Updated 5:14 pm, Monday, July 24, 2017
BART’s brand spanking new electric train cars tried their very hardest on Monday to work like they were supposed to.
It’s not easy being the new kid on the block. What BART proved Monday during its gala test of its “train of the future” was that it’s a very good thing that the trains come with a full two-year factory warranty.
Monday was demonstration day, and reporters and other guests hopped aboard the factory-fresh leviathan for a 27-minute meander through the East Bay.
The new train lurched, jerked, ran behind schedule and stopped on a siding to catch its breath.
“Blurrp,” said the train, as it pulled into South Hayward station 22 minutes late for its special preview run to Bay Fair and back. Most BART trains say “beep” but change is life.
Moments later, the test train lurched harshly several times as its controls were switched from manual to automatic control and back again, and the train operator — who is still getting the hang of the space-age cockpit that passes for the driver’s seat — was making his acquaintance with the brakes.
One reporter was knocked to his knees and the rest of the pack grabbed at the straps and poles. But all was forgiven as the train glided north, past the familiar graffiti and backyard cleanup projects of South Hayward.
“The old trains are like a Model T and this runs like a Tesla,” said veteran train operator Kirk Paulsen.
The new train, built by the Bombardier company of Montreal and assembled at the company’s factory in Plattsburgh, N.Y., was measurably quieter than current BART trains, the ones that transit agency is already referring to as its “legacy fleet.”
On The Chronicle’s decibel meter, the new train sped through Hayward about 10 decibels quieter than current ones. BART said it has reconfigured the train wheels so that they contact the rails at a different, quieter angle. But the new train still averaged 82 decibels, which according to sound experts, is the noise level of a “vacuum cleaner or a screaming child.”
Fortunately for BART, the two-year factory warranty period doesn’t start until the trains begin carrying actual people, and reporters don’t count in that category. BART people who have been testing the cars for the past year say they’re very glad about that because things keep going wrong.
Project manager John Garnham said testing the trains has been a herculean feat. The state of California, he said, provided him with a checklist of 1,870 items that have to run perfectly.
“And there are 3,000 documents to fill out” for each car, he said.
Since testing on the first batch of 10 cars began last spring, BART has encountered scores of glitches relating to lights, air conditioning, heating, brakes and propulsion. Most of the testing has been done in the wee hours, when the rest of the BART system is shut down and the balky new train cars are far from prying eyes.
“We knew we weren’t buying a finished product,” said Chief Mechanical Officer Dave Hardt, who said most of the testing could only be performed when the train cars were running on actual BART tracks and not at the factory in New York.
BART spokesman Jim Allison said seemingly endless software fixes must be tested in the lab, on a parked train and then on a moving train. Once one glitch is fixed, another is often found, he said.
The agency hopes to be able to put the first 10 cars into service by September. About 150 new cars will arrive and be phased into the system each year until the entire legacy fleet of 669 cars is replaced by the 775 new cars in 2022.
The cost of the new trains cars is $1.5 billion, or about enough to buy two BART tickets from South Hayward to Bay Fair for every person in the country.
The new cars come with fewer seats to provide more space so that more passengers can cram aboard during rush hour. But BART said the larger number of train cars in the new fleet will mean an overall increase in seating capacity systemwide, once they are all in operation.
The BART trains of the future also feature blue and green interiors that look like a Seattle Seahawks football jersey, and thinly covering plastic seats. In a nod to the changing times, the trains also feature “no vaping” signs and spring-loaded bike clamps instead of racks.
Also on each car are video monitors that will show maps, train location and upcoming stations and other information — and possibly advertising messages, although that had not yet been decided. The video signs were turned off for the test run because, said one BART official, they weren’t working quite right and it wouldn’t do to announce that the train was in Hayward if it wasn’t.
Some things about BART, however, don’t change all that much. The test train was supposed to depart from South Hayward at high noon. It actually departed at 12:22 p.m. and then proceeded to do what all BART trains do from time to time — it stopped.
The trip to Bay Fair and back — a total of four stops — took 27 minutes.
Only invited guests were invited on the special train, which obligingly stopped at South Hayward directly beneath flashing electronic signs that proclaimed “Train Won’t Stop.
Left behind at South Hayward station was BART patron Natasha Pledger, who said she had exactly 63 minutes to get to Oakland airport and catch her plane home to Houston. She was not happy to have fallen victim to BART’s gala celebration.
“I can’t miss my plane,” she said. “I’m glad they have new trains, but I have to get to the airport.”