Michael Cabanatuan reports on the history and triumphs of the Bay Area's subway system, which just completed its busiest month ever, and the challenges it faces as it enters its fifth decade of service.
When the first segment of the system opened in 1972, after 8 years of construction, it was the the first new rail mass transit line to be constructed in the United States in 60 years. With "slant-nosed, computer-controlled trains, automated ticket machines and fare gates and lightweight aluminum cars with carpeted floors and cloth-covered, cushioned seats," Bart was considered "a model for the rest of the nation," said Mike Healy, who served as BART's chief spokesman from 1971 to 2004.
"As BART zips past 40, it faces a number of challenges," notes Cabanatuan. "Modernizing and maintaining the system is critical, [Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesman Randy] Rentschler said. After years of searching for funding, the transit agency is buying a new fleet of trains. But the agency also needs to replace its automated train-control system and make improvements to increase the capacity of the original 72-mile 'core' of the system."
"Everyone loves BART, and everyone wants BART," Rentschler said. "BART is still expanding, but what it really needs to do is work on rebuilding and improving its core, increasing its capacity."