San Francisco's BART commuter rail system opened up a direct train line to Oakland International Airport on Saturday, completing a direct connection that some have been waiting for nearly 50 years.
The trains started running on time at 6 a.m. Saturday, making the 3.2-mile route in only 8 minutes, officials said. Previously, passengers were forced to take a bus between the airport and the closest BART station, a trip that could take between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on traffic. Commuters must transfer at the Coliseum station to take the new line to the airport.
"Everything is running great," said BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost. "Trains are going every 5 minutes, and so far, the biggest traffic is people coming for the big game" between Cal and Stanford at Memorial Stadium in Berkeley.
The system was a relief to travelers, with Saturday's rain. "You don't have to leave the station and wait in the rain … it's covered, you don't have to get wet," Trost said.
Officials have talked about rail connections between BART and the region's airports ever since the commuter rail system opened in 1972. But it took decades to make the final links. It was only in 2003 that BART began running trains to San Francisco International Airport, and it took even longer to get a line to Oakland airport.
The Oakland airport line has come with controversy because of its price tag: $484 million, or about $151 million for every mile of track. And the fare just for the 3.2-mile trip is $6, with an additional fare needed to go elsewhere on the main BART system -- $1.85 more to get to downtown Oakland, $2.50 to Berkeley, and $4.05 to San Francisco.
Opponents of the train line said transportation funds could have gone to better use elsewhere.
But supporters say the train line will make it far easier and faster to take BART to Oakland's airport; many passengers say they found hauling their luggage down the stairs to a bus a big hassle, and hated fumbling for the exact $3 cash fare. Now, the fare is paid on a regular BART ticket, and there's no need to go downstairs at the Coliseum BART station – it's just a simple walk to another elevated platform.
"Everyone is saying that it's much faster and more convenient," Trost said.
Voters in Alameda County in 2000 approved Measure B, which reauthorized a county sales tax that included funding for the airport connector. Construction began in 2010.
Some passengers Saturday morning weren't aware of the train line's new opening, and some were still looking for the old bus system. Staff were on hand to redirect people to the new system, which runs four sets of three-car trains, which are operated without drivers.
All fares are paid at the Coliseum BART station, not at the airport.
The route is mostly elevated, running above the median of Hegenburger Road and crosses Interstate 880, and at one point dips underneath Doolittle Drive. Officials could decide in the future to add a station at the line's maintenance facility near Hegenberger Road and Doolittle Drive if funding is obtained.
The trains run at 30 mph.
The old bus system carried about 700,000 passengers a year, Trost said, the new train system can handle 3 million a year.