BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is a 95-mile (152-kilometer) automated rapid-transit system, the first of the “new generation” of such systems in the United States. By the end of the twentieth century there were thirteen in operation, including Washington, D.C. (opened 1976), Atlanta (1979), and Miami (1986). BART has thirty-nine stations on five lines radiating out from San Francisco to serve Contra Costa and Alameda Counties in the eastern Bay Area of northern California.
In 1947 a joint Army-Navy review board, predicted that another connecting link between San Francisco and Oakland would be needed to prevent intolerable traffic congestion on the Bay Bridge. It proposed the construction of a tube to carry high-speed electric trains under the waters of the bay. Four years later the California State Legislature created the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Commission and charged it with finding a long-term transportation solution in the context of environmental problems, not least among them the danger from earthquakes. After six years of investigation, the commission concluded that any transportation plan would have to be part of a total regional development plan. Because no such plan existed, the commission prepared a coordinated master strategy, later adopted by the Association of Bay Area Governments.
The commission’s most economical transportation solution was to establish a five-county rapid-transit
district, with the task of building and operating a high-speed rapid rail network linking major commercial centers with suburban nodes. The San Francisco BART District was formed, comprising the counties Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo. Plans were made for a revolutionary rapid-transit system. Electric trains would run on grade-separated corridors at maximum speeds of 80 mph (128 kph) and averaging around 45 mph (72 kph). Sophisticated, well-appointed vehicles would compete with private automobiles in the Bay Area, and well-designed, conveniently located stations would be built.
By mid-1961, after extensive public consultation, the final plan was submitted to the five counties for approval. San Mateo County was unconvinced and withdrew from the scheme in December. Marin County also withdrew a few months later, not only because it could not sustain its share of the cost but also because there were questions about the feasibility of running trains across the Golden Gate Bridge. The original proposal was therefore revised as a three-county plan, providing links across the bay between San Francisco and Contra Costa and Alameda. Those counties accepted the BART Composite Report in July 1962.
As part of the following November’s general election, voters approved a $792 million bond issue to finance the high-speed transit system and to rebuild 3.5 miles (5.6 kilometers) of the San Francisco Municipal Railway. The estimated $133 million cost of the Transbay Tube was to be funded by Bay Bridge tolls. The rolling stock, which would run on 1,000-volt direct current, was estimated to cost another $71 million, and the total cost of the system was projected at $996 million—the largest public works project ever undertaken by local residents in the United States. There were to be many delays, and costs would inevitably rise, eventually totaling $1.62 billion.
Parsons-Brinckerhoff-Tudor-Bechtel was the consortium appointed to manage the project, consisting of Parsons-Brinckerhoff-Quade and Douglas (the New York originators of the first plan); and from San Francisco, Tudor Engineering Company and the Bechtel Corporation, BART construction began on 19 June 1964, on the Diablo Test Track in Contra Costa County; completed ten months later, it was used to develop and test the vehicular system.
The Oakland subway was commenced in January 1966. In the following November the first of the fifty-seven, 24-foot-high-by-28-foot-wide (7.4-by-14.8-meter) steel-and-concrete sections of the Transbay Tube, almost 4 miles (6.4 kilometers) long in total, was submerged in the bay. A 3-mile-long (4.8-kilometer) drilled rock tunnel through the Berkeley Hills was completed four months later. The Transbay Tube structure was completed in August 1969. Lying as much as 135 feet. (41.3 meters) underwater, it took six years to design (seismic studies were an integral part of the process), and under three to build. The tunnel (indeed the entire BART system) would survive intact the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. The final cost of the tunnel was $180 million. Before the tube was closed to visitors so the rail tracks could be installed, thousands of pedestrians passed through.
In July 1967 construction began on the two-level Market Street subway, 100 feet (30.6 meters) below San Francisco. The work was complicated by a difficult mud-and-water environment and the century-old network of underground utilities. The first tunneling on the west coast was carried out entirely under compressed-air conditions; this section of the project brought the BART workforce to 5,000 in 1969. On 27 January 1971 the bore into the west end of Montgomery Street Station marked the completion of that phase of the project.
Although delays and inflation were eroding capital, public and governmental pressure groups forced the relocation of 15 miles of line and 15 stations, and a general improvement of station designs. They were also substantially altered during construction to improve access. Discussion of BART’s financial problems is not the purpose of this essay: suffice it to say that an increasing input of federal money was needed to support the constant variations and improvements to the original plan. BART’s linear park was constructed to demonstrate how functionality need not spoil the amenity of the environment, and major landscaping was partly funded by federal money.
When the first 250 vehicles were eventually ordered from Rohr Industries of California, the price
had reached $80 million—$18 million above the estimate for the whole 450-car fleet. The first car was delivered in August 1970, and within months, 10 test cars operated on the Fremont Line. The paid service began operation on 11 September 1972 on the 28 miles (45 kilometers) between Fremont and MacArthur Stations. Heavily subsidized by federal grants, 200 more cars were bought by July 1975. In the late 1980s, BART purchased another 150 from SOFERVAL, an American subsidiary of Alsthom Atlantique of France, and 80 more from Morrison-Knudsen a few years later.
A central control room, installed in 1972 in the Lake Merritt Administration Building, was replaced in 1979 by an Operations Control Center, from which train operations and remote control of electrification, ventilation, and emergency-response systems are supervised.
In 1991, the BART Extensions Program launched a $2.6 billion plan to expand services in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Mateo Counties. Since then 5 stations and 21 miles (33 kilometers) of double track have been added, including the Pittsburg-Antioch Extension, whose North Concord/Martinez Station opened in December 1995, the first new one in over 20 years. The $517 million Dublin/Pleasanton Extension opened in May 1997. A proposal to connect BART to San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was first considered in 1972, just as the inaugural service was opened. The first stage opened in February 1996. During the next phase, BART will move further down the San Francisco peninsula, adding 9 miles (14.4 kilometers) of track and 4 new stations, including one inside the new International Terminal. Work on the final leg started in 1997, and the line was scheduled for completion early in the twenty-first century. In 1995, BART launched a ten-year program, costing $1.1 billion, to overhaul the system infrastructure and the original fleet of cars.