BART was already transporting passengers when it first began. The Apollo-era trains represented a generation that was heading toward a space-age future with carpeted floors, and a seat for every passenger.

This was 1972, when BART had reached its peak. Half a century later, many of the same silver-and blue trains still run through the Bay Area. And keeping them running — even in the country’s technology capital — requires a special breed of ingenuity.

BART mechanics rely heavily on Frankensteined laptops running Windows 98, trainyard scraps and vintage microchips for their ability to keep Bay Area commuters safe on the rails.

CONCORD, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 9: BART transit vehicle electronic technician Shawn Stange shows a laptop with the Windows 98 operating system, which is used to maintain and troubleshoot train cars at the BART maintenance yard in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group).

“We have literally started with a picture and scoured different manufacturers and eBay looking for an oddball part,”John Allen, a mechanic who works with BART trains that are in disrepair, said, Car 372 Catch fireIn Orinda, his team developed a completely new system and built their tools to replace the floor. “Sometimes we don’t even know what the name of the part is.”

Look back at the founders to see why BART maintenance can be so difficult. They avoided heavy steel trains, and used signaling technology, and instead hired an aerospace company. Train fleetThat would serve as a brand new Model for public transit. The result? All-electric trains featuring sleek aluminum bodies and large windows, supported by almost autonomous operations. The price tag for BART’s original 450 cars: $160 million.

“BART was envisioned as a renaissance system,” said Mike Healy, the agency’s longtime spokesperson and BART historian. It was established in 1972. “was sort of the new kid on the block.”

FILE - A Bay Area Rapid Transit System train zips along an elevated section of tracks in Oakland, Calif., Sept. 9, 1972, during a test run, in preparation for the September 11 opening of the first section of BART. Only the 28-mile Oakland-to-Fremont stretch opens on September 11, but BART spokesmen say the whole system should be in operation by next summer. (AP Photo/Sal Veder)
FILE – A Bay Area Rapid Transit System train zips along an elevated section of tracks in Oakland, Calif., Sept. 9, 1972, during a test run, in preparation for the September 11 opening of the first section of BART. Although the 28-mile Oakland to Fremont section will open on September 11, BART spokesmen state that the entire system should be operational by next summer. (AP Photo/Sal Veder)

However, much of the hardware was quickly obsolete. Even though Silicon Valley grew next door, trains remained tied to a safe but secure rail system. arcane automated train control system that depended on DOS — a computer operating system now relegated to the dustbin of history — for vital operations. Although BART was a model for train networks in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, its specific mechanics were never replicated.

The transit system is a rare exception today, with everything from wheels and windows screaming for custom-built attention.

“The biggest stumbling block is coming up with parts that they don’t make anymore,”Mark Wing, a mechanic responsible for maintaining the entire train’s electrical propulsion equipment and busted seats, said Mark Wing.

Which parts are no longer made? “Pretty much everything,”He said.

Shawn Stange is there to help a BART train get into trouble. He pops open a circa-2000 IBM Thinkpad running Windows 98 and opens a portal into the train’s brain — the Automated Train Control system — through the DOS computer language.

Much as if he were conducting a vehicle diagnostic test, Stange uses the software as a mechanic’s roadmap. “This stuff was written so long ago. So you have to take Windows 10 and open up a virtual Windows 98 box and then run the (DOS) program to download the log files,”He said. “It’s primitive.”

CONCORD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 9: BART transit vehicle electronic technician Shawn Stange shows a laptop with the Windows 98 operating system, which is used to maintain and troubleshoot train cars at the BART maintenance yard in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
CONCORD, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 9: BART transit vehicle electronic technician Shawn Stange shows a laptop with the Windows 98 operating system, which is used to maintain and troubleshoot train cars at the BART maintenance yard in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group).

BART warehouses are full of stacks upon stacks vintage laptop carcasses. The train software is so old it won’t work on modern computers.

“I was in an engineering office, and I bet he had 40 of them sitting on the floor stacked up,”Allen. “Rob this part and rob that part to keep one laptop going. You see that here all the time.”

Perhaps the most illustrative symbol of BART’s go-it-alone approach is its iconic 1970s lead cars,This is a dedicated Fan base among transit design aficionados. Although the sloped nose was designed to look futuristic, it served no practical purpose. It also prevented trains from switching with flat-faced vehicles. Irrespective of functionality, the shape became BART’s “identity,”Healy.

Jim Allison, a spokesperson for BART, stated that 56 of the original lead cars (known as A cars) are still in operation today. Their mechanical innards were changed during aMid-life reconstructionThe legacy fleet was established in the late 1990s. However, the same pointed nose greets thousands of passengers every single day. The remaining 341 trailing passengers are also included. “B Cars”These are still in use from the 1970s along with 60 “C cars,”These were built in the 1980s.

CONCORD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 9: The BART train (A car) that was derailed last June in Concord is no longer in service and is salvage to repair other cars at the BART maintenance yard in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group)
CONCORD, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 9: The BART train (A car) that was derailed last June in Concord is no longer in service and is salvage to repair other cars at the BART maintenance yard in Concord, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 9, 2022. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group).

The family of legacy-lead cars was reduced to a smaller size in June. Car 1204 DerailedIt now lives at Concord Maintenance Yard, scorching under the most recent heat wave. “It’ll go to Schnitzer Steel in Oakland and get crushed,” said Allison.

But before Car 1204 meets the trash compactor, mechanics picked through the train’s bones in recent weeks. To preserve parts, they pulled the headlight sockets and took out the hard-to-replicate conductor window.

“The window is kind of bowed out, like a bubble,”Scott Fitzgerald, Concord yard manager, said that they have one spare. “I don’t know how many attempts the glassmaker has tried to get that arc correctly.”

One of the first people to see BART’s space-age trains running through the Bay Area was Mekela Edwards. On Sept. 11, 1972, she was a toddler slung over her mother Theresa’s shoulder when the pair became the system’s First paying customers. “Sometimes I introduce myself as BART’s first baby,”Edwards is currently a teacher at Palo Alto.

On trips from Oakland and San Francisco, trains always felt like a discovery for her. But Edward’s connection to BART also parallels many passengers’ love-hate relationship with the system as the dated trains struggle with cleanliness, delays and notoriously failing air conditioners.

As she grew older, her frustrations with BART sometimes boiled over into angry social media posts. “I just could not believe it was so hot on the train,”She recounted a 2016 trip, she said. “And so I was tweeting, ‘do something about this.’”

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