Rain delays are far more frequent with BART’s new “Fleet of the Future” trains than they were with the shoddier old trains, and brake problems on the new trains are the culprit. A new investigation finds the problem might cost ten times more to fix than BART had estimated.

This year’s January and February rain storms not as bad as last winter’s (though this weekend’s coming storms may have something to say about that). And more rain is not good news for BART right now, as we learned last spring that rain was causing brake failures on the system’s new “Fleet of the Future” cars. This forces more delays, and trains running at half-speed much of the time to avoid these braking issues, and many trains being pulled off the fleet for repairs.


But a new report from NBC Bay Area noted that the delays are still pretty rampant, despite this year’s (so far) less-severe storms. This points to trouble should the atmospheric river and bomb cyclone storms reappear.

“My understanding is that we have, we're doing better this year with respect to delays due to that braking system,” BART board member Debora Allen told NBC Bay Area. “We are still having flat wheels.”

About these “flat wheels.” The rains cause wetness on the tracks, which forces the new trains’ wheels to spin and slide in unplanned ways. This forces an automatic braking system to kick in. But that locks up the brakes on the new trains, which grinds “flat spots” into the wheels. And as NBC Bay Area notes, “since November, BART says a total of 385 cars have sustained wheel flats.”

So those trains, despite being relatively new, have to go in for maintenance repairs. BART told NBC Bay Area that the repairs cost under $1,000 per car, and about $7,280 for a full ten-car train.

But that figure apparently only takes the labor into account. An NBC Bay Area Freedom of Information request obtained emails saying the full cost of fixing the flat spots on a ten-car train was more than $82,000.

It’s true that the brakes are still under warranty, which may cover some of these costs, though it is not clear how long the warranty lasts. “When the warranty is up, that is the point when BART starts absorbing the costs of the truing of the wheels,” Allen told NBC Bay Area. (“Truing” refers to fixing the wheels’ flat spots.)

But for now, it just means more rain will mean more BART delays, and more trains being taken off the fleet for repairs. As BART rider Robert Freeman told NBC Bay Area, “Like, when it's hot, there are delays, it's cold, there are delays, rain, there’s delays.”

Related: BART's Chronic Delays Caused by New Trains' Braking Glitch in Wet Weather [SFNews]

Image: BART.gov