The arrival the first "Fleet of the Future" BART car in April was a much-ballyhooed event, with the transit agency touting the car's new features: Three doors on each side instead of two, new seats, bike racks, and LED map screens. The train cars, the first of which were then expected to be in use by this December, will even sound different, with better sound-proofing on doors and a terrifying new horn. But don't expect to hear that noise too soon. In a customary move for the transit agency, the likes of which riders will be intimately familiar, the first 10-car batch of BART's Fleet of the Future is already late. And, when the cohort does arrive, its cars will come with design problems that will need fixes to operate in the long term.
The Bay Area News group was the first to report on the delays, putting them at five months last week, and the Business Times has it from a BART spokesperson that the cars will be delivered in May 2017, or six months late.
BART's aging fleet of cars, grinding to the end of its useful life with fake cameras still in place of real ones, is due to be replaced by 775 new cars — the Fleet of the Future— at a cost of $2.6 billion. Yet those will come with faulty auxiliary power supply equipment, manufactured by Mitsubishi Electric Corporation. Counterintuitively, BART knew about that problem, and actually went through with the order anyway to speed things up in the long run.
"Once we understood the problem and what their solution was, we either could delay the project for eight to 10 months or we could take the interim [auxiliary power supply equipment] ... understanding that when they gave us the production units, anything that touched the -[auxiliary power supply equipment] they would have to requalify," project manager John Garnham told the Bay Area News Group. "It would allow us to get any bugs out of the rest of the equipment." Unfortunately, those tests have also determined new issues yet to be resolved by BART and Mitsubishi engineers, likely to be fixed by eventually swapping out the auxiliary power supply equipment.
Like BART, the Fleet of the Future's manufacturer, Bombardier Transit Company, has a history of delays. The company has missed deadlines for rail car agencies in England and its native Canada, whose government Bombardier is also asking for a $1 billion (USD) bailout following labor issues with workers at its Ottawa factories.
To make up for the time lost in the near term, BART wants to increase production of the cars to save time in the long run. The final cars in the fleet are expected to arrive two years sooner than originally thought, in 2021. Further down the line, BART hopes to increase its fleet size to 1,081 with 306 additional cars — if it can get funding to do so. Currently, the agency is banking on its $3.5 billion bond issue to pay for infrastructure solutions like track work and control systems. That measure will be on the November ballot in San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties.
In the end, BART is nothing if not resourceful. Perhaps the agency will be able to source parts, as it has in the past, on eBay. As BART General Manager Grace Crunican explained that move earlier this year, "Our workers have been very creative about figuring out how to replace parts.” Does anyone have any auxiliary power supply equipment, in good condition?