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BART shifts weekday morning service one hour later

on February 19, 2019

Last Monday, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) service moved its morning service one hour later in order to conduct a seismic retrofit on the Transbay Tube that will allow it to withstand major earthquakes in the future.

BART shifted its systemwide service from 4 to 5 a.m., allowing work crews to have an extra hour each morning. The retrofit and service shift will last for the next 3.5 years in order to complete a “waterproofing project” to protect the tube in the event of a magnitude 8.0 or greater earthquake . According to BART officials, train stations will utilize the Early Bird Express bus service to operate between 4 and 5 a.m. as a replacement transit service.

“The goal of the Transbay Tube retrofit is to make the system safer,” said Anna Duckworth, communications officer for BART. “It is also to ensure that the Transbay Tube will be up and running in the event of a large earthquake right in the core of our system.”

Duckworth said the Transbay Tube retrofit has served as one of BART’s most critical assets since opening up for passenger service in 1974. In 2017, work crews started the installation of an inner liner inside of the tube’s gallery. Now, they will begin the next phase by installing an upgraded pumping system to allow larger quantities of water to be removed quickly from the tube. BART awarded a $313 million dollar contract to Shimmick Construction and California Engineering Contractors Inc. for the project. 

So far, the Transbay Tube has been able to withstand major earthquakes. Most notably, BART played an essential role in the Bay Area during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which was centered 55 miles south of San Francisco. The train system was used on a 24-hour emergency schedule to assist the public during the aftermath, which was especially important because the Bay Bridge was closed due to severe damage. The tube was able to withstand the shaking and also insulated passengers from feeling the movement of the quake. 

Stuart Cohen, executive director of Transform, an advocacy group that promotes transportation choices to help connect people of all incomes to affordable transit, says that these scheduling changes are necessary for an interim period to expedite safety upgrades. “Typically from 12 to 4 [am], work crews need additional time and equipment to work,” said Cohen. “It’s really essential to not let the project drag out. There’s relatively low ridership at that time, and can actually be interesting experiment with other means of transportation.”

According to Duckworth, BART conducted extensive outreach last spring for two months amongst “first hour” riders. They engaged riders who were at the stations and on the trains, plus representatives from unions and the hospitality industries, who represent many of the riders who need to go to work early. They informed them that the change was coming and asked them what would be needed to ensure commutes would not be disrupted.

Mark Million, who was waiting on the train toward South Fremont/ Warm Springs at the 12th Street Oakland BART Station on Saturday, said the temporary schedule change is needed, but will be hardest on those who have to commute from the farthest stations. “It’s for the greater good,” said Million. “I commute everyday on BART, but I feel bad for those who have to come far from Antioch or Pittsburg/Bay Point. But at the end of the day, they have to do what they have to.”

Further down the platform, Kathy Gallegos, who has used the train service for the last 15 years, offered a different sentiment. “It has not impacted me, but would have impacted me based on my last job,” said Gallegos, who used the 4 a.m. schedule when she worked a previous job in San Francisco. “But I have friends and colleagues who stated in the first days of the change that the buses were late.”

According to BART statistics, more than 2,900 riders enter the system within the first hour of service. More than 2,400 riders began their trip using fares in the East Bay, while 64 percent of the first hour riders exit at downtown San Francisco stations. 

Thanks to the outreach conducted in the spring, Duckworth said that there was not much negative feedback after the change took effect last week due to people’s understanding of how serious the project is to ensuring public safety. “Many understood this was an important retrofit,” said Duckworth. “People understand that the Transbay Tube really needs to be protected.”

In addition to the later opening, BART will be single-tracking trains through the Transbay Tube from 9 p.m. until the end of service, pushing back train arrivals 24 minutes. After 3.5 years, BART will shift back to its normal scheduling of opening at 4 a.m. once the retrofit project is completed.

Cohen said he hopes that everything runs smoothly. “Hopefully it does not impact our transit riders too badly, and they are able to make the shift in their schedule to commute every day,” said Cohen.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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