ideas for old subway cars

San Francisco’s BART transportation agency has released eight ideas for old subway cars that were the winning proposals to repurpose retired trains from the fleet.

BART has been working on an ambitious plan to create a “Fleet of the Future” for the Bay Area. Which begs the question – what will become of the “Fleet of the Past?”

“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 BART Manager of Special Projects Brian Tsukamoto. “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.”

A new life for the old trains is on the way. The result of a call for proposals put out in 2020, BART announced in early March 2022 the eight winning ideas for old subway cars.

ideas for old subway cars
Image Courtesy Courtesy Hernandez-Eli Architecture

We’re obviously a big fan of interesting ideas for repurposing existing urban objects – we even wrote the definitive book on the subject. So it’s nice to see things like new ideas for old subway cars still bringing new live to retired trains.

Below are the five winning proposals (all body text has been reposted from the news release: BART legacy fleet repurposing finalists)

1. Video Arcade

A mainstay for pizza, hot wings, and beer in Oakland, Arthur Mac’s Tap & Snack plans to expand – by adding a BART car to its retinue in downtown Hayward. The restaurant will transform the car into a “retro video game arcade and kids play area,” as well as extra seating for weatherproof dining. Arthur Mac’s – an anagram in tribute of the MacArthur BART Station – said its vision for the legacy car “is to create a time capsule that transports our customers and community members beyond the confines of time and space.”

2. Baseball Park Beer Garden

Entitled “Coliseum BAR(T),” the Oakland Athletics stadium plans to retrofit their legacy car as a museum that celebrates the history of transit and sports in the East Bay, as well as a – wait for it – beer garden, which promises to serve local craft beers. According to the proposal, “The interior would commemorate A’s history, and BART as an extension of it, through memorabilia, historical photographs, old jerseys, [and] autographed bats and balls.”

3. Co-working and Community Hub

Hospitality in Transit, the purveyors of “metrobar” – built from an old Metro car in Washington D.C. – intend to bring a similar concept to the Bay Area with “BARTbar.” To be placed at a yet-to-be-decided location, the primarily outdoor venue will serve as a co-working space, café and meeting place during the day and transition to a beverage-slinging joint by night. “We hope BARTbar will bring people together through local drinks, food, art, and culture,” the partners of Hospitality in Transit said. “We’re committed to being a space that supports and uplifts Bay Area creators and communities.”

4. Transit History Center

The Bay Area Electric Railroad Association, which runs the Western Railway Museum in Suisun City, plans to create a “Rapid Transit History Center” with one A, B and C car each to educate visitors about earlier modes of transportation. If all goes to plan, the museum will include various displays, a small theater, BART artifacts, and a history of the transit system. The project is currently seeking donations.

5. Rescue Crew Training Facility

A legacy BART car may soon help save lives. That’s the plan for the Hayward Fire Department, who intend to repurpose their car as a training “prop” to provide “station familiarization, vehicle rescue simulations and safety of the track and third rail system.” The department plans to keep its car “for many years” and noted that they will provide continuous maintenance and repairs.

6. Sustainable Residence and Rental Unit

A partnership of private residents will transform a legacy car into a “metaphoric train station that blends the space age-modern esthetics of BART and a cozy cabin” in a Gold Rush-era town in the Sierra Foothills. The structure will be constructed as green as possible, with a solar panel roof, a gray water system and passive cooling, the partnership said. The owners hope to see the house last upwards of 100 years.

7. Bike Repair and Customization Center

The Original Scraper Bike Team works to enrich and empower urban youth in East Oakland by offering bicycle skill training, mentorship programs, and by encouraging creativity and art. The organization was awarded a legacy BART car that will be divided into two sections: One half will serve as a bike shop, which will provide free bike repairs and help children learn to build and decorate their own Scraper bike; the other half will be a clubhouse for community events and Scraper Bike Teams’ mentorship program. The car will be decorated with murals by local artists.

8. (Another) EMS Training Facility

Like the Hayward Fire Department, the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District will use its legacy car for “scenario-based training and car familiarization training.” Because the district’s training facility is a regional training center, not only fire personnel will be able to benefit from the car’s teachings, but so will local EMS agencies, law enforcement agencies, and the Los Medanos Junior College Fire Academy.

If you like repurposing projects, you’ll LOVE the Reprogramming the City books. Featuring dozens of the best in adaptive reuse projects around the world, repurposing existing urban infrastructure for new use. Also, be sure not to miss the Reprogramming the City Toolkit to guide you on your own repurposing journey.