Right on schedule, BART's Oakland Airport Connector light rail is set to open to the public either by the end of next month, or by early December. The project has been controversial because of how expensive it's been, but it will no doubt improve the travel experiences of everyone trying to get to OAK by BART — removing the pain-in-the-ass step of getting on an AirBART bus and sitting in traffic.

Like the AirTrain at SFO, the Oakland Airport Connector is driverless, operated entirely by computer, and will hit every stop on a continuous loop about every 4 minutes.

Unlike the AirTrain, which follows a relatively small loop and then makes one jaunt out to the long-term parking lots, the Oakland Airport Connector covers a lot more territory — 3.2 miles worth to be exact. The size of the project has meant that it's now cost BART $484 million, a chunk of which came from federal transportation and stimulus funds. This is a far cry from the $130 million it was originally estimated to cost when it was first conceived.

Also unlike AirTrain, and because of the cost to maintain this Oakland counterpart, this train ride will cost you $6 on top of your BART fare. BART is using this money to defray maintenance costs that they estimate at $8 million per year. (Looking back to 2009, they were talking about charging people $12, and obviously they thought better of that.)

As the Chronicle reports, we're awaiting certification by the California Public Utilities Commission, and the completion of a reliability test by the contractor, but Thanksgiving is looking like a possibility.

The connector, built and operated by Doppelmayr, an Austrian-Swiss company, is seven days into that testing, which requires the connector to operate 98 percent of the time on schedule. So far, said project manager Thomas Dunscombe, they’re performing at a 99 percent level.

“It’s going great,” he said. “We have a real good shot at opening before Thanksgiving.”


Riders can expect an 8½-minute ride on three-car trains that display the familiar logo and colors but don’t look much like a typical silver BART train... Travelers heading to the airport on BART will get off their train at the Coliseum Station, walk to the south end of the platform and use escalators, stairs or elevators to get to a short ramp that leads to a bank of fare gates and a glass-walled waiting area. Doors on the north side of the station will open when trains arrive.

Trains will travel along Hegenberger Road, across Interstate 880, then down the Hegenberger median — all on elevated tracks — to the wheelhouse. The trains will automatically switch to a different cable that will pull them along a track that goes under Doolittle Drive, along the Metropolitan Golf Links then above the airport parking lots to an elevated station outside Terminal 1.

As you may recall, those AirBART buses cost you $3, so for $6 this sounds like it'll be a dream. And possibly nicer accomodations than the Southwest flight you'll be heading toward when you ride it.

Previously: BART Connector To The Oakland Airport By The Numbers