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Why BART Is Falling Apart 474

HughPickens.com writes: Matthias Gafni writes in the San Jose Mercury News that the engineers who built BART, the rapid transit system serving the San Francisco Bay Area that started operation in 1972, used principles developed for the aerospace industry rather than tried-and-true rail standards. And that's the trouble. "Back when BART was created, (the designers) were absolutely determined to establish a new product, and they intended to export it around the world," says Rod Diridon. "They may have gotten a little ahead of themselves using new technology. Although it worked, it was extremely complex for the time period, and they never did export the equipment because it was so difficult for other countries to install and maintain." The Space Age innovations have made it more challenging for the transit agency to maintain the BART system from the beginning. Plus, the aging system was designed to move 100,000 people per week and now carries 430,000 a day, so the loss of even a single car gets magnified with crowded commutes, delays and bus bridges. For example, rather than stick to the standard rail track width of 4 feet, 8.5 inches, BART engineers debuted a 5-foot, 6-inch width track, a gauge that remains to this day almost exclusive to the system. Industry experts say the unique track width necessitates custom-made wheel sets, brake assemblies and track repair vehicles.

Another problem is the dearth of readily available replacement parts for BART's one-of-a-kind systems. Maintenance crews often scavenge parts from old, out-of-service cars to avoid lengthy waits for orders to come in; sometimes mechanics are forced to manufacture the equipment themselves. "Imagine a computer produced in 1972," says David Hardt. "No one is supporting that old equipment any longer, but those same microprocessors are what we have controlling our logic systems." Right now BART needs 100 thyristors at a total cost of $100,000. BART engineers said it could take 22 weeks to ship them to the San Francisco Bay Area to replace in BART's "C" cars, which make up the older cars in the fleet. Right now, the agency has none. Nick Josefowitz says it makes no sense to dwell on design decisions made a half-century ago. "I think we need to use what we have today and build off that, rather than fantasize what could have been done in the past. The BART system was state of the art when it was built, and now it's technologically obsolete and coming to the end of its useful life."
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Why BART Is Falling Apart

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  • by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:52AM (#51792235) Journal

    As one who rides Washington D.C.'s metro rail every day risking death by electrical fire, shooting and/or mugging I feel your pain.

    Lack of money, lack of expertise, lack lack lack

    I suspect BART and DC's Metro have similar problems (even though the funding sources are a little different)

    • by gcnaddict ( 841664 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:54AM (#51792251)
      DC and BART used a lot of shared technologies, including the same initial manufacturer of their rail cars. If you've been on both systems, this immediately becomes apparent.
    • As one who rides Washington D.C.'s metro rail every day risking death by electrical fire, shooting and/or mugging I feel your pain.

      I've been on it a few times. It seemed to work fine. No muggers.

      However it's nothing like the Portland MAX where they actually took the lines all the way to the airport, unlike in D.C.

      • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @12:00PM (#51792739) Journal

        Gotta pitch in additional praise for the MAX at PDX. In spite of its origins (a giant money-sink/boondoggle made to enrich political friends), it operates nicely, and covers most of the metro area quite well. I've used it lots of times on business trips, where the missus drops me off at Hillsboro (the west end of the line), and I take it to PDX no sweat. Drops me off right at the airport.

        Now if you take a MAX at 2am, you'll see the occasional meth head or homeless dude looking to warm up, but otherwise it's perfectly safe nearly any time you take it.

        By the way, BART also goes right to SFO (wish it went to OAK as well - it would save massive cab/uber/shuttle fare costs that way).

      • by Salgak1 ( 20136 ) <salgak&speakeasy,net> on Monday March 28, 2016 @12:37PM (#51793059) Homepage

        Muggers on Metro are a relatively recent phenomena. However, the Metro system seems to be suffering from imminent cascade failure. During the one day total shutdown of Metro, 26 separate badly-worn cable connections were found [nbcwashington.com], of the sort that caused a local shutdown on March 14th, and similar to the short that caused the L'Enfant Plaza incident in 2015 [washingtonexaminer.com] that killed one rider, and hospitalized 80 more. .

