What would you do with a decommissioned BART train car?

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2021/01/26/what-would-you-do-with-a-decommissioned-bart-train-car.html


I know they were going for a “Thomas” look, but the car in that picture is just creepy. When I saw the category, “Burning Man,” I first thought it read, “Burn it.”


So cool! I would use it as a backyard playground for the kids and grownups. There’s the little thing of 3,000 miles separating me from the train car but I suspect most of the expense is the loading and unloading. Might only add another few grand to drive it here. Too bad I didn’t pick up a lottery ticket.


Is there anything I can do with an old subway car that I cant do cheaper and easier with an old bus or trailer? Nice idea but not practical for most hobbyists.

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burning man needs more cars for its subway system. problem solved!


Well, it is something for a transit/railway/technology museum

they’re not even normal subway cars, it’s weird track width for some reason

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The whole car is also so wide that even if it were loaded onto a standard-gauge trailer, it wouldn’t fit within the loading gauge for the US freight network. When BART takes delivery of new cars they’re delivered by truck:

Meanwhile when Caltrain sends their locomotives off for refurbishing they just stick them in a freight train:

The story I heard about the track width - parts of which may be apocryphal; perhaps those BBS members who were in the Bay Area at the time can correct me here:

The early plans for the BART system had a line to Marin across the Golden Gate Bridge. There was also a requirement that the entire system operate without slowing down regardless of weather. Since the Golden Gate sees extremely gusty winds pretty often, the choice was made to use an extra wide gauge to ensure that the trains would not tip over under heavy winds.

However, plans for the line to Marin were cut (partly because the Golden Gate Bridge Authority, which is funded by auto tolls on the bridge, funded a study which determined that the bridge could not support the weight of BART trains, despite BART’s earlier findings that it could support the weight. BART funded a third study which again concluded that the bridge could take the weight, but by then Marin had voted to leave the BART district…), yet the extra-wide gauge remained, adding costs and complicating interoperability with other regional rail systems to this day.

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It’s the same gauge that’s used in India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.


It’s a pity the cars have to leave the system entirely. All kinds of cool shit could happen with a little spur line off the main tracks at certain stations, where you move the new art cars in the wee hours and they stay put during the day. Soup kitchens, bookmobiles, mobile maker spaces, recyclable collections… any number of functions could be added to the system with not much extra investment. But Covid has given me some unwelcome clarity about government priorities…


sounds like it is the official story

The original plan was to have BART go across the Golden Gate Bridge in high winds on a second deck. It didn’t happen, but Allison says the engineers thought they still needed all the stability a wider gauge could give them.

but it is making things complicated now

In 2018, Bay Area commuters will be able to go a little bit farther on BART. The transit agency is building a 10-mile extension from the Pittsburgh station, to Antioch.

It’ll be called E-BART - the E for East Contra Costa County. And when commuters get to Pittsburg, they’ll have to get out, and transfer to another BART train. That’s because the new extension is being build with standard gauge tracks.

The rest of BART has wider tracks and cars that are made to fit them. It’s this this wider-than-normal feature that makes traditional BART cars and tracks different and incompatible with not only the new extension, but most other transit systems, like Caltrain and Amtrak.


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They could always follow the example of some of London’s decommissioned double deckers and turn them into homes for the homeless.


The confusingly-named e-BART (which runs on diesel) is just the start - it will really come back to bite us when the time eventually comes for a second transbay tube. With Caltrain going electric and high speed rail maybe happening eventually, a standard-gauge rail tunnel would be super useful, enabling high speed trains to reach Oakland and commuter trains to run from Sacramento onto the peninsula. But BART could also really use more capacity across the bay. So we might end up with a four-track tunnel so that both BART and standard rail can use it. That won’t be cheap…

It’s a nice idea, but building a house in the conventional way from conventional materials is not very expensive. Moving an oversized metal railcar into place and retrofitting it to conform to building code and be a usable living space… is.

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BART always projected this mystique that its fancy technology was necessary to get people around quickly, but the Portland metro area has a light-rail system that seems just as fast outside the downtown zone as BART ever was and it runs with normal equipment and tracks

FWIW Google suggests this essay that blames everything on EVIL GREEDY BUREAUCRATS but it summarizes the various problems with all the bespoke tech


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Like @dculberson, I’m too far away for this to make any environmental sense, but they’d make cute ski storage/rental sheds for community cross country ski centers.
Long, narrow buildings are great for that.

I don’t think a light rail system is a good comparison to BART. MAX light rail has a top speed of 55mph and a total system length of just under 60 miles, vs 70mph and 131 miles for BART. BART trains are typically 10 cars long and each car is much larger than a light rail vehicle.

But certainly systems like BART can be built with conventional rail technology and benefit from integration with existing infrastructure - Germany’s S-Bahns and Paris’s RER are good examples of comparable systems to BART which were built by connecting existing rail lines with tunnels through city centers rather than redesigning everything from the ground up with unique technology at great expense. Those systems can share tracks with regional intercity trains and long-distance high speed trains.

My hope is that we’ll prioritize improving conventional rail (in the Bay Area, that’s Caltrain, ACE, and the Capitol Corridor) until it’s functionally as good as BART (running frequently all day), and ultimately treat the whole thing as one big system where you can buy one ticket and transfer seamlessly between BART and conventional trains, instead of building any more infrastructure to BART’s weird unique specifications. It’ll be hard to get to there from the fractured mess of transit agencies we have today, alas.

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Of course, before they can get rid of the old trains, they need to get the new trains to actually work! https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/bart-refusing-further-delivery-of-new-train-cars-due-to-unsolved-software-problems/2433178/

The S-Bahn is a good example, as it really is just commuter trains with tunnels in cities like Munich. It’s also worth noting that Munich, for example, has both the S-Bahn run by Deutsche Bahn AG (DB), and the U-Bahn network run by the Münchner Verkehrsgesellschaft (MVG). Though both have the same gauge, they use different voltages—the U-Bahn is 750 volts on a third rail, the S-Bahn 15,000 volts on an overhead wire… which results in the tunnel being closed when a kid lets go of a mylar balloon and BAM.

As for using a car, maybe the BoingBoing editors could get one and set it up as a combination Boing Boing Museum and a maker workshop?


Same happened in Milan. Using even existing railcars. In the photo the new service started using some 1950s rail cars refurbished and repainted. The main thing that was done was a new timetable and the ring, that connected together the existing railways