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It's Time to Rebuild: $3.5 Billion Plan Lays Groundwork for 'A Better BART; A Better Bay Area'

General Manager
San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District

BART is a precious public resource. Every day, we connect hundreds of thousands of people to the countless opportunities the Bay Area has to offer. Thanks to the enormous amount of input from local leaders and residents, we have a strong plan to reinvest $3.5 billion in our aging system.

Our plan puts us on the right path toward building a better BART, and we’re committed to transparency, accountability and integrity every step of the way. A summary of the plan, “It’s Time to Rebuild,” follows.

We have three overarching goals:

Fixing it First
After 44 years of service and hundreds of millions of trips, it’s time to repair, replace and renew the parts of BART that keep riders moving.

Our new fleet of train cars will arrive soon—and when they do, we will need smooth rail, well-maintained tunnels and more electricity to power us through the commute. From earthquake safety to structure repairs, our first priority is ensuring that everything ­working in the background stays working—and safe.

Relieving Congestion
The Bay Area is a unique, magnetic place. As our population increases, BART’s goal is to make sure growing pains don’t get in the way of either new opportunities or our destinations.

We plan to upgrade our computers from Pong-era technology to a modern train control system, which means less waiting around on crowded trains or platforms and less frustration from delays. The new, additional maintenance facilities we plan on constructing will keep the maximum number of trains out on the rails serving customers—trans­lating to fewer cars clogging our congested highways.

Improving Access
How riders get to BART matters just as much as how BART gets riders where they need to be. Our plan includes improving customer access within and around our stations—from more parking, to new escalators and elevators, to bike stations.

BART is for everyone, and we want to reduce the number of obstacles between a rider’s front door and a seat on a train.

Parsing the Plan
So what’s in the plan? (See the chart here.)

First, we will repair and replace critical safety infrastructure. This represents 90 percent of the plan and accounts for $3.165 billion. Our priorities follow:

Replacing worn track. BART gets extra life out of our rail because we have some of the lightest train cars in the country—but even the strongest steel wears down over time.

We’re replacing 90 miles of our worn, original rail with tougher, harder steel that will last even longer than what we first installed during the ‘60s and ‘70s. This new rail means our customers will have a smoother, safer and quieter ride.

Powering the system. Even though we use the cleanest energy of any public transit system in the U.S., we still use an enormous amount of electricity.

Most of the parts of our system that convey power—miles of cabling, substations, converters and backup supplies—are original components from 1972 and in a state of age-related disrepair. As the “Fleet of the Future” arrives and we ramp up the number of trains out on the tracks, our need for electricity will increase. More trains require more power, which adds to the stress our power system already faces on a daily basis.

Energy infrastructure replacement is both time-consuming and expensive, but without it—nobody moves. Its replacement is the largest and most critical portion of BART’s future needs.

Waterproofing tunnels. Some of our stations in downtown San Francisco are below sea level, and numerous natural water sources constantly threaten to flood our tunnels. BART has an extensive safety net of water pumps and engineering solutions in place, all quietly working in the background to safeguard our subways.

However, much of this safety net is reaching the end of its useful life, and small amounts of water are leaking into the tunnels. While there is no immediate risk of catastrophic flooding, humidity does build up on the rails, and every time trains run over the moisture tiny fractures form. These tiny fractures can, in extreme cases, cause the rail to break (this is what happened in early 2015), causing hours of delays. Maintaining our tunnels and keeping moisture out is a top priority.

Fighting fault lines. Earthquakes are the greatest natural hazard facing Bay Area residents, thanks to a number of fault lines crisscrossing the region. One of these major fracture zones, the Hayward fault, lies below the Berkeley Hills Tunnel under BART’s Yellow Line.

The eastern and western portions of Contra Costa County slowly slide north and south against each other, which over the years has led to misaligned track. Since the late ’60s, the misalignment in the Berkeley Hills Tunnel has increased in size to the point that trains are getting very close to the tunnel walls—and something must be done to ensure straight, safe track between Rockridge and Orinda. BART engineers have proposed several solutions to fight the creeping fault line.