        The REAL question, at least in my eyes, for Metro, is given the damage shown during the March 17th shutdown [washingtonpost.com], how did these cables POSSIBLY have passed the inspection that was claimed to have been done after the L'Enfant Plaza incident. . .

        • by jandrese ( 485 ) <kensama@vt.edu> on Monday March 28, 2016 @03:13PM (#51794237) Homepage Journal
          The perception around the NOVA area is that the DC Metro has been operating as a jobs program for city residents for so long that there are very few competent people remaining in the entire organization, especially in the maintenance departments. The organization also has a reputation for being heavily bureaucratic which makes it even more difficult for issues like this to percolate up to the top, and without buy in from management nothing gets done.

          Unfortunately, there is no political will for a comprehensive management shakeup. Metro is going to continue stumbling along with constant breakdowns over neglected maintenance issues and occasional deaths for the foreseeable future.
      • "the Portland MAX where they actually took the lines all the way to the airport, unlike in D.C."

        The National Airport Metrorail station opened in 1977, 24 years before the Portland International Airport MAX station opened and 9 years before any part of MAX.

  • BART (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:53AM (#51792237)

    Can eat my shorts.

  • by Etcetera ( 14711 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:53AM (#51792243) Homepage

    The fact that something is old does not mean it's ipso facto obsolete or that its design principles haven't remained sound. Conversely, the fact that something just got posted on github yesterday and uses the latest node.js and boost libraries doesn't mean it's been well designed. These are very different things.

    I've rarely ever taken the BART and don't live in the the Bay any more, let alone the San Francisco proper, but it'd be nice to have an analysis that doesn't conflate the two.

    • by ZipK ( 1051658 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:57AM (#51792269)
      They're not conflating old with obsolete; they're suggesting that a bespoke, cutting-edge system that didn't turn into a template has left BART on a tree branch all by itself, and thus has engendered its obsolescence.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:17AM (#51792383)

        They're not conflating old with obsolete; they're suggesting that a bespoke, cutting-edge system that didn't turn into a template has left BART on a tree branch all by itself, and thus has engendered its obsolescence.

        You misunderstand. The designers of the BART in 1972 did conflate "old" with "obsolete". The designers thought that the tried-and-true rail standards were obsolete, so they created something new that was up-to-date with the standards of the aerospace industry. Aerospace was a modern, thriving industry at the cutting edge of technology. And it was the coolest industry to work in--aerospace engineers could tell their friends that there were "rocket scientists", and they would be granted instant respect and admiration.

      • by dj245 ( 732906 )

        They're not conflating old with obsolete; they're suggesting that a bespoke, cutting-edge system that didn't turn into a template has left BART on a tree branch all by itself, and thus has engendered its obsolescence.

        History is littered with rail projects that did their own thing despite other, more popular, standards or pseudo-standards being on the market already. Sometimes the road more frequently traveled is, in fact, the better road.

        • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @12:36PM (#51793053)

          Sometimes the road more frequently traveled is, in fact, the better road.

          I run into this all the time. My company manufactures a wire harness product that uses several connectors which is used on an OEM auto that sells in large volumes. The engineers could have designed in pre-existing, widely available and standard connectors available from numerous sources for reasonable amounts of money. Instead they decided to custom design some new connectors for the application despite the fact that they provide zero extra functional benefit, cost substantially more, have 4 month lead times for delivery, have to be ordered in 50,000 piece quantities and can be purchased from precisely one source. Whichever engineer came up with this idiocy probably added their entire salary over the lifetime of the product in unnecessary cost to this product. (We sell about 250,000/year at around $4 each so it would be easy to get $100,000 in cost per year out of this product with a more sensible design)

          The wiring harness industry is awash with countless different unnecessary designs of terminals, connectors and other hardware than never should have been seen the light of day. I have a bookshelf 10 feet from me as I type this that has probably 120 thick catalogs that are full of redundant, unnecessary or non-standard hardware. Maybe 5% of those designs are actually necessary and the rest are nothing but waste.

          My basic take is that while there is nothing wrong with going bespoke in principle, you need to have a VERY good reason to deviate from standards or to use unusual designs, even if those standards aren't totally optimized for your application. Engineers who don't understand or ignore this principle are essentially engaging in a form of malpractice.

