BART was already transporting passengers when it first began. The Apollo-era trains symbolized a future that promised a seat and carpeted floors to all passengers.

That was 1972, when BART still was at the forefront of technology. Half a century later and many of these same silver-and-blue trains still travel through the Bay Area. And keeping them running — even in the country’s technology capital — requires a special breed of ingenuity.

BART mechanics rely upon Frankensteined laptops that run Windows 98, train yard scraps, and vintage microchips in order to keep Bay Area commuters connected to 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.”

Take a look at the founders to understand why BART maintenance is so difficult. They opted to forgo heavy steel trains and outdated signaling technology and instead hired a aerospace company to build a BART. Train fleetThat would be a great way to start a new chapter. Model for public transit. The result? All-electric trains with sleek aluminum bodies, wide windows and almost autonomous operation. 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 introduced 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. BART spokesmen said that although the 28-mile Oakland-to Fremont stretch will be open on September 11, the entire system should be available by next summer. (AP Photo/Sal Veder)

Many of the hardware soon became obsolete. Even though Silicon Valley was growing next door to the train station, it remained attached to a safe but reliable rail system. arcane automated train control system that depended on DOS — a computer operating system now relegated to the dustbin of history. Although BART inspired train networks in Washington, D.C., Atlanta, its specific mechanics were never widely reproduced.

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 filled with stacks of old 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. The sloped nose was designed to look futuristic, but it served no practical purpose. It even prevented the trains switching between flat-faced and sloped-faced vehicles. Irrespective of functionality, the shape became BART’s “identity,”Healy.

According to BART spokesperson Jim Allison, 56 of the original A cars are still in use today. Their mechanical innards had been replaced during aRebuilding in the middle of your lifeThe legacy fleet was established in the late 1990s. However, the same pointed nose greets thousands of passengers every single day. There are 341 more trailing. “B Cars”They were used in 60 countries starting in the 1970s. “C cars,”These were built in 1980.

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 is now at Concord maintenance yard, scorching in the hottest 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 removed headlight sockets from the train and popped out its difficult-to-replicate conductor glass.

“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, now a teacher in Palo Alto, said.

She loved the feeling of discovery that the trains brought to her journeys from Oakland to San Francisco. 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 frustration with BART often boiled over into angry posts on social media, when the crowded cars became saunas. “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.’”

BART is doing something. It is slowly phasing out its old trains. In the next two years, most will be sent off to the junkyards. A few will be used for other purposes.Local beer garden, video-game arcade and firefighter training. The Western Railway Museum is also located in Solano County. fundraisingWe are saving historic BART cars to make way for a new exhibit.

They will be replaced by the $2.6 billion “Fleet of the Future,”This makes up almost a third of all trains. The cars feature cooler cabins, LCD map screens, and yellow and blue seats. The new fleet will be able to push BART into 21st century. Software glitches can slow down the process.

Finding replacement parts won’t be a problem and DOS is no longer necessary for Allen and his crew, but it will still be bittersweet to say goodbye to trains that they have lovingly kept alive.

“There is a part of me that definitely has a little tear in my eye,”Allen, who has dedicated 16 years of his life and work to BART repairs. “I think we could probably rebuild the fleet again and keep it going . . . but you know, out with the old and in with the new.”


BART for 50 years

2,302,680: Average mileage for BART’s 1970s train cars89:Number of train cars that were in operation in 1972 and are still in service today“It will never work” — Margaret Thatcher, in 1969 after touring BART$2.6 billion: Cost of BART’s 775 new “Fleet of the Future”Trains70 mph: BART’s maximum speed

 

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