Over the course of the past few years, the date September 11 has come to carry weighty and emotional connotations, but long-time residents of the Bay Area might remember September 11 for a completely different reason — namely, the BART system’s first day of passenger service. Since BART’s opening year was 1972, that would make today BART’s 35th birthday.
The initial opening of the system was fragmented. At first, trains only ran in the East Bay, between Oakland and Fremont. A few months later, the segment of track connecting Oakland and Richmond opened, and trains ran the whole length of the East Bay between Richmond and Fremont. By mid-1973, the line connecting MacArthur Station to Contra Costa County opened; at that point, the line terminated in Concord. By the end of 1973, the western half of the system began operation, running service between Montgomery and Daly City stations. (Embarcadero Station did not open until 1976.) For the greater part of a year, the West Bay and East Bay branches of BART operated independently of each other until the Transbay Tube finally opened in 1974, about two years after the first official day of service. The opening of the Transbay Tube was especially noteworthy — not only for the engineering feat associated with building this 3.6 mile tunnel underneath the bay, but also because for the first time since the Key System was shut down in the 1950’s, San Francisco and the East Bay were once more connected by rail transit.
In one sense, the BART system is visionary, in that it was planned and constructed in an era that emphasized road and freeway construction over transit projects, but in several other ways, the system falls short and does not realize its potential. Although there is plenty of room for improvement, I’ll save discussion of that for future posts. For now, though, we can just take a day to appreciate BART and its riders for doing their part to decrease pollution and congestion — and also to thank our lucky stars that BART’s average daily 350,000 riders aren’t on the freeways. Happy 35th Birthday, BART!