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        The main culprit of the dead end branch is actually a thing as simple as the non-standard track width.

        The remaining parts aren't a big deal, but due to the non-standard track width the number of manufacturers for cars usable in the system is quite limited.

      • TFA also mentions in passing that it is now handling 439,000 passengers a day against 100,000 a week originally specified. My own view is that being able to accommodate a 20+ fold increase in volume over original specification, without a total system replacement, suggests the design was not terrible. Would using older, established designs for the system have allowed such expansion? It might, indeed, provide some support to the original developers' view that the design would end up widely adopted.

    • by Malc ( 1751 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:50AM (#51792653)

      Indeed, I ride the Piccadilly Line [wikipedia.org] several times a week. It opened beginning of the 20th century, although some parts of it predate it considerably (Turnham Green station for instance opened 1869). Its rolling stock dates from 1973. You can be sure that it wasn't designed to carry the 600,000 passengers per day that it's currently handling! I am looking forward to the upgrade though.

  • Save money (Score:3, Interesting)

    by damicatz ( 711271 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:54AM (#51792249)

    Save money by firing all the "drivers" since they absolutely aren't necessary (the trains are automated; the only reason they keep the driver around is to push the "start" button as a concession to unions). Then reinvest that money in actual maintenance costs.

    • Re:Save money (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:01AM (#51792303) Homepage

      That might buy you a couple of thyristors. Not enough to make a difference.

      What this all boils down to is the age old problem of money being available for construction, not maintenance or improvement. Follow up costs are ALWAYS lowballed. At least in the military sector, they explicitly cost out spares and upgrades (or at least cost out some of it). In civilian government it's always the shiney. Once it's running, no more ribbon cutting ceremonies.

      To be fair to the BART designers though, If I designed something that lasted twice a long as specced and carried four times the passenger load, I'd be pretty happy.

      • Re:Save money (Score:5, Informative)

        by chmod a+x mojo ( 965286 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:14AM (#51792357)

        To be fair to the BART designers though, If I designed something that lasted twice a long as specced and carried four times the passenger load, I'd be pretty happy.

        Actually it is closer to 30 times the passenger load, TFS lists the original spec of 100k / week , with todays usage of 430k / day ... or ~3 million / week.

        • by guruevi ( 827432 )

          So then they should have plenty of money to invest in their infrastructure. If the TCO of the system was designed to be sustainable for 10k/day and you're getting 430k/day, then you should have plenty of money to reinvest in upgrade or even outright replacements. It's not like other rail systems haven't done the same, in some countries you can see 3 rails on a track, one width for where they had the old system and one width for where they had the new system.

        • With that many passengers riding, BART should be profitable then, right?

          The solution to the driver problem (and union dispute) is to transfer them over to the maintenance department. Give them the training and instruction they need. It may take a few years, but at least they'll be doing something useful (and when a maintainence person retires, they won't need to hire someone new).
          • Yes and no; the system has expanded over the years to allow for additional ridership, which is a significant burden.

            The real failure of the system today is the lack of redundancy on the transbay tube. For the quantity of trains using it, they absolutely need a bypass track to allow maintenance of one tube. More broadly, they need bypass track sections in other areas to allow more maintenance to occur during the daytime without premium wage rates.

            The drivers are mainly a red herring. They should not be a

      • math challenged? the thyristors are $1K each. if an operator makes $50K then firing each one nets 50 thyristors.

        • by hawguy ( 1600213 )

          math challenged? the thyristors are $1K each. if an operator makes $50K then firing each one nets 50 thyristors.

          $50K? Ha! BART has a strong union - the top paid train operator makes $150K (including benefits) [mercurynews.com] BART salarys consistently outrank salaries at other area transit providers.

      • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

        Depending on the type of thyristor $1000 per piece isn't remarkable. It's not cheap, but it's not crazy expensive for the loads handled either.

