‘No Guarantee' That New Fleet of BART Trains Will Make Power Surge Problems Vanish

“There’s no guarantee that the new cars wouldn’t encounter these kinds of problems,” BART spokesman Jim Allison said.

BART is getting an entirely new fleet of high-tech trains, and the agency’s transit problems will magically disappear when the older trains get put out to pasture.


On Monday, the sixth consecutive day of power surge issues peppering the Bay Area Rapid Transit System, spokesman Jim Allison wouldn’t commit to the problems vanishing, despite a fleet of 775 new trains scheduled to replace the 669 old ones over the next six years.

“There’s no guarantee that the new cars wouldn’t encounter these kinds of problems,” Allison said.

Duncan Callaway, an assistant professor at UC Berkeley's Energy and Resources Group, told NBC Bay Area that he is not intimately familar with BART's specific problems. But based on what he knows, "we can't be sure if the new cars would solve the issue. Clearly, the third rail control system is part of the problem."

Despite rigorous testing and head scratching, BART engineers have still not figured out what is causing a high spike of voltage along a stretch of track near Highway 4 in Contra Costa County, and also in the Transbay Tube. Together, the two surges have fried more than 250 small switches called thyristers since the end of February on a total of about 130, newer C trains. To compare, BART’s older A and B cars have not suffered these unidentified power surges.

BART crews worked over the weekend to try to figure out what is going on, to no avail, even with expert help from outside California.

"Testing over the weekend found very short spikes of high voltage," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Monday. "The experts are providing a fresh set of eyes to the problem. Crews have been systematically identifying all possibilities and then eliminating them one by one."

Also at issue: While BART is expecting a sleek new fleet of trains, the cars will be running on 40-plus-year-old infrastructure.

BART leaders have been quite open about their desire for a $3 billion bond to be put on the fall ballot that would update old rails and train control equipment, expand maintenance facilities and rebuild other parts of the system.

Of course, the hope is that the new trains, manufactured by Bombadier Inc. in Quebec, will alleviate these problems, Allison said. But even if the new fleet is problem-free, they’re a ways off in coming on board.

The first test train of the new fleet arrived on March 15, the day before BART service was shuttered between the North Concord/Martinez and Pittsburg/Bay Point stations. That one car is being tested at a special barn at 955 Whipple Road in Union City.

Once that car is tested and is approved for service, BART’s timeline shows that the first 10 cars are expected to go into service in late 2016. In mid-2017, 66 new cars should be added to the fleet, BART’s timeline shows. Then, in 2018, BART expects delivery to ramp up to 16 new cars a month. The final batch of 223 trains are scheduled to be delivered by fall 2021, bringing the full fleet to 775 new cars.

BART's goal is to ultimately obtain enough money to increase the fleet to 1,081 train cars, although an exact timetable on that is not yet determined.

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