"Why can't the trains be longer?" Some background to explain
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It's a question we hear often from passengers as BART experiences record high ridership levels: "Why can't you just add more cars to make longer trains?"
Passengers are familiar with the electronic signs over the platform that announce upcoming trains. There might be a 10-car train during a busy morning commute period or a 4-car train late at night. In addition, BART regularly runs longer trains for special events when large crowds are expected, such as after an Oakland Raiders game from Coliseum/Oakland Airport Station. The maximum length of train that BART can run is 10 cars, due to the platform length at all 43 stations.
Why, then, can’t there be more 10-car trains? The simple answer is that we already schedule all of the available cars to be in service during the rush period; there are no additional cars available.
To run a typical peak morning commute, BART requires 579 cars. Of those, 541 are scheduled to be in active service; the other 38 are used to build up four spare trains (essential for maintaining on-time service). At any one time, the rest of the fleet of 669 cars is in for repair, maintenance, or some type of planned modification work.
That puts BART’s rush-hour car requirement at 86.5% of the total fleet (579/669). This percentage is highest of all major U.S. rail transit systems such as New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. Those systems schedule between 54% and 84% of their fleet to operate during the rush period.
BART is taking steps in a broad effort to accommodate more passengers on trains and expedite boardings in the future, including a study looking at ideas for managing demand and seeking funding for a larger, more modern fleet of cars. BART’s cars are custom-designed to be strong, but very light and efficient. Thus, we cannot purchase them "off-the-shelf." Providing additional cars and replacing the cars we currently operate is a multi-year process with a multi-billion-dollar price tag.
We are also modifying the interior layout of existing cars to increase the number of riders who can board by more than 10 percent. In addition, in 2008 we increased train service by 33% after 7:00 pm Monday – Saturday and all the time on Sunday, to encourage more off-peak travel.
Riders can help make a smoother trip for everyone on crowded trains by following guidelines for courtesy and safety, such as moving to the center of the car to make room for riders getting on, not holding the train doors open, following rules for bicycles and preparing to exit as the train nears your destination.