Backing up our system. BART’s train yards and shops spring into action at the end of every night, rapidly tuning up train cars, making repairs and preparing for the next day of service. Many of our shops need refurbishment, and other systems like fire suppression and water management also need an overhaul.

These tools and systems are essential. Without them, work backs up and fewer cars are available when we need them.

Modernizing train control. Our automatic train control system was considered cutting edge technology in 1972. It set the bar for high-tech public transit and was the envy of the world for a period of time.

However, its limitations are causing delays in 2016, preventing trains from running closer together. In fact, over half of all BART delays in 2015 were related to our antiquated train control system.

Renovating stations. Many BART stations were designed to handle a much smaller number of daily passengers. Crowding puts extra stress on our ticket machines, faregates, escalators and elevators—and outdated design elements in some stations can make it difficult for passengers to find their way.

New weatherproofing plans include canopy enclosures to protect escalators and station entrances from weather, vandalism and misuse. Improvements are currently underway, with backlit station names and clear navigational signposts already being installed throughout the system.

Second, we’ll relieve crowding, reduce ­traffic and congestion and expand opportunities to safely access stations. This is 10 percent of the plan and accounts for $335 million. This piece of our plan has two priorities:

Bringing riders to BART. Our existing parking lots are full to the brim—and there are a number of ideas in the works for how we could expand options while also connecting to and improving bus access.

For cyclists, we’ve already begun opening bike stations at locations throughout the system—with intent to expand. Secure bike parking keeps cars off the road and pollution out of the air. Also, we plan to reduce barriers for senior riders and differently abled passengers, and replace difficult-to-hear public announcement speakers and guardrails and handrails.

Expanding options. This part of our plan calls for improving crossovers, laying down definite plans for new storage tracks, additional rail to mirror existing service and many other projects to help increase the number of passengers.

Funding the Investment; Protecting Trust
This plan is an ambitious one; we could not move forward without the support of the BART Board of Directors and the encouragement of our passengers, local and state leaders and members of the Bay Area community.

The BART Board of Directors is considering a $3.5 billion general obligation bond on the ballot in November to help pay for necessary repairs and upgrades.

If the bond measure passes, an Independent Oversight Committee will be established to ensure our plans are carried out with an excess of transparency, accountability and integrity. The committee will be able to regularly audit BART and will publish an annual, ­public, independent report outlining any concerns that could arise from how we carry out our plan.

We’ve also held more than 200 meetings with diverse community groups throughout the Bay Area to give our plan context and to get an idea of how we can improve the lives of the people we serve. We’ve included elected officials, businesses, labor groups, environmental organizations, seniors, disability advocacy groups, community organizers, social justice advocates and individuals in this process—and remain committed to having an open conversation about our future. We’ve received more than 1,500 responses to date and continue to educate and listen wherever we go.

BART has a notable track record of accountability and protecting the public trust. In fact, our plan is based on hard data—collected using international best practices and a strong internal accountability program (including asset management software)—which gives us the exact lifespan for BART’s physical assets.

And in 2004, voters approved $980 million for BART’s earthquake safety program. Since then, we’ve proven ourselves to be a responsible and trustworthy steward of ­public funds. We’ve reinforced parking garages, strengthened maintenance facilities, fortified stations and protected the Transbay Tube—guarding our riders against the threat of earthquakes while building trust and ­saving ­millions of dollars.

Back in 1962, the Bay Area decided to invest in its future—a future of safe travel, reliable transit and reduced congestion. Ever since then, we have been a proud and enduring staple of our region’s culture, workforce and values. It’s time to rebuild.

BART’s Blueprint
Find a summary of BART’s plan here. This website also features details of the plan and offering ways member of the community can get involved.

BART maintenance workers replacing railroad ties.

Photos courtesy of BART
BART received more than 1,500 responses from riders, community leaders, environmentalists, activists and other individuals as it gathered feedback on its plan.

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