BART’s Oakland Airport Connector on track for holiday debut
By Michael Cabanatuan
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
It’s beginning to look like air travelers can count on using BART’s new Oakland Airport Connector for their holiday sojourns. Which holiday, however, remains to be seen.
BART officials hope to announce an opening date next week. Depending on the success of ongoing testing, it could come in time for Thanksgiving travelers to trek to and from Oakland International Airport, or they might have to wait until early December.
Safety and systems tests have been completed and await certification by the California Public Utilities Commission, and the contractor is in the midst of a 30-day reliability test to make sure the driverless, cable-powered trains can operate as scheduled for the 20-plus hours a day the BART system operates.
The connector, built and operated by Doppelmayr, an Austrian-Swiss company, is seven days into that testing, which requires the connector to operate 98 percent of the time on schedule. So far, said project manager Thomas Dunscombe, they’re performing at a 99 percent level.
“It’s going great,” he said. “We have a real good shot at opening before Thanksgiving.”
The days surrounding Thanksgiving are typically the busiest travel period of the year, and BART is eager to start operating in time to capture the holiday crowds. On a typical day, BART expects the 3.2-mile line to carry 2,000 to 3,000 passengers between the Coliseum Station and Oakland International Airport.
Riders can expect an 8½-minute ride on three-car trains that display the familiar logo and colors but don’t look much like a typical silver BART train. The connector trains are fully automated, controlled by computers and pulled by cables from a wheelhouse and maintenance facility near Doolittle Drive just outside the airport. Trains are expected to depart each station about every 4 to 5 minutes for most of the day.
Travelers heading to the airport on BART will get off their train at the Coliseum Station, walk to the south end of the platform and use escalators, stairs or elevators to get to a short ramp that leads to a bank of fare gates and a glass-walled waiting area. Doors on the north side of the station will open when trains arrive.
Trains will travel along Hegenberger Road, across Interstate 880, then down the Hegenberger median — all on elevated tracks — to the wheelhouse. The trains will automatically switch to a different cable that will pull them along a track that goes under Doolittle Drive, along the Metropolitan Golf Links then above the airport parking lots to an elevated station outside Terminal 1.
The Airport Connector will replace AirBART, a shuttle bus operated by the Port of Oakland, which charges a $3 fare for a ride that typically takes 15-20 minutes but can be unpredictable when traffic is congested.
“With the Airport Connector, your trip won’t depend on traffic,” said Molly McArthur, a BART spokeswoman. “It won’t matter at all what’s happening below on the streets. And there’s no parking to worry about.”