New BART cars on track to arrive in 2014

Gritty carpets and stained fabric seats greet commuters who step inside Bay Area Rapid Transit train cars.

It can be difficult to hear the conductor announce the next stop, and when the trains are crowded, difficult to discern at which station the train is arriving.

But BART officials promise this will all change with the arrival of new train cars, which are set to start rolling out 2014.

As part of California’s larger attempt to improve public transit in the state, BART is currently in the middle of a long process aimed at replacing all 669 of its existing cars — an effort that is currently projected to cost about $3.2 billion and to be completed in 2024.

At a meeting of the state’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission earlier this month, the 10 key improvements for the new cars were unveiled.

Called the “Fleet of the Future,” the cars will replace what is currently the oldest fleet — most of which have been running since 1972 — in the country among major transit systems.

The entire project was set in motion in December 2010 with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s approval to fund approximately $2.4 billion, or 75 percent of the project’s total cost, on the basis that BART would provide approximately $800 million, or 25 percent of the project, according to the presentation.

Currently, though, the BART Board of Directors has yet to determine how the transit company will provide the $800 million and whether this will have an impact on train fares, according to BART spokesperson Luna Salaver.

Joy Santos, a Berkeley resident and frequent BART commuter, and Rudy Letsche, a UC Berkeley architecture graduate student who plans to ride the train often when he starts working in San Francisco, said they think an improved commute would justify an increase in fares.

The improvements unveiled this month include three doors on each car to make getting in and out easier, improvements in energy efficiency, better audio and visual passenger information, easy-to-clean seats and floors, more handholds, more priority seating for seniors and people with disabilities and a system to transmit train information to hearing aids.

Salaver said nearly 10,000 members of the community have participated in giving feedback about the design process, which the transit agency has sought through a series of public meetings and an online survey.

Regarding the improvements he hopes to see in the new cars, Letsche said that providing riders with more route information during the train ride would make his future commute between Berkeley and San Francisco easier as well as lend clarity to those who are not familiar with the Bay Area.

“It would be great if every car had a diagram of the stops and a feature that would tell you where you are along the way,” Letsche said.

The plans for the new cars were designed by BMW Group Designworks USA, and BART staff hopes the community input will help the designers in improving the car layout and updating the appearance of the cars from their current 1970s look to give them a more modern feel.

The bids for cost per car currently range from $2,445,345 per car to $3,073,076, according to the presentation.

Annie Sciacca covers city government.