    • Re:Save money (Score:5, Informative)

      by BronsCon ( 927697 ) <social@bronstrup.com> on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:11AM (#51792341) Journal
      Not true, actually. Engineers (remember, trains don't have drivers) actually watch the track ahead of them and respond to various conditions, including animals on track, broken down trains on track, and, perhaps most importantly, idiots standing on the yellow tiles at the station. You've clearly never ridden... or you'd have some idea just how often the engineer has to stop short of the station while the station manager gets on the PA to tell people to get off the yellow tiles, while everyone else waiting to get on the train is deciding whether to pull them back from the track, or push them onto it for delaying the train. Engineers also respond to various issues with the train itself; for example, I was on a car that had a stuck brake once; it took the engineer one stop to determine what the problem was, another to determine which car, and a third to get the attitude of that car and the car on either side of it adjusted such that the affected car remained level while the affected wheel was lifted off the track enough to alleviate the risk of the brake spontaneously combusting without making the train unstable. Once that train reached the end of the line, the affected car was removed, but the engineer had to get it there, first. Even track switching isn't automated on the BART system, so the engineers do that as well.
      • Re:Save money (Score:4, Informative)

        by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:18AM (#51792385)

        no, on an electric train they're called "operators". don't insult railroad engineers that deal with diesel gen-set propulsion units that requires a immense amount of training compared to the very simple systems of commuter EMU.

        • Don't insult railroad engineers that deal with steam engines that require an immense amount of training compared to the very simple systems of diesel gen-set propulsion units.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by BronsCon ( 927697 )
          Pressing buttons to make the train go is "operating" and I would agree, someone who does that and only that is an "operator. Making in-service repairs and adjusting the ride parameters of individual cars to work around mechanical failures that cannot be repaired in-service goes well beyond "operating".

          Given that I've actually witnessed the latter (I was on the car it was being done to, I can authoritatively say that yes, it does happen.

          An operator... well... operates a well-functioning device. An engine
      • Re:Save money (Score:4, Interesting)

        by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:58AM (#51792717)

        Not true, actually. Engineers (remember, trains don't have drivers) actually watch the track ahead of them and respond to various conditions, including animals on track, broken down trains on track, and, perhaps most importantly, idiots standing on the yellow tiles at the station. You've clearly never ridden... or you'd have some idea just how often the engineer has to stop short of the station while the station manager gets on the PA to tell people to get off the yellow tiles, while everyone else waiting to get on the train is deciding whether to pull them back from the track, or push them onto it for delaying the train. Engineers also respond to various issues with the train itself; for example, I was on a car that had a stuck brake once; it took the engineer one stop to determine what the problem was, another to determine which car, and a third to get the attitude of that car and the car on either side of it adjusted such that the affected car remained level while the affected wheel was lifted off the track enough to alleviate the risk of the brake spontaneously combusting without making the train unstable. Once that train reached the end of the line, the affected car was removed, but the engineer had to get it there, first. Even track switching isn't automated on the BART system, so the engineers do that as well.

        If there's no system that lets a train detect foreign objects on the track ahead, then there is no hope at all for self-driving cars.

        Likewise, passengers too close to the edge of theboarding platform can be solved by the same sliding doors that other automated train systems use. With the added benefit of stopping so many suicides (which, besides the human cost, can cause delays across the entire bart system). And sliding doors will be coming sooner or later, just like the much delayed golden gate bridge suicide barrier.

        That said, if trains stopped short of a station just because someone is standing on the yellow tiles, they'd never get into the stations, since people *always* stand on the yellow tiles. And the "station manager"? You mean those people in the booths that are on their cell phones all day? The only thing I've ever seem them do is put an "out of order" sign on a faregate when someone complained that it was broken.

        Even track switching isn't automated on the BART system

        Well that's part of the problem. Central dispatch should be able to route trains around a disabled train without an operator standing there throw a switch.

        • Re:Save money (Score:4, Interesting)

          by BronsCon ( 927697 ) <social@bronstrup.com> on Monday March 28, 2016 @12:20PM (#51792911) Journal

          If there's no system that lets a train detect foreign objects on the track ahead, then there is no hope at all for self-driving cars.

          Such systems exist; the question is whether they exist within the closed-loop that is the BART system. They do not.

          Likewise, passengers too close to the edge of theboarding platform can be solved by the same sliding doors that other automated train systems use.

