BART system maintenance questioned as equipment and service problems persist

BART has dealt with a series of equipment, power, track and maintenance issues, calling into question the transit system’s dependability.

The latest incident was Friday morning when BART trains stopped in the Transbay Tube because of a power outage. 200 passengers were stranded and other commuters were stuck at other points in the system, officials said.

That failure is one of a pattern of problems spelled out on the transit agency’s Twitter page.

KTVU found roughly 40 separate incidents so far in September, that mentioned maintenance, track or equipment problems impacting service. That does not include crimes or police activity.

Friday morning was not the first time BART passengers have been in the dark or stranded. Delays caused by disabled trains have happened two other times this month. In at least one case, a train became disabled in the Transbay Tube.

It comes just weeks after BART celebrated its 50th anniversary as it tries to regain ridership since the start of the pandemic.

But problems persist.

Delays are expected on the next two Sundays when BART will be single-tracking near the Pleasant Hill station to fix the track where a train derailed because of heat back in June. There will also be full weekend closures in that area between Pleasant Hill and Concord two weekends in October and once in November, the transit agency said.

KTVU reviewed major issues so far this year plaguing the transit system including computer issues, unscheduled track maintenance, and equipment failures.

“Over time if you don’t do the routine maintenance that needs to be done, we start to see what happens over and over again on BART,” said Lawrence McQuillan with the Independent Institute, a nonpartisan, public policy research nonprofit. “You have electrical problems, track problems, train breakdowns so it becomes very unreliable for the customers.”

McQuillan said the most troubling problem is BART doesn’t even track deferred maintenance, leaving less room for accountability. That means work that has been put off has not been properly documented.

“If you don’t know how much is being deferred, you don’t know how far behind you are,” McQuillan said. “There’s no way to track how much more you have to catch up in order to get back up to speed. I think that’s why we continually see these problems.”

MORE: Major delays in BART’s Transbay Tube disrupt service for hours

Back in July, a ventilation problem in the Berkeley Hills brought Antioch-bound trains to a stop. Passengers were left standing in long lines waiting for buses.

That same day, power problems stopped service between Concord and Pleasant Hill stations.

In March, it was the Richmond line where a power cable broke and there was a subsequent fire at a substation.

Service was suspended for days while that power cable and others from the 1970s were replaced. As a result, the limited power forced BART to run shorter trains for weeks.

The most recent BART data publicly available shows 12% of passengers arrive late and roughly 20% of trains are delayed daily.

While the agency apologized for many of the previous incidents affecting riders, BART said it stands behind its track record, despite the challenges.

“By and large, we get people where they’re going on time, with minimal delays” BART public information officer Jim Allison said Friday. “We are a mechanical, electrical system so we do have problems from time to time.”

Brooks Jarosz is an investigative reporter for KTVU. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on facebook and Twitter @BrooksKTVU

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