John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
A video from the transit agency shows all the track work that goes on after hours.
It’s a heated question often heard in the Bay Area: “Why doesn’t the BART run late?” Theories abound on why the transit agency closes after midnight, from safety issues to a lousy cost-value ratio to keeping minorities from Oakland out of San Francisco.
Well, BART has attempted to provide an answer with a video showing what goes on after hours. “At BART, every day is a race 'til dawn,” says a narrator, invoking images of a frantic escape from zombies. “The one-track, one-direction system has to be shut down every night to safely do critical overnight maintenance.”
Basically, BART says there’s not enough track available to run trains while also performing repairs. And this (admittedly selectively edited) footage does indicate quite a lot happens in the dark, from replacing beat-up tracks to making what looks like welds that flame like mini-volcanoes. Perhaps the most interesting item is a diesel-powered behemoth called a “grinder unit,” which slides back and forth over worn track, spraying showers of sparks while making the metal smooth once again.
So BART may never run for 24 hours (at least until a second tube is installed under the Bay). But if the agency ever needed quick money it could probably charge people triple to ride the “grinder unit.”