Old Transit Train Cars Getting New Lives In California

No one tell Mercedes Streeter she missed out on buying an old BART car

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Illustration: Hayward Fire Department

Have you ever been on a mass transit train and thought, “man I wish I could turn this place into my vacation rental!” Well I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, you missed out, as Bay Area Rapid Transit has closed bidding on its old train cars. The transit authority awarded the cars to eight other visionaries who have plans to use them for everything from arcades to eco-friendly cabins.

The winners range from local fire departments, which plan to use the cars to train future firefighters, to an Airbnb-style rental unit stuck into the California countryside, though BART had hoped someone would do something more altruistic with the cars:

“These cars are iconic to the Bay Area and to the people that not only live in the Bay Area now, but grew up riding these BART cars,” said Brian Tsukamoto, Manager of Special Projects – Decommissioning at BART. “We’d like to see them given a new life. We’d like to see them repurposed and have people continue to enjoy these cars.”

None of the proposals sought to use the legacy cars for affordable housing projects or homes for the unhoused – two of the major problems facing the San Francisco Bay Area. Other public transit agencies have sunk their legacy cars into the ocean to serve as artificial reefs, but this is unfeasible for BART’s cars due to their aluminum composition. Likewise, BART cannot sell the cars to other transit agencies because its vehicles operate on a nonstandard gauge or track width.


Winners of the train cars have to pay for transporting, installing, and permitting the cars which BART estimates will cost anywhere from $8,000 to $15,000. Proposals for old BART train car use required a plan for train car removal as well as a dash of creativity. The result is eight projects that all seem pretty cool.

One company is turning a BART car into an ecologically sound Airbnb-style cabin to be placed in the foothills of the Sierra mountains. Two fire departments nabbed cars for training purposes and two will be turned into museums—one for the Oakland As and another will end up in as a display in a transit museum. There’s also a bar, an arcade and a bike repair shop/community center in the works with the old cars.