D.C. Train Crash: Could It Happen Here?

BART inspired Washington Metro's design -- and the rail systems could share safety risks

A deadly crash which killed nine people in Washington, D.C. should bring chills to BART riders.

As should this fact: The transit agency has been reduced to buying spare parts on eBay, a source claims

As anyone who's ridden Washington's Metro and BART can tell you, the systems are eerily similar, from the magnetic tickets to the carpeted railcars. BART is the Metro's big brother, having opened our years before the Metro in 1972.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson says that its railcars' shells are built differently, and don't face the exact same collision risks as D.C.'s Metro. He also noted that the system's automated train-control operations have more built-in redundancies, which might help it avoid a similar crash.

But there's one big sibling resemblance: Aging railcar fleets. Last fall, Metro announced plans to seek $2 billion to buy new railcars. And sure enough, last month BART unveiled a similar plan to replace 669 cars and buy 31 new ones, with a price tag of $3.4 billion.

BART still doesn't have that money in hand. In the meantime, riders are traveling on 36-year-old equipment, as BART officials announced when they revealed their request.

If anything, the tragedy in D.C. could make funds easier for BART to obtain.

The agency periodically refurbishes its railcars. But it can't keep doing so indefinitely: BART's cars are so old that mechanics have to scrounge for parts online on sites like eBay, according to a source familiar with BART's maintenance practices who spoke to NBC on condition of anonymity.

Johnson, the BART spokesman, couldn't confirm the practice -- but noted that the manufacturer of some of BART's fleet is out of business.
"Rohr, which manufactured a portion of our fleet, is gone," he said. "A lot of parts we have to get from other places. To say we buy on eBay, I could not tell you one way or another."

What do you think? Are you worried about the risk of a BART crash like the one in Washington?

Contact Us