While the vast majority of the Bay Area's rail guideway is in good condition, over half of regional rail vehicles have surpassed their useful life.
Transit asset condition performance varies widely in the Bay Area. Rail operators have excelled in maintaining tracks, with less than two percent of all rail mileage impacted by speed restrictions. Condition of revenue vehicles, or the vehicles that provide service to passengers, varies by type of service. For example, none of the Bay Area's light rail vehicles are past their useful life, while 50 to 80 percent of longer-distance service-providing commuter and heavy rail vehicles are. With new BART trains already in service and plans for electric Caltrain locomotives to debut in 2022, regional performance in this area is expected to improve in future years.
The maintenance of transit systems may be less visible to the passenger's eye, but assets that support these activities are critical to maintaining quality service. Based on federal performance measures, nearly a quarter of the Bay Area's maintenance facilities are deemed to be in poor or failed condition. Among major transit providers, BART's maintenance facilities are in the best condition, with just ten percent rated as poor or failed. Meanwhile, Caltrain and Golden Gate Transit report that 75 and 85 percent of their facilities rate as poor or failed, respectively.
of BART vehicles are past their useful life benchmark, the highest of all large operators
Transit Asset Condition by Asset Type (2017)
Maintaining transit assets in good condition is a challenge for agencies large and small.
All Bay Area transit providers reported at least one asset category in which their share of obsolete assets was higher than the regional average. Of the six largest transit operators, Caltrain is a prime example of the region's aging infrastructure. While Caltrain has no track mileage restrictions, its share of revenue vehicles, non-revenue vehicles, and facilities deemed obsolete are all well above the regional average.
Muni's 2017 debut of new light rail vehicles represented the system's first new light rail vehicles in 14 years. These vehicles will be used to expand service through the Central Subway and to replace aging vehicles in the years ahead. Through regular fleet replacement, Muni has maintained the lowest share of revenue vehicles past their useful life of all major operators in the Bay Area, despite having nearly twice as many vehicles as the next largest operator.
Transit Asset Condition by Operator (2017)
Sources & Methodology
Condition of revenue vehicles and non-revenue vehicles is evaluated based on the Useful Life Benchmark (ULB) specified by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). Useful Life Benchmarks represent the estimated number of years that a vehicle can be in service and still be in a state of good repair, weighing the cost of maintenance against the cost of replacement. ULBs range from 8 years for automobiles and vans to 42 years for ferry boats.
Condition of guideway, or rail tracks, is defined as the percentage of directional route-miles with performance restrictions observed at 9:00AM on the first Wednesday of each month. Performance restrictions are defined as a speed limit on a segment of fixed guideway that is below the guideway's design speed, and can result from a number of causes, including defects, signaling issues, or obstruction due to construction or maintenance activities.
Condition of facilities is evaluated based on a five point condition rating scale developed by the FTA, known as Transit Economic Requirements Model (TERM). Facilities with a condition rating of one or two are deemed to be out of a state of good repair. Facilities are evaluated based on a minimum of 10 criteria, including electrical systems, plumbing, interiors, and exteriors. Facility condition is weighted by assessed monetary value of the asset.
While the federal government provides guidance on how transit assets should be assessed, transit asset condition is self-reported by transit operators. Asset assessment may vary by operator.
More information on federal performance measures for transit asset condition can be found on the FTA website.
Metropolitan Transportation Commission: Regional Transit Capital Inventory (2017)
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Image: Jim Maurer