Demoro on BART's Troubles, 1980
AN: Harre Demoro (1939-1993) was the Tribune’s reporter on BART construction for a decade and a half, from groundbreaking to the 1970s. His work is imbedded throughout this site. It appears the years of BART delays and unreliability worn into him through the end of the 1970s and 1980s. As much as he was a supporter in the 1960s, he was a critic in the early 1980s. Many times, his criticism was valid as much as it was then as it is today. If he was alive today, he would likely be aghast at the crime, dirtiness, and other “quality-of-life” conditions (alongside reliability and BART still being unable to “run the system like they promised”), but perhaps most supportive of the Legacy Fleet reaching 50 years of service.
The following essay was published in the February 1980 issue of Pacific News, under the Column “Out West.” Demoro writes:
It is common for electric rail rapid transit cars to outlive their usefulness, to continue to run long after they have become obsolete. The East Boston subway cars built in 1923-24 by Pullman, are just now being phased out. Most Philadelphia Broad Street cars are past forty years of age. New York, the toughest subway town in the world, obtains thirty to forty years of life from its cars. The situation is different in the San Francisco area, where planners for B A RT - the Bay Area Rapid Transit system - are busily drafting plans and specifications for at least two hundred proposed new rapid transit cars that will cost $ 1 million each and, with luck, would go into service in 1985 [A/N: The C1 cars, as they are known now, entered service on 3/28/1988].
We might recall that B A RT did not open its first line until 1 972, and that except for a few cars rebuilt from the prototypes delivered in 1 970, there is not a BART car in 1980 that is even ten years old. The 450 cars built by Rohr Industries were expected to last at least thirty years, but it now seems clear a significant number of them will be gone before they are fifteen years old. Some have already been scrapped due to wrecks and fires.
Having covered B A RT as a newspaperman from 1962- 1 977, watching the engineers and bureaucrats plan, design, build and operate the system, I might be expected to be surprised at the short lifespan of the rail cars. But when I look back, I realize I should not be. The car reflects almost none of the experience gathered by the electric railway industry during seventy years prior to the BART design effort. Too much attention was paid to innovation.
Some history: The last major electric railway design effort was the Electric Railway President's Conference Committee, which produced PCC streetcars, such as those in San Francisco (PACIFIC NEWS, November, 1979), and the PCC rapid transit car, still in use in Boston, Cleveland and Chicago. That program died in 1952 for streetcars, and about a decade later for rapid transit, with Chicago and Boston carrying on the final research. By the time BART was in detailed design, the platoons of experts who knew something about subway car design were either retired, deceased or happily employed on the other rail systems. There was an undisguised snobbery among BART engineers who held that the past was not worth considering, and that modern methods, such as computers and aerospace technology, would be sufficient. It is true that many of the innovations BART attempted had merit. The 1000-volt DC power system was modern and on paper was the electrical network needed to propel the high-performance trains. The solid-state chopper system that feeds electricity to the traction motors was a necessary improvement, both for the high performance required and for its ability to react instantly to the automated control system. But as we now know, the chopper control and motors are erratic, the 1000-volt power system had to be extensively modified - and the cars are getting shabbier and, to this rider, noisier and looser, by the minute. If the cars had been reliable, the awkward arrangement of having end cab (or A) cars with controls, and mid train (or B cars) without controls, would have proven successful.
On a system as unreliable as BART, one component failure takes the entire train to the yard. On a real subway, with all cars alike, the defective car can be switched out of a train at a siding called a pocket track, and the remaining cars continue in service. BART, unfortunately, only has three pocket tracks. The new cars, I am told, will have flat ends with doors. One may assume that with a flat end the car with controls can be put in the middle of the train in an emergency. At long last a design that is aimed at getting passengers home, rather than one pleasing engineers who like to tinker, may be assured for BART.
The new cars are to have control cabs at one end and will replace most or all of the slant-end cab cars now in use. The present cab cars that appear to have a few miles left on their aluminum shells are to be rebuilt as midtrain, or B cars. BART already is cutting the noses off of some of the worn-out cab cars and making them B cars. Ultimately, the present cars will be more fire-resistant. Perhaps by 1985, thirteen years after the system opened to the public, BART may begin to operate like other rail systems. The fact that these others, including new subways in Washington, D. C. and Atlanta, have a car design that is practical, should be a lesson to the BART designers.
"The Two Bagger" is meant to be a place to store more "blog" style posts on various cars, pictures, and random tidbits. At BART, a "two bagger" is a rather informal name for a two car train. Two car trains rolled in revenue service back in 1972.