Consequence of Sound

BART trains roll toward a quieter future.

It’s happened to all of us. You’re on BART, heading to a show at the Fox Theater or a drink at Temescal Brewery, chatting happily with a friend, when the train picks up speed through the Transbay Tube. As the car flies through the tunnel, the doors rattle, the wheels grind against the rails, and a high-pitched shrieking drowns out the conversation. Anyone with headphones on turns up the volume. Dogs cower in their carriers. Friends sink into silence. This is our reality on BART in 2017.

But change is on the horizon. BART announced this week that it launched a new effort to reduce “metal-on-metal contact and its consequences.” The process involves a slight tapering of the wheels that could reduce the train’s noise output by 15 decibels. This would make it quieter for passengers, but also for residents of West Oakland, Temescal, Fruitvale, and other neighborhoods where houses sit close to the tracks.

The improvements go hand-in-hand with the rollout of the 1,081 cars that make up BART’s Fleet of the Future. Among other features, these new trains have doors that “micro-plug,” sealing out noise.  

BART engineers have also turned their attention to the rails: The system will undergo six grinding passes to remove the corrugation that naturally occurs on the tracks with daily wear and tear. “Once finished, passengers can expect to hum along our tracks at comfortable noise levels, no longer having to worry about whether a banshee has been let loose in the tunnels,” BART’s report states.

These changes will make a drastic difference for commuters — but don’t expect them to appear anytime soon. It will take until 2019 to roll out the new wheels, and five years to grind the 235-mile system six times over. In the meantime, we suggest noise-cancelling headphones and music with deep bass to drown out the agonizing sounds of our transit system.

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