Getting a rapid transit system built

Which compromises are necessary, and which go too far?

Consider BART, the San Francisco Bay Area's rapid transit system. Started in the 1960s, It took 15 years before the first trains started running, and the path was full of compromises.

  • Many stations were moved based on community feedback
  • San Francisco got an entirely new station late in the process
  • Berkeley forced BART to change plans and build its three stations underground
  • Overhead handles were added once it became clear that the dream of only having seated passengers was unworkable
  • Opening day was pushed back again, and again, and again
  • San Mateo county dropped out, leaving a large funding gap
  • The BART directors decided to kick Marin county over fears of the funding measure not passing the popular vote
  • Service started with only a handful of 2 and 3 car trains because of supplier issues (trains now run as many as 10 cars)

But even more interesting are the commitments that weren't compromised.

  • The system was going to get built, whatever the cost. This became especially painful as unexpectedly high inflation ate away at the original funding measures.
  • Automation of the trains. Rather than kill the dream of automation, BART decided to run trains with a mandatory 2 station gap while problems with the automated control system were solved.
  • The tunnel underneath the bay, a vital interconnect between west and east bay.

There were many opportunities to compromise on these commitments, but to do so would be to fundamentally change the project. Moreover, from the perspective of 40 years later, many of the original compromises seem unimportant. Useful to remember for anyone trying to get a project out the door today.