Update: BART resumes service on Red Line through Berkeley

Shorter five-car trains are now running along the Red Line route between Richmond and Millbrae.

It’s not yet clear when BART will fully restore service on the Red Line from Richmond to San Francisco International Airport. Credit: Jerome Paulos

Update, March 22: BART resumed Red Line service on Tuesday, though the problems that knocked the line out for more than two weeks still haven’t been entirely fixed. Riders in Berkeley and other stops on the line can now board shorter five-car trains for direct service to San Francisco and Millbrae. The five-car service — which means riders should wait for trains at the center of stations — will remain until BART can fully replace the power cables that were damaged earlier this month.

Original post, March 10, 1 p.m.: Berkeley BART riders haven’t had direct service to San Francisco all week because of problems with power cables along the system’s Red Line. And, five days after the trouble began, it’s still not clear when service will be fully restored.

Passengers along the line that passes through Berkeley, El Cerrito and Richmond can still get to the city by making a transfer, but they are facing longer waits between trains and a busier ride at rush hour.

Riders crowd a San Francisco-bound BART train Thursday morning. A mechanical problem on the Richmond line has knocked out direct service between Berkeley and San Francisco, which has put more riders onto the system’s Yellow Line. Credit: Dan Grayber

Berkeley resident Dan Grayber shared a photo from his “super-crowded” Thursday morning commute that showed passengers filling the aisles of a San Francisco-bound train. That kind of crowding was once the norm during rush hour on BART, but it’s been a very rare sight since ridership plummeted during the pandemic.

BART officials said power cables that were installed in the 1970s, as part of the transit system’s original infrastructure, began having trouble between the Ashby and El Cerrito Plaza stations on Sunday. That was followed by a substation failure on Monday that knocked out all service north of the Downtown Berkeley station for several hours.

While BART has been able to restore service on the Orange Line, which runs from Richmond through Berkeley and on to the Berryessa station in North San Jose, transit officials say the damaged cables are not able to power additional trains on the Red Line to San Francisco International Airport.

Crews have been working since Monday to fix the cables, but it’s going to take until next week — if not longer — to bring the Red Line back.

“We hope to have more service on [the] Richmond line as soon as Monday,” BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost wrote in an email. That may not mean a full restoration of the Red Line, however: Trost said BART is still developing its plans for “what that looks like and how it is accomplished.”

System officials wrote on Twitter earlier this week that it would take “days” to make the needed repairs on the Red Line, and said it was too early to provide a more precise estimate.

BART has been working to replace aging power cables throughout its system, and officials said the segment that suffered problems was due for replacement starting this week.

The line’s suspension has meant trains in each direction are arriving at Berkeley’s BART stations every 15 minutes, half as often as they did when the line was in service.

For now, Berkeley riders headed to San Francisco need to board a Berryessa-bound train and transfer to a San Francisco train at the MacArthur station; those coming back from the city must board an Antioch train and make their transfer at 19th Street station.

Masks remain mandatory on public transportation, and Trost noted BART improved its air filtration and ventilation systems during the pandemic.

The mechanical trouble comes during a ridership rebound for BART: With gas prices skyrocketing and many workers starting to return to offices, the system carried more than 125,000 passengers on Wednesday, the highest figure since the pandemic began.

Because there are fewer trains to carry the additional riders while the Red Line is out of commission, Grayber said, the result has been a more crowded ride — though he didn’t see that as a massive problem.

“If it only means feeling like the BART of old times, that’s easy enough to deal with,” Grayber said.

Nico Savidge is Berkeleyside's senior reporter covering city hall. Email: nico@berkeleyside.org. Twitter: NSavidge.