          And, again, the question is whether or not these exist within the ART system. And, again, they do not.

          That said, if trains stopped short of a station just because someone is standing on the yellow tiles, they'd never get into the stations

          And yet, though I've only ridden BART a couple dozen times, I've witnessed this on no less than six occasions.

          Well that's part of the problem. Central dispatch should be able to route trains around a disabled train without an operator standing there throw a switch.

          And you completely miss the point that I was talking about what is, not what should be. Look at the post I was replying to... I'll make it easy, here it is:

          Save money by firing all the "drivers" since they absolutely aren't necessary (the trains are automated; the only reason they keep the driver around is to push the "start" button as a concession to unions). Then reinvest that money in actual maintenance costs.

          While most of what you've said here is correct, none of that is relevant to this discussion; the only relevant thing you said also happened to be incorrect.

          Excellent post, my friend. Very well done.

  • by known_coward_69 ( 4151743 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:56AM (#51792259)
    it's 40 years old at this point which is about the time that most big transit projects need a lot of money to rebuild and upgrade the system
    • I know... do they really expect the system to last forever? Surely they had a plan replace/upgrade after 20 years or so?

      Seems like the sensible thing to do is replace the tracks/cars with new. In the mean time replace trains with buses until the project is complete.

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        I know... do they really expect the system to last forever?

        The B-52 bomber is still going strong after 60 years. It will probably serve another 40 years if the Pentagon R&D department can't figure out how to build a replacement bomber that works.

        http://www.cnet.com/news/sixty-years-on-the-b-52-is-still-going-strong/ [cnet.com]

        • Yeah, and since when is military government spending similar in any way to local municipal transit spending?

          • by creimer ( 824291 )

            Yeah, and since when is military government spending similar in any way to local municipal transit spending?

            Gold-plating executive compensation. Oh, wait. That's Wall Street.

        • those B-52's are far from originals. new engines, new avionics and most of them had air-frames rebuilt because it was worn out. the only original thing about them is the name and the shape
          • by creimer ( 824291 )

            those B-52's are far from originals. new engines, new avionics and most of them had air-frames rebuilt because it was worn out.

            That's what need to happen to BART if the existing system is to continue.

            the only original thing about them is the name and the shape

            If the B-52 navigational computer reboots in mid-flight, the pilots can break out the slide ruler and the maps to continue the mission.

    • Really, I think this is the problem with all of our major metro transportation systems. Almost all of them are still running 30-40 year old technology, day in and day out. Meanwhile, many millions of dollars have poured in to the system to keep it functional -- but that money was too often spent on questionably necessary staff associated with the programs, or on overpriced parts for obsolete equipment, vs. saved up for incremental upgrades and replacement of equipment.

      Speaking for the DC area metro system (

    • it's 40 years old at this point which is about the time that most big transit projects need a lot of money to rebuild and upgrade the system

      Really? There's several metros in Europe that are over 100 years old and kicking along just fine. There's no arbitrary time at which point they get expensive.... unless you don't do continuous maintenance and refresh work as you go over the life of the system. .... Wait you do this maintenance don't you?

  • "Parsons Brinckerhoff- Tudor Bechtel, the districts consulting engineers, said that exhaustive studies show the wide gauge provides great stability and smoother riding qualities for the rapid transit trains.”

    Those b*stards again. So, the nonstandard gauge was a "bright idea" from a consulting company. I don't suppose suitcases full of cash were involved at any point in the process? Any politicians get cozy retirement jobs?

    I'm getting skeptical and pessimistic in my old age, but it would seem to me,

    • "smoother riding qualities" is fairly low on the list of things voters might want to pay for in a transit system, probably coming behind "staying within the budget", "lower maintenance costs" and "on-time operation".

      No kidding. The only legitimate concern about a smooth ride should be "sufficient to reduce the number of lawsuits from people falling over and injuring themselves during normal operation below some acceptable threshold." Beyond that, "smoothness" should have been nixed at the value-engineering

      • On the other hand, ride quality goes a long way towards inducing people to ride. Poor ride quality, means fewer people, and only those people who have no other alternative, which makes on-going funding and maintenance difficult. At the time the system was new, I'm certain that making sure there was enough ridership to support the system was of high concern.

