Every car counts: BART repairs train cars once thought of as scrap


Every car counts: BART repairs train cars once thought of as scrap

Story by MELISSA JORDAN, BART Senior Web Producer
Video by CHERYL STALTER, BART Multimedia Producer

In forlorn corners of shops in Hayward and Richmond sit banged-up train cars that have been scavenged for spare parts; train cars so badly damaged from various types of incidents that they were considered beyond repair. Then, a handful of MacGyver-like mechanics and imaginative engineers, the kind who can't sleep at night until they've come at a problem from every possible angle, began reconsidering.

"We wanted to accept the challenge to repair these cars, because we know that we only have a limited number," said John Allen, a transit vehicle mechanic at the Hayward maintenance shop.

BART needed to increase the number of cars available for service to lengthen trains as part of the September 2015 schedule change. Factor in the new Warm Springs Station opening in 2016, car demand and wear and tear on the aging fleet will soon hit an all-time high. Repairing these sidelined trains became part of the solution when BART secured $ 1.7 million in federal funds to jump start the effort and $1.69 million in state Cap-and-Trade funds to cover the operating costs of 14 train cars in need of repair above and beyond routine maintenance.

"As ridership increases, more and more cars are needed," said Daniel Zendejas, a transit vehicle mechanic at the Richmond maintenance shop. These cars that were destined for the scrapyard, Zendejas said, "need to get repaired. And that's when the accident repair crew gets started."  The project will ultimately increase the percentage of train cars in service from the daily average of 86% to an unprecedented 89%.

Every car can help make a difference to our riders. Each car can carry up to a (crowded) 140 people, but that doesn’t factor in the numerous trips a train makes.  With ridership at 430,000 trips per weekday, adding a car means adding capacity for 800 riders.

The length of time it takes to resurrect one of these cars depends on the nature and extent of the damage. A car may have run over a tree that fell across the tracks in a windstorm, for example, and need work on the front end.

Another might have experienced an electrical arcing incident, where intense heat actually melts metal components of the car. The fortunate news is, thanks to BART's culture of making safety the top priority, customers were not injured in these incidents.

You can't say the same for the cars. Whole ends are crumpled in places; metal beams snapped in two; wiring melted into a big blob. "And some of these cars are so old, it's really hard to get parts, so it is a challenge for the accident repair team," said Richmond assistant superintendent Michael Hung.

Once the team settles on an idea, they discuss it with engineers and managers to make sure it will be structurally sound. All along the way, checks and balances are in place to test the rehabbed trains for safety and make sure they are as good -- or even better -- than their original condition.

"We take a lot of pride in what we do here," Allen said. "We want it to come out good. We want our public to have a safe mode of transportation."

BART is currently hiring transit vehicle mechanics and transit vehicle electronics technicians. For more info go to www.bart.gov/jobs.