Tom MacWright

I read BART: The Dramatic History of the Bay Area Rapid Transit System by Michael C Healy on


Okay. I’m a big fan of trains and public transit systems. I love detailed books. I live in San Francisco.

This book is a really, really detailed book about the establishment of the local transit system. It’s probably the most detailed single history that we’re going to get. It’s a little too detailed for me.

It’s still pretty interesting at points: it’s pretty fascinating to see the kind of regional politicking that has been required since the very beginning of the system. It’s interesting to hear about how rising inflation affected the program’s cost. And to get a lot of neat details about the workings of the trains, things like the design of the third rail and the reason why the bay area’s trains are especially wide (it’s so that the high winds don’t roll them over).

I did get this book in the hopes of learning about BART’s color system, and it didn’t really help with that. It’s been one of my very longstanding gripes that the BART maps and the Google Maps app heavily emphasizes color-coded trains, but then the actual stations, the actual trains, and the audio announcements about the trains don’t mention the colors. This was one of the biggest problems with learning the system for me, because other transit systems, like Washington DC’s WMATA, actually uniformly use colors.

The new BART trains do say what color the train is, albeit on a monocolor display. But it’s still a real head-scratcher: were the trains originally marked? Is this just a weird case where the system copied the map style of another transit system, but then didn’t follow-up by using colors anywhere else?

Unfortunately, this book doesn’t cover this mystery. If you know about it – I’d love to listen.