        Of course, with the reported current ridership, it looks like they did a fine job. Now, if they had properly estimated the ongoing maintenance and ope

        • On the other hand, ride quality goes a long way towards inducing people to ride.

          Does it? I highly doubt it! On the contrary, I'm willing to bet the only things transit riders actually give the slightest fuck about is price and trip time vs. the alternatives. (And maybe not getting mugged.)

  • The worst part... (Score:2, Flamebait)

    by creimer ( 824291 )

    They're extending BART into Silicon Valley — 30 years late. Your tax dollars at work.

    http://www.vta.org/bart/ [vta.org]

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @10:59AM (#51792291)

    Also used in India. This could be foresight on the part of BARTs designers, as they anticipated accommodating increased ridership by placing passengers on top of the cars. The wider gauge is more stable and less likely to shake them off.

    • it is used for diesel pulled trains sure. But the electric metra rail things are mostly standard gauge and the new metra projects soon to come online are standard gauge for obvious reason of easier procurement.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      Also used in India. This could be foresight on the part of BARTs designers, as they anticipated accommodating increased ridership by placing passengers on top of the cars. The wider gauge is more stable and less likely to shake them off.

      It's H1B-friendly :-)

    • by Z00L00K ( 682162 )

      A 25kV overhead powerline would put a stop to the habit on riding the outside of the cars.

    • Also used in India. This could be foresight on the part of BARTs designers, as they anticipated accommodating increased ridership by placing passengers on top of the cars. The wider gauge is more stable and less likely to shake them off.

      The gauge width is also useful when you need to stuff 430,000 people into cars designed for 100,000. That, definitely was a foresight by BART designers, i agree.

  • by linuxwrangler ( 582055 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:12AM (#51792345)

    Due to the volumes of documentation available, BART is the longest section in the book "Great Planning Disasters". But the failures are human and the disaster started with the initial lies. After authorization of the new district and system failed a couple times at the polls, it was finally approved at the ballot as a system that was promised to be fully funded by fare-box revenue. It was designed with the idea of maintaining San Francisco as the economic core of the Bay Area. And almost everything was non-standard. They assumed people would drive to nearby stations then transfer to BART. That didn't happen at the rates expected and they *still* have a severe lack of parking. They claim they are getting over 20-times the customers they originally predicted and they *still* can't cover costs.

    When it couldn't be built on budget, a temporary 0.5% sales-tax was imposed throughout the district. When it couldn't even come close to covering costs from the fare-box, the tax became permanent. I now pay for BART through sales-tax, property-tax and various federal and state subsidies. Despite this, a couple years ago the BART directors claimed they had a "surplus" and reduced fares. This when the tracks howl due to insufficient maintenance and, obviously, things are falling apart.

    BART has had 40 years to save and plan for maintenance and upgrades and has utterly and completely failed to do so. Now that they have suddenly figured out that stuff wears out, they want 3.5 billion more. [contracostatimes.com]

    Answering critics of the California high-speed-rail projects a state politician responded, "they said that about BART in the beginning, too." I fear he is all too correct.

    • by fche ( 36607 )

      If only projects approved based on firm projections were automatically cancelled if those projections were falsified. It'd put some honesty back (?) into governance.

    • The real thing to evaluate is those costs against the costs of pavement to move the equivalent number of people at the same speed through the Bay Area, which in my experience has traffic at least as bad as LA, and often worse. If you supplied the transportation infrastructure via adding more roads and/or lanes, you'd be paying half the cost of it through non-gas taxes. Gas taxes only cover about half the cost of operating the road system, and the rest comes from general funds.

  • They didn't invest in upgrading the system and kicked the can down the road. Just like all other infrastructure projects.

    • Funny, but their current problems just might be related to recent upgrades [bart.gov].

      Previously I mentioned rail bonding,or lack there of (stolen) [slashdot.org] as an issue that could send some serious inductive spikes into the 1000VDC motor control systems.

