike entrance, to help wheelchair users better navigate the train entry.
The station announcements on the old BART cars are about as clear as the speaker at a drive-thru. The new trains have automated station announcements in each car. Plus, there are electronic displays at each end of the car and by the doors that show the next station stop.
There are also electronic maps by the doors showing you the line you’re on. As part of the upgrade, BART has changed from labelling each line by its endpoints to giving each route a colour. The old system had grown confusing, as new stations changed the endpoints of the lines, so this was a welcome change.
Of course, it’s only a matter of time before spilled soda and other mishaps ruin the pristine floors. The cars are new, not the humans who ride them. But, for now, the squeaky-clean feeling of the new cars is delightful. The new cars were designed to be easier to keep clean, so fingers crossed that the clean and bright feeling will last.
The older BART cars created market for noise-cancelling headphone to counteract the deafening rumble, especially in the tunnel under the San Francisco Bay. The new trains are quieter, as is the horn that warns of an arriving train. The Fleet of the Future will change the soundscape of BART as well as the look and feel of the trains.
I won’t miss the sagging seats and sticky floors of the legacy fleet, but I feel a fondness for the BART cars that will be phased out — and I’m not the only one. “There’s just a lot of nostalgia attached to these cars. We’re very aware of that,” Duckworth said, adding that BART’s heard proposals to turn decommissioned cars into food trucks, Airbnb rentals, or permanent housing.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.