BART – Train operator’s view

BART – Train operator’s view

There has never been a full BART ‘driver’s eye’ view. Never! Not even a full length peep from the cab of America’s one and only broad gauge automated rapid transit! Historically it might possibly be to do with the half window frontages of the system’s legacy fleet – as can be seen from the few videos that do show this – but now they have stock with full width windows, what’s the give? In a sense forward views on BART were not really a thing because of the half cab window hence few knew what the tunnels or the whole extent of the system looked like.

None of BART’s train operators have done forward view videos of the whole system – and this after 50 years of the network’s operation which was celebrated in September 2022 and that plus the introduction of new stock with full front windows. The handful of forward views from the cab that do exist are short videos, dark, a mere glimpse – for example Balboa Park to Millbrae – evidently many other metros and rapid transits of the world now had full length point to point videos on Youtube and those on BART were simply not comparable.

One concerned enthusiast mused upon the problem (if it can be called that) and decided to employ a radical innovation! Vincent Woo employed a special mount stuck to one of the legacy stock trains (an A2 unit) in the hope tits camera wouldn’t be discovered or it fell off and got mangled in the tracks. Some commented on the possible risk of shorting the tracks or damaging the system’s electric and claimed the venture had a certain amount of recklessness – but the measure of its success was that BART choose not to take action against Vincent. (PS – the film used was actually shot from the newer BART units. Vincent simply wasn’t satisfied with his first attempt filmed from the older A2 car thus he made a number of further attempts.)

The video is certainly one of the best metro/rapid transit offerings that can be found on You Tube and its well worth a watch. As one comment on Youtube put it: ‘Phenomenal BART documentary. Clever filming concept, fleshed out & brought to life with insightful commentaries & interviews. Bravo Mr. Woo!’ Another said: ‘This is absolutely extraordinary. I’ve never seen a cab ride done documentary style. This should be shown in an IMAX, or at least as an exhibit in a transit museum. Well done.’

As one BART commentator observed the tunnels were a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey (no doubt referring to the Star Gate sequence.) One of the best things about the video is its almost film grade stuff! The colours, the quality (apart from two occasions where there’s a clear edit jump which looks out of sequence – I had thought it was that different trains were used but Vincent says its a limitation in the camera.) The fact one can see pretty much all the tunnels on BART’s longest route (which takes in the crossing under San Francisco bay) from the International Airport to Daly City then through the city’s centre tunnels to Oakland, Rockridge, Lafayette, Concord and Pittsburgh Bay Point, as well as some of the Bay Area scenery (complemented regularly by the area’s many freeways) is simply fantastic.

The tunnels are amazing being of all sorts of various construction. It was notable that a considerable amount of tunnel is compromised of tube sections with both concrete and steel segments (which is interesting to compare in terms of how London’s tube systems from the earliest to the most recent have been built.) Lots of it is rectangle/square tunnel too with various iterations of widths strengthened by steel or concrete ceiling beams – clearly some of this is cut and cover work. The colours in the tunnels are amazing but in a way that’s a result of the colour grading used in the video which enhances a vivid look. Its not just that – the lighting used in the tunnels is so immensely variable that each section is almost unique. Its a surprise the train operators don’t get hypnotised!

The film’s title – Tunnel Vision: An Unauthorized BART Ride. A film by Vincent Woo.

The film’s title – Tunnel Vision: An Unauthorized BART Ride.

There’s a lot of dialogue in the video however most is historical or comments, experiences, related to the operation and use of BART. There’s also some considerable stuff on the implementation of the system, financial considerations, and the impact of COVID which forced the system into severe debt. During the ride’s longest section (Embarcadero to West Oakland) a good amount of detail is related in regard to the construction of the system beneath San Francisco bay and how the tubes were laid at the bottom of the bay itself. There’s even a short section on BART platform announcements hence none of the commentary detracts from the video’s fantastic overall visual experience.

I found the whole presentation a most enthralling experience and certainly recommend it as being one of the best forward cab views to be found on any railway system.

Screencap showing the long tunnel section under San Francisco Bay. Its known as the Transbay tube.

The long section under San Francisco Bay (the Transbay tube) which starts at Embarcadero and ends in Oakland. You Tube.

The riding quality of the trains is no doubt exceedingly smooth – and this is a result of the broad gauge that was employed for the BART system. Broad gauge was decided upon largely because the quality of ride was deemed important in a place where most were sceptical of the benefits of rapid transit let alone railroads. There’s been much debate on the use of 5′ 6″ gauge and that has its consequences – the trains need to be specially built for a start. However the rationale for employing 5′ 6″ gauge is quite clear as BART itself explains. In the BART video there’s a discussion upon the fact few knew there was an earthquake underway while riding the BART trains through the Transbay tube and that is no doubt in part to the greater stability afforded by the wider gauge.

The furthest section from Pittsburgh Bay Point to Antioch can only be achieved by changing to the local shuttle (eBART) at a special transfer station – curiously this is the only section of BART that employs diesel units running on standard gauge tracks and this extension was opened in 2018.

Screencap showing the special transfer rail station at Pittsburgh Bay Point. This is where people cross the platform from BART to the Antioch shuttle service.

The end of the BART (roughly two thirds of a kilometre) beyond Pittsburgh Bay Point – this is the eBART transfer station for the line to Antioch.

There have been media interviews and features on the acclaimed film of San Francisco’s rapid transit system. Some news sources reached out to BART and asked if it was their style – especially in the view it was done pretty much without their permission. Alicia Trost she’s a spokesperson for BART, she told KTVU their view ‘in regards to the film obviously they Embrace Transit fans like yourself and people who want to celebrate the BART system – however they do say it is not safe to attach a camera to BART trains and they have some security concerns about some of the vulnerable infrastructure that might have been shown in the film – but they’re taking a hands-off approach here.’

BART statement: 'While we don't want others to do it, we love Transit fans and are happy people are finding joy in the film.' Alicia Trost, BART spokesperson.

NBC sought comment from BART who gave the above statement. Youtube.

The video, Tunnel Vision: An Unauthorised BART Ride, was premiered on 19th July 2023, with a special Q & A session following. The session was hosted by Vincent Woo and the panel included BART representatives with one retired employee and one from the MTC (Metropolitan Transport Commission) who manage BART. Security in terms of the video was discussed however it was assured all the sections filmed could be seen by the public using the trains or the stations. The Q & A session can be seen here.

SFGATE – Tunnel Vision feature and interview with Vincent Woo.

BART at Wikipedia.

BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit website.

Updated 31st July 2023.