      Along that line, I bet when the BART system was first built in the 70's they used standard rail lengths ~40-45ft, while each rail car length the was in 70 to 75 ft long. Thus a single rail segment bonding failure was unlikely to cause an issue with multiple pick up brushes

  • by zerofoo ( 262795 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:23AM (#51792427)

    We have schools throughout the country that are asking for voter approval for huge bonds to upgrade or replace their aging schools.

    One school district near me tries to get voter sympathy by giving tours of its boiler rooms and showcasing a 60 year old boiler (that still works BTW).

    During one of the trips a person on the tour asked our tour guide "The boilers didn't become 60 years old overnight - why didn't the school board put some money away every year for future maintenance and upgrades?"

    I suspect BART is also the victim of failing to plan for the future. Entropy always wins. No system exists that will not need maintenance or repair in the future. It is foolish to defer maintenance and upgrades and shows a lack of stewardship by the managers of that system.

    To the surprise of no one - the $70 million bond request by the school district was voted down by a 3 to 1 measure.

    • To the surprise of no one - the $70 million bond request by the school district was voted down by a 3 to 1 measure.

      Which will provide the answer, in ten years, as to how they ended up with a 70 year-old system...

    • It is easier for the tax vigilantes to push through a referendum on the basis of the district collecting taxes they clearly don't need because they are not spending the money. If they push against payments on debt-financed capital expenditures, then it is the tax vigilantes that have to justify defaulting on debt to the public.

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @12:50PM (#51793179) Journal

      During one of the trips a person on the tour asked our tour guide "The boilers didn't become 60 years old overnight - why didn't the school board put some money away every year for future maintenance and upgrades?"

      I don't know about your state, but in California the state government puts limits on how much money the schools can save. In some cases that is why you see schools with budget problems buying laptops for every kid.....

  • "The BART system was state of the art when it was built, and now it's technologically obsolete and coming to the end of its useful life.

    That's about the only useful sentence in the entire article. They complain about the non-standard width, the parts, the custom controllers, the space-age light weight design, all mixed together. Most of it is however just old, obsolete technology and lack of funding. And it is not true that the light weight design was a wrong move. Europe is trying to go towards lighter subway cars. The track width? Paris had at some point three different subway systems coexisting. Other cities have wide and narrow gauge

  • Many of these issues apply to the SkyTrain system here in Vancouver. High-tech (for its time), wildly non-standard, minimal adoption by anybody else (Scarborough RT, Detroit Muggermover, partially London DLR), far more expensive than an off-the-shelf system like they use in Calgary or Portland, showing its age after only 30 years...the list goes on.

    They had issues when they added a new line in 2002, and the control system suddenly had to handle more than 256 cars at a time.

    ...laura

  • "Industry experts say the unique track width necessitates custom-made wheel sets, brake assemblies and track repair vehicles."

    Of course it does, which is why sticking with a entrenched standard sometimes makes perfect sense. Rail infrastructure is one of those standards.

    I remember some debate about this from waaaaaay back when, and most people who understood the change thought it was idiotic and pointless.

    Some of the claims used to support the non-standard rail-width were that the wider rails would provide

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @11:42AM (#51792585) Journal
    Indian Railways that carries 23 million passengers a day, 50 times more than BART, uses the 5' 6" gauge. It is the most popular and broadly [wikipedia.org] used gauge in the world railways. May be BART can import trucks/bogies and wheel sets from India. But India is also facing a severe manufacturing capacity crunch. It desperately needs more rolling stock and locomotives. As does Pakistan. And Pakistan's imported Chinese locomotives are plagued by maintenance issues. Pakistan is lobbying India to get some diesel locomotives. So even if BART is willing to import, it would take some doing to get India to export any.
  • They don't need to rip up the track to replace with standard width tracks. They just need to add a third rail. Easy.

  • A thyristor is a commonly available device and I am guessing it is used for motor control [wikipedia.org]. If they had gone with more traditional technology back in 1972 what would they have used ? Tubes, a rheostat [wikipedia.org]? I would have thought that replacement of a high power vacuum tube or something more electro-mechanical would cost way more than the modern equivalent of a 1970s era thyristor.

