San Francisco is adding so many new train cars, it’s considering turning the old ones into housing

BART is considering an idea to convert old train cars into homes.

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BART is considering an idea to convert old train cars into homes.
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Rafael Castillo/Flickr

  • San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit system is introducing hundreds of new train cars in hopes of improving service.
  • As the new cars arrive, the agency will soon run out of room to store the old ones.
  • BART plans to entertain a suggestion to convert the old train cars into much-needed housing.

Public transit is undergoing a major overhaul in San Francisco. The city’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system recently unveiled a multibillion-dollar plan to build the “Fleet of the Future,” a series of high-tech train cars that promise a “quieter, cooler, and more comfortable ride.”

In November, BART placed an order for more than 700 new cars, with the agency setting aside funds for up to 1,200. Starting in spring 2019, the agency expects to have ten new cars delivered each month.

Read more: A $2 billion transit center in San Francisco shut down just months after it opened. Here’s everything that’s gone wrong.

At that rate, BART would run out of room to house its older trains by 2020.

A sample train from BART's

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A sample train from BART’s “Fleet of the Future.”
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Bay Area Rapid Transit

The agency is now weighing some surprising ideas for how to make use of the original cars.

At a Thursday meeting, BART’s board of directors will entertain solutions to create a museum, donate the old cars to the US army, or sell them for scraps.

They’ll also consider a proposal to convert the cars into new housing – something the Bay Area desperately needs.

Rising rents and home prices, along with a set of neo-liberal housing policies, have contributed to a shortage of affordable homes in San Francisco and its surrounding areas. In the urban core, this has generated a mounting homelessness crisis that the United Nations recently dubbed a “human rights violation.”

Transforming abandoned BART cars into new homes or homeless shelters could give the Bay Area an opportunity to tackle two issues at once.

An older BART train.

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An older BART train.
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Robert Galbraith/Reuters

Like housing investments, transportation improvements are much-needed in San Francisco. Around 34% of the city’s residents rely on public transit. By its own benchmark, the city has determined that its light rail service is unreliable compared to peer cities like Boston and Los Angeles.

“It is a complicated balancing act because we have an operational need to expand service and lengthen trains…and we’re figuring out what to do with the old ones as they are retired,” BART’s special projects manager, Philip Kamhi, said in a blog post.

For now, the board remains open to ideas.

“One day in the future, there will be a retirement announcement and ceremony as the last of the original BART cars rolls off into the sunset,” the agency said online. “You’ve got some time if you’d like to share input.”