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Crosscurrents is our award-winning radio news magazine, broadcasting Mondays through Thursdays at 11 a.m. on 91.7 FM. We make joyful, informative stories that engage people across the economic, social, and cultural divides in our community. Listen to full episodes at kalw.org/crosscurrents

Saying goodbye to BART’s legacy fleet

Replica of original BART train’s distinctive slanted front
Benjamin Shaykin
Replica of original BART train’s distinctive slanted front

At first glance, the crowded scene at the MacArthur BART station could have passed for any community celebration—with food trucks, a kids’ coloring area, a raffle booth, and a merch table.

But looking closer, it was clear that this was a particular kind of party. People of all ages wore BART t-shirts, BART hats, and BART-themed ugly holiday sweaters. They posed for photos at a replica showing off the trains’ signature slanted front, and the line for BART merch snakes around the plaza.

This was an official farewell ceremony for the legacy fleet of BART trains, designed with a space-age look back in 1972, which will now be fully replaced by new trains. People waited in a line that stretched around the block to take a final ride. Some brought memories of the early days of BART:

“I remember looking out the front window, and I remember the digital speedometer registering 80 miles an hour.”

That’s Eric Petrel from Berkeley, who says his family took BART within its first week of service, from MacArthur station to Fremont.

“I was 11 years old. I was amazed.” 

The event felt almost like a county fair, but everyone wasn't feeling like celebrating.

Wesley Hinkle is a 15-year-old train enthusiast. He came to Oakland today from Vacaville, dressed for the occasion in a bygone railroad conductor’s uniform, complete with hat, suit, and vest.

“Well, it’s a very somber event, you know, the legacy trains have been operating for 50 years and been keeping the Bay Area moving. This event is like a final coup de grace, a final hurrah, a final ‘all aboard!’” 

All of this might seem at odds with BART’s futuristic vibe, but for railroad enthusiasts like Wesley, the original BART cars are simply the next chapter in a long history of trains.

Wesley is a volunteer with the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City near Fairfield, which will soon be the home of three repurposed trains from the legacy fleet—part of a new permanent exhibit on the history of rapid transit.

Most of the trains from this legacy fleet will be stripped and sent to the scrap yard to shred its metal for recycling. But a handful will live on as something completely new, repurposed for projects selected from proposals submitted three years ago.

And one of these projects will bring a legacy train deep into East Oakland.

“For me, it's always about preservation and keeping Oakland Oakland, and a BART car is a part of Oakland.”

That’s Champ Stevenson, the executive director of the Original Scraper Bike Team. It’s an East Oakland organization that offers programs in bike safety, bike mechanics, and bike art to kids in the neighborhood. They’ll be repurposing a BART car to serve as a community bike shop in Arroyo Viejo Park.

“Preserving the legacy cars, we also want to make sure that we are preserving our communities that we're going to be putting it in.”

On the station platform, passengers boarded legacy cars to retrace BART’s first route, from MacArthur to Fremont. I asked its operator, Keith Dixon, what he thought about these old trains.

“I'm going to miss it. I'm going to miss the look, the new things, the future, different sound. So you're going to have to get this recorded or listen to some old newscast in order to remember these one day. It's definitely a legacy in this part of the Bay here.”

Crosscurrents Transportation
Sheryl Kaskowitz is a fellow in KALW's Audio Academy. Her beat is public arts and culture.