    BART is not a museum heirloom, they can feel free to use less expensive modern components if they wish, it's not as if Thyristors have

  • Why not install a 4th rail at the correct gauge opposite the 3rd rail side and once all the tracks are upgraded, plunk new trains on it? I guess it wouldn't work everywhere like where there is a change in which side is electrified, but would it not be a solid start that would cover most of the track?

  • I guess I don't understand how 40 year old systems cannot be upgraded with more modern control systems that do not rely on obsolete or difficult to produce parts. Need motor controllers? There are lots of modern alternatives that run cooler and provide more power.

    I also find it hard to believe the computer systems used in BART couldn't be replaced with modern industrial systems - I would think a proper "black box" spec could result in a modern replacement that costs a fraction of even the yearly maintenance

  • by Nkwe ( 604125 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @12:22PM (#51792937)
    If it takes 22 weeks to obtain replacement thyristors (or any given part) and you haven't stockpiled enough thyristors to cover the expected failures that will occur over the next 22 weeks (plus some for the unexpected failures), you have a management problem. If parts are becoming unobtainable and you haven't identified a suitable replacement part (or re-engineered the system that uses that part), you have a management problem. If the costs to keep adequate spares or perform retrofit work exceed your budget, you have a management problem. None of these issues are technical in nature, they are all signs of the people responsible for keeping the system running at the business level (management) not doing their jobs.
  • by sunking2 ( 521698 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @12:25PM (#51792961)
    Sure you could get something standard and buy the cheapest mass produced cars available. Or you can do your own thing and depending how you do the bidding process create more local jobs to support your beast of a system. Take a look at Boston. The state legislature gave the contract to replace all of the cars on the T to a Chinese firm with the requirement they need to be built in Mass. They could have bought the cars cheaper elsewhere, but now you have a brand new car factory being built and ~500 jobs created with the hope that this factory will start producing cars for more than just Boston. All I'm saying is the world is ungodly complex and the decisions that are made are seldom singly influenced.
  • by tlambert ( 566799 ) on Monday March 28, 2016 @12:58PM (#51793243)

    They need that many thyristors because there was a voltage spike that was killing them.

    Rather than fix the voltage spike on that one small section, they took other cars from other areas of the system, and replaced the cards with the blown thyristors.

    Which the unfixed voltage spike then killed up as well.

    Rather than bus-bridge the impacted section, and actually figure out what the heck was going on with that small section that was making it cook thyristors in the cars, they ... you guessed it! Threw *MORE* cars at the problem, and cooked even *MORE* of them.

    Either someone is grossly incompetent, or someone really wants the taxpayers to buy them new toys, and they are perfectly willing to set fire to the old toys they no longer want in order to temper-tantrum their way into the new toys.

    Meanwhile: quit being assholes and throwing more of your dwindling supply of cars at that section of track!

    ---

    Moral of this story...

    Patient: "Doctor, it hurts when I do 'this'!!!"
    Doctor: "Then don't do that."

    • by jandrese ( 485 )
      I wouldn't be surprised if this was bad communication. Cars were breaking down on one line, so they were sent to car maintenance. Car maintenance found no problem with the rest of the car so they sent it back out. Nobody bothered to ask track maintenance to look into the problem because it was a "car problem". This is the kind of thing you get when an organization is overly bureaucratic and you have nobody willing to speak up or take charge. People do only what is exactly on their job description and n
      • Except there was a news story on the first day of problems, since it resulted in a delay and outage, and they specifically called out "voltage spike", before they murdered the second BART car by putting it on the same line.

        In other words, they knew that the thyristor had blown.

        Thinking the issue was transient accounts for car #2.

        Nothing accounts for the other 98 thyristors except that they want new toys.

  • There is a long history of public transit systems, especially rail systems, being systematically sabotaged by vested interests. An illegal and secret cartel of Firestone, Standard Oil and Ford bought many street car systems and shut them down.

    Local car dealers constantly work with city officials behind the scenes to make public transit fail.

  • Just mount a third load-bearing rail 9.5" inside of one of the existing rails, and you can run standard-gauge cars, and standard-gauge wheelsets, etc. on the same track as their odd-ball cars.

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