BART Officials Say New Cars with Three Doors Could Speed Boarding Times

BART officials say that at the end of this year they expect to start testing on train cars with a small but crucial difference – an extra door.

The new Bombardier cars, the first of which should begin arriving in December, will include three doors, rather than the current two, to reduce crowding near the doors and allow passengers to get on and off the train more quickly. “The issue we have today is that people are concerned they can’t get off a crowded train, so they cluster near the doors,” said Henry Kolesar, BART’s group manager for vehicle maintenance, in a statement Wednesday. The change should also reduce the time needed for trains to get in and out of stations, BART officials said.

The new doors also have a different “microplug” design, more like that of the sliding door on a minivan than the current “pocket” doors, which slide into a space in the wall of the car. The new design should seal more tightly, reducing exterior noise, and break down less often, officials said.BART will test the new trains for around a year and hopes to begin using them in passenger service by December of 2016, spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Wednesday. Testing will be conducted largely on test tracks and on regular tracks during out-of-service hours.

The bulk of BART’s more than 600 cars date back to the 1970s and 1980s and are nearing the end of their useful life span, according to BART officials. In 2012 the BART board voted to approve a contract with Bombardier for new cars. The agency has ordered 776 cars, at an estimated total cost of $2.5 billion, and has an option to eventually order a total of 1,081, Trost said. The larger number of cars will allow the agency to run longer trains, increasing capacity.

Earthquake Swarm Continues, But USGS Says No Records Broken

With temblors arriving at a consistently rapid pace in San Ramon and nearby, the quake swarm would seem to be smashing records set by previous swarms — but the U.S. Geological Survey said Wednesday it likely isn’t.

As of noon Wednesday, the USGS has recorded 477 earthquakes since Oct. 13 in an area that covers a few miles along the San Ramon-Danville border. And the pace of their arrival isn’t slowing, with more than 40 of those quakes striking from Tuesday to noon Wednesday. But the sheer amount of temblors recorded doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a larger swarm than those in decades past, as a reevaluation of data posted online Wednesday by USGS confirmed.The San Ramon area adjacent to the northern Calaveras fault has long been a locus of earthquake swarms, USGS officials said.

Five notable swarms have occurred near there since 1970, the most significant of which was a swarm centered on Alamo that began in 1990 and produced 351 earthquakes over 42 days, according to the USGS. The recent swarm would appear to have surpassed that record by 126 earthquakes in less than half the time. But USGS officials said it’s like comparing apples to oranges.USGS officials said seismic activity detection equipment wasn’t nearly as advanced back then. Earthquakes below 1.0-magnitude, like many of those recorded in the recent swarm, weren’t picked up at all.

When looking at temblors above 2.0-magnitude, the 1990 Alamo swarm had 40 percent more than the recent swarm in the first two weeks, according to the USGS. The recent swarm had 74 compared to the previous record’s 106. Right now, the recent swarm looks closer in scale to what was the second-largest swarm on record, which occurred in 1970 in Danville over the span of 15 days. That swarm had 69 recorded earthquakes of 2.0-magnitude or more over the first two weeks. And, with its largest earthquake being a 3.6-magnitude shaker on Oct. 19, this recent swarm hasn’t beat any of the previous five swarms in the size of its biggest quake. The 1990 Alamo swarm brought a pair of 4.4-magnitude earthquakes. But if this swarm lasts as long as that Alamo swarm, there could be another two weeks or more of potential shakers for the area, according to the USGS.

Irish President Thanks Balcony Collapse First Responders

The President of Ireland, Michael Higgins, came to Berkeley Wednesday to meet and thank emergency crews who responded to the collapse of an apartment balcony that killed five Irish students in June.

“As President and representative of the people of Ireland, I am truly honored to stand among you today to pay tribute and give thanks for your extraordinary work and service,” Higgins said at a reception for first responders at the Hotel Shattuck Plaza, which is near the Library Gardens apartment complex at 2020 Kittredge St., where the balcony collapsed at a boisterous birthday party at 12:41 a.m. on June 16.

Higgins, who shook hands with the first responders, said, “This tragedy has had an enormous effect on the Irish people. The loss of life and the serious injuries visited on young men and women at the cusp of their adult lives is a tragedy which has moved all of us very deeply.” He added, “We know that it has affected you also. You share this tragedy with us and we join you today in solidarity and thanks for what you have done to help those who have suffered so much as a result.” The fourth-floor balcony suddenly gave way during the party on June 16, dumping 13 people to the ground. Six people were killed and seven were injured.

Five of those killed were 21-year-old Irish nationals who were visiting the Bay Area on J-1 visas, which allow visitors to participate in work and study exchange programs. Ashley Donohue, 22, of Rohnert Park, was also killed. Higgins thanked Donohue’s parents, Jackie and George Donohue, for attending the reception, saying, “I appreciate your solidarity at this time of great grief.” Higgins told the first responders, mostly Berkeley police and firefighters and Alameda County sheriff’s deputies, “Your combined efforts brought this community together in its desire to respond, to reach out and to help. We saw the best of leadership and care, which watched over and guided the Community’s response.” The President said, “We in Ireland were deeply touched as we saw you stand hand in hand with the families as they mourned their loved ones and as you shared in their grief. We are also deeply grateful for the practical assistance that was provided in helping families to arrange for the remains of their loved ones to be brought home.”

Flaws in the balcony’s construction have come under scrutiny since the accident and prompted the Berkeley City Council to adopt amended building codes to prevent similar accidents in the future. A city analysis concluded moisture intrusion rotted wooden joists, causing the deck’s collapse. The state Building Standards Commission decided at its meeting last week to re-examine state building codes in the wake of the tragedy. Joining Higgins at the reception, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates said the City Council passed a second resolution on Tuesday night “to make sure something like this never happens again.”

He said the resolution calls for inspectors to be present when apartment balconies are constructed and to conduct periodic reviews of balconies. Bates said the balcony collapse “may have been the most devastating event in the history of the city” and thanked the first responders for working day and night to help those who were injured and prevent additional problems. Among those who attended the reception was Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, whose office is conducting a criminal investigation into the balcony collapse. O’Malley said engineers recently conducted destructive testing of the balcony and the results will be scientifically analyzed. She said the purpose of the investigation is to determine whether the collapse was caused by gross negligence, not just ordinary negligence. When she announced the investigation back in June, O’Malley said she hoped it would move forward as expeditiously as possible but added that the statute of limitation for involuntary manslaughter charges is three years so her office theoretically has that long to complete its probe. After the reception, Higgins and Bates went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park to plant saplings in memory of the Irish students who lost their lives or were injured and to symbolize the friendship between Berkeley and the people of Ireland.

Higgins arrived in San Francisco on Sunday after visiting Washington, D.C., last week. He will wrap up his California visit on Thursday with a meeting with Gov. Jerry Brown and depart for Ireland on Friday.