Warm Springs BART arrives after 23 years
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Fremont – It was a wet and windy day- which seemed appropriate for the grand opening of the Warm Springs/ South Fremont BART station considering how many issues the station had run up against to finally get to this point.
Back in 1994 when the 4.5 mile extension was first planned, no one could have known that it would take another 23 years for that plan to come to fruition. In that time, BART employees came and went, project memos moved from typewriters to emails, phone calls went from pagers to cell phones, and four presidents sat in the oval office.
“The delay originally was getting funding put together where we had real dollars instead of promised dollars,” said Thomas Blalock, who has served as an elected director to the BART board for the past 22 years. From that position Blalock saw almost every slow moving development in the project.
Those promised dollars that cities and county agencies weren’t anxious to hand over got even harder to get after the dot-com bubble burst hit the Bay Area hard in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Once BART finally was able to secure the funds, the agency ran into design problems. The original plan called for BART to build tracks over Lake Elizabeth in Fremont’s Central Park. This did not sit well with many Fremont residents whose complaints led to BART having to tunnel under the lake.
After 13 years the first bit of construction finally began in 2007 when BART and the city moved forward on the grade separation of two main intersections. This lowered Paseo Padre Parkway and installed an overhead structure that BART would eventually use to cross the roadway. Likewise, Washington Blvd was given an overpass to separate the roadway from the existing and future tracks.
From that point on construction seemed fairly steady with work on the Lake Elizabeth tunnel starting in 2009 and the tracks and station following in 2011. All signs pointed to the station being up and running by the scheduled 2014 opening- but it wasn’t. Another funding issue had delayed the station and the scheduled opening was pushed back to 2015. Yet, 2015 came and the station still did not open. Despite construction being completed in 2016 BART wasn’t ready to open leaving many commuters frustrated as they drove past the vacant station.
“The end game was a little difficult in system integration,” explained Blalock. “The subcontractor didn’t have a good handle on what they needed to do to integrate everything.” The main issue appears to have been getting the Warm Springs station’s new computer systems to talk to the 40 year old computers that are used elsewhere on the BART system. Those systems have to connect to insure that the trains are the proper distance from one another on the tracks or they will crash. This took several months to correct and delayed other testing that BART needed to do.
To make matters worse, the cable that provides power to the BART trains began failing in the middle of testing and needed to be replaced. “That was a pretty heavy wrinkle. We had to do the testing a couple of times because of that.”
The new Warm Springs station and track did eventually pass all the testing and was finally opened to the public on March 25, 2017.
Could any of these problems resurface and affect the Milpitas BART station that is scheduled to open by fall of this year? “I don’t think so. I think we’ve solved the problems that we had and I don’t think they’re going to face that” said a confident Blalock.
Only time will tell.