BART revamp is an opportunity missed for jobs 

The good news is that BART is planning to replace its aging, dirty, noisy cars with a sleek fleet that will be cleaner, quieter and more efficient. The bad news is that more than a third of the cost for this $3.2 billion project may be spent on overhead, and it’s possible that no local jobs will be created to build the cars.

The cost for each of the 775 cars could be about $2.5 million. That’s already twice as expensive as cars in mass transit systems that use standard gauge rail instead of BART’s unique design. But an additional $1.3 million per car could be spent on project management, consulting, escalation, reserve and miscellaneous expenses.

That rankled some of the commissioners at a recent meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which is providing 75 percent of the funding. Noting that overhead could add more than 50 percent to the car costs, Bill Dodd said, “I don’t know how this is in buses and other transportation systems, but it sure seems pretty darn high to me.”

Just more than $1 billion will be spent in the initial roll-out of 260 cars in the next few years. More than $267 million of that may be spent on things other than cars. A certain amount of overhead is understandable. This will be the most expensive transit project in Bay Area history and needs to be done right.

But adding significantly to the expense is the fact that BART staff and consultants have been flying to Spain, China, Korea, France and Canada to inspect the manufacturing facilities of the five bidders. Apparently no American facility can do the job, which is a sad indictment of this country’s manufacturing industry. BART staff will be living in the country of the selected firm in order to stay on top of the manufacturing process.

And, although the contract requires that at least 60 percent of the car materials be made in the U.S. and that the cars be assembled in this country, there’s no guarantee the Bay Area will get any of that work. The U.S. manufacturing facilities for the remaining three bidders are located in upstate New York and Philadelphia. BART is not allowed by federal law to require that any work be done locally.

As a result, $3.2 billion of local taxpayer dollars could be spent elsewhere, which also rankled MTC commissioners. Scott Haggerty, who represents Alameda County, noted that there are warehouses and manufacturing facilities in Fremont and along the BART line that could use the work. “Instead of paying to transport the cars from other countries and states, we can build them online here,” he said.

We applaud BART for its efforts to replace its fleet, which is the oldest in the country. But it’s vital that BART officials do everything they can to lower the exorbitant overhead costs. Significant cost savings could be achieved, and many local jobs created, by pressuring the car builder to locate its manufacturing and assembly facilities in the Bay Area.

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