Retrotechtacular: Building BART

Sometimes it’s fun to take a step back from the normal electronics themes and feature a marvelous engineering project. This week’s Retrotechtacular looks at a pair of videos reporting on the progress of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. Anyone who’s visited San Francisco will be familiar with the BART system of trains that serve the region. Let’s take a look at what went into building the system almost half a century ago.

Ah, the folk music that opens this first video made us crack a smile immediately. A bit of Folk is what public works videos of today are truly missing.

Learn about how the BART lines were routed to preserve the beauty of the landscape and as an alternative to the “extravagance” of cement roadways transporting one passenger in one car. Don’t get us wrong, we’re all in favor of mass transit and use it ourselves quite often. About four minutes in we begin to learn some of the engineering problems of building the system, such as a water table just 20 feet below street level. The answer is a pressurized work environment, special equipment, and cement. Lots and lots of cement. The other challenge is the section of submarine line that traverses the bay. These are not tunnels, but steel tubes that were lowered into a shallowly dredged channel.

That one was fun but you get a bit better view of the actual construction work (including the steel fabrication work) in this film published the year before:

[via Laughing Squid and Oaklandish]

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

27 thoughts on “Retrotechtacular: Building BART

  1. My parents live about 50 miles East of San Francisco. They have been paying a BART tax for about 40+ years. The original plan was to have two stations built so traffic congestion on the commute into the S.F. Bay Area would not be too bad years later. Well, still no BART stations as the original plans were changed in a political move. Their taxes ended up going to the extension that runs to the S.F. International Airport. What really makes their blood boil is that the voters living in the area this extension was built in had originally voted down paying the BART tax, and are still not paying it today. Commute trafficis now backed up bumper to bumper from the Central Valley to and from the Bay Area during commute hours. For the past few years there have been different plans and schemes talked about to get an extension out to their hometown, but most of the plans are “too expensive” or have been rejected by the voters. So, to all of those that are using BART to get to and from SF International, my parents say, “Your welcome. Remember those who did pay so you could have that transportation choice.”

    1. Surely there’s a legislative watchdog/tax efficiency group/etc… that would take that all the way to the statehouse and get that tax killed. That’s just absurd, even by California standards.

      1. Right now, I would rather the watchdog groups focus on killing the proposed high-speed rail system. It’s now one year behind schedule and has several lawsuits pending against it. Oh, and rumor has it that the low-bid company awarded the contract has Pelosi’s husband involved in it in some major way. Go figure.

        1. I’m sorry to hear that Pelosi was/is involved… as a concept, I’m very much in favor of high-speed rail, and I think that California is in a very good position to prove it can be done. If corruption is what ends up destroying it from the inside, it will be a sad day indeed. Of course my people hail from NJ, so I’m not blind to what can be done even with/despite corruption fouling things up… but it gets a lot more expensive that way, and that’s not something we can afford out here right now.

          I hope, somehow, that it can be built and built well. It could be a fantastic thing.

          1. I am so happy that they killed the High Speed Rail project in Florida. It was going to be a Disney welfare project. The first “segment” of the project was going to be from the Orlando International airport to Disney… A total of 17 miles. Really for high speed rail? Now had it been from the Tampa airport to the Orlando Airport of from Miami, or Fort Lauderdale to Orlando that would have been okay. What would have happened is they would have built the line to Disney and maybe the station at International avenue and then stop with the rest of the money going to studies about what to do next.
            Frankly A monorail or elevated light rail from the Orlando Airport to Disney and International drive would make sense to me. If Disney and the other theme parks pay for part of it.

    2. It’s a real bummer the way BART and other urban orientated infrastructure bring in all of that revenue for the entire region for services elsewhere. Every time someone in the Central Valley goes to prison for meth dealing, I say “you’re welcome” and am glad my income tax can provide someone with three hots and a cot.

      As for the lack of BART not reaching far enough, have you driven from SF to Dublin, or Bay Point, Richmond or SFO? They’re quite a distance away. . . and as for BART not reaching the likes of Oakley, it is those very citizens who object to BART disturbing their pristine vistas.

      1. Maybe I should have said I grew up and they still live in Livermore. Just driving to Dublin from Livermore on I-580 takes about 45 minutes each morning. What is that, 10 or 12 miles?

      2. “Every time someone in the Central Valley goes to prison for meth dealing, I say “you’re welcome” and am glad my income tax can provide someone with three hots and a cot.” what a snotty comment. He was and is complaining about a tax for service that was supposed to go to that area. Frankly the Bay area is all an urban area. Not really rural.

        1. The point I conveyed badly is that every tax dollar contributed by suburban / rural areas is more than matched by taxes on economic activity in urban areas. So, maybe rurals help pay for BART but urbanites contribute far more toward funding services in rural areas, which is fine by me as I love the produce (and meth) they grow.

          For the record, I do not at all endorse a urban -vs- suburban -vs- rural mentality. . . or meth (sorry, I have Breaking Bad on the brain.)

          Part of my prison snark was a jab at the totally insane industrialize prison complex we have here in California. I’m mostly pissed of about my taxes going to that.

          1. Well the thing is that a lot of the wealth in that urban area is brought in by the people that live in the suburbs and work, shop, and play in town. And for someone that does not support the urban-vs-suburban-vs-rural mentality you sure could have fooled me. Simple fact is they were promised stations and didn’t get them and where taxed for them. They should be mad and the people that live in SF should be mad because it drives up housing prices in SF and increases traffic congestion and pollution. The list of things that taxpayers should be mad about is epic IMHO. The new bay bridge which ended up being outrageously expensive and long delayed because the first design was not pretty enough would be number one my list if I lived there.

          2. See, now you’re just being a grouch, failing to recognize sarcastic humor and my poor attempts at wit. But it’s cool. I am more than happy to be wrong on the internet.

            We can agree on this point at least:
            “The list of things that taxpayers should be mad about is epic IMHO.”

          3. Possible. My point is that you should just as angry about BART not being as widespread as originally planned. While you may get to use BART you also have to deal with the congestion and even the traffic caused by those that did not get service but still have to commute into San Francisco.

          4. I accept your point, despite my foot-in-mouthness I dislike BART not running late and not going to the South Bay or far East Bay. Caltrans isn’t bad (I can put my bike on it during commuting hours) but I’m lucky to be able to live a compact little yupster life that has me 5 blocks from work and on a bicycle for everything else. (My poor, sad, neglected car.)

  2. lol nice,… to think of kids playing under bart these days is laughable

    also a bit surprising that it hasn’t expanded around the entire bay by now
    pleasanton and milbrae but nothing beyond richmond and fremont

  3. I rode Bart when in the early 70s and then again a few months ago, so what the hell is all the screeching noise it makes now, I have worked on airplanes all my life and I know the noise being made now by the undercharge and//or wheels cannot be a normal sound.

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