When Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) first carried passengers, the state was sending astronauts to the moon. Apollo-era trains were symbols of a generation heading into a space-age future complete with carpeted floors and a promised seat for every passenger.
That was in 1972, when BART was state-of-the-art. But half a century later – and with the agency celebrating its 50th anniversary this month – many of those silver and blue trains still crisscross the Bay Area. And keeping it running – even in the country’s tech capital – requires a special breed of ingenuity.
BART’s mechanics rely on Frankensteined laptops running Windows 98, train yard scraps and old microchips to keep Bay Area commuters on the rails.
“We literally started with a photo and searched various manufacturers and eBay for a bit of an eccentric,” said John Allen, a mechanic who specializes in breathing new life into broken BART trains. When the car 372 caught fire In Orinda, California, in 2013, his team created an entirely new system and built their own floor-replacement tools. “Sometimes we don’t even know the name of the part.”
To understand why BART maintenance is so complicated, take a look at the founders. They avoided heavy steel trains and old school signaling technology and instead hired an airline to build train fleet That will serve as a public transport model. Results? All-electric trains with a sleek aluminum body and wide windows, supported by semi-autonomous operations. Original Bart 450: $160 million.
Mike Healy, a longtime spokesperson for the agency, said: Bart’s historian. In 1972, he “was kind of the new kid on the block.”
But a lot of devices are quickly becoming obsolete. Even when neighboring Silicon Valley spread, trains remained tied to a safe but mysterious An automated train control system based on DOS – a computer operating system that is now in the trash of history. BART has inspired train networks in Washington, D.C. and Atlanta, yet its specific mechanisms have not been widely replicated.
Today, the transmission system is out there, calling in everything from wheels to windows to attract tailored attention.
“The biggest stumbling block is coming up with parts you no longer make,” said Mark Wing, the mechanic who oversees maintenance on the entire train, which includes electrical drive gear to smashed seats.
Parts that aren’t manufactured anymore? “Almost everything,” he said.
When Bart’s car gets into trouble, Sean Stange steps back in time. He unlocks an IBM Thinkpad circa 2000 running Windows 98 and opens a portal to the train’s brain – the train’s automated control system – through the computer language of DOS.
As if he were running a vehicle diagnostic test, the Stange uses the software as a roadmap for the mechanic. “This stuff was written a long time ago. So you have to take Windows 10 and open the Windows 98 box by default and then run a (DOS) program to download the log files.” “It’s primitive.”
Piles of old laptop carcasses are common in BART warehouses. The train software is very old and will not work on modern computers.
“I was in an engineering office, and I bet there were 40 of them sitting on the floor stacked,” Allen said. “Stealing that part and stealing that part to keep one laptop working. You see that here all the time.”
Perhaps the most illustrative symbol of BART’s approach alone is Pioneering cars of the seventies of the last century, which have dedicated fan base Among transport design enthusiasts. The sloping nose was designed for futuristic effect but had few practical purposes and even prevented trains from switching interchangeably with flat-faced vehicles. Aside from the job, Healy said, shape became Bart’s “identity.”
BART spokesman Jim Allison said 56 of the original bullet cars, known as A-cars, are still in operation. Their mechanical internal parts were replaced during Middle Age Reconstruction From the old fleet that started in the late 1990s, but the same pointy nose greets tens of thousands of passengers every day. Another 341 “B Cars” from the 1970s are still in use along with 60 “Cs”, which were made in the 1980s.
In June, the family of vintage flagship cars got a little smaller. car 1204 derailed She now lives in a Concorde maintenance yard, blazing under the latest heat wave. “You’re going to Schnitzer Steel in Auckland and it crashes,” Allison said.
But before the 1204 met the garbage compactor, mechanics picked the bones of the train in recent weeks. They pulled out the headlight sockets and pulled out the hard-to-replicate connector windows to keep the parts.
“The window is kind of sloping, like a bubble,” said Scott Fitzgerald, a manager at Concord Yard, adding that they only had one piece left. “I don’t know how many tries the glassmaker tried to get it right.”
Michaela Edwards was one of the first people to see BART’s space age trains pass through the Bay Area. On September 11, 1972, a little girl was slung over her mother Teresa’s shoulder when the couple became Customers who pay first. “Sometimes I introduce myself as Bart’s first child,” said Edwards, who is now a teacher in Palo Alto.
For her, trains have always had the air of discovery on trips from Oakland to San Francisco. But Edward’s association with BART also parallels many passengers’ love-hate relationship with the system as old trains struggle with cleanliness, delays, and failing air conditioners.
And as she got older, her frustration with Bart sometimes turned into angry social media posts, when crowded old cars turned into saunas. Speaking of a 2016 trip, she said, “I couldn’t believe it was so hot on the train. And so I was tweeting, ‘Do something about it.'” “
BART is doing something. Its old trains are slowly being phased out. Most of them will be sent to scrap yards in the next couple of years, and a handful will be reused for, among other things, Local beer garden, video game arcade, firefighter training. Western Railway Museum in Solano County is also fundraising To save historic BART cars for a new gallery.
They will be replaced by $2.6 billion “Fleet of the Future” That already makes up almost a third of the trains. The cars have cooler cabins, LCD map screens, and yellow and blue seats. Combined with a revamped train control system, the new fleet aims to finally propel BART into the 21st century, even with its initial commissioning. It is hampered by software glitches.
Finding parts won’t be a problem and DOS is no longer necessary for Allen and his crew, but it will still be bittersweet to say goodbye to the trains they kept alive with love.
said Allen, who has dedicated the past 16 years to BART’s reforms. “I think we can probably rebuild the fleet again and keep going . . . but you know, coming up with the old and the new.”
50 years of Bart
2,302,680: Average mileage for BART 70’s trains
89: Number of rail cars that were operated in 1972 and are still in use today
‘It will never work’ – Margaret Thatcher in 1969 after touring BART
$2.6 billion: The cost of 775 new BART trains “Fleet of the Future”
70 mph: BART’s maximum speed
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