Diesel-powered eBART Antioch extension opens Saturday

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ANTIOCH (BCN) BART's 10.1-mile Antioch extension, the transit agency's first route to use trains other than the familiar third-rail-powered cars, will formally open Saturday morning after a ribbon-cutting ceremony today at the new Antioch station.

Local officials and prospective riders said today they hope the extension will help ease crowding on state Highway 4, which has frequent stop-and-go congestion between East Contra Costa County and Concord despite a major highway widening project that started in 2010.

The extension will be serviced by eight DMU (diesel multiple unit) cars, built by the Swiss firm Stadler. Each can accommodate up to 200 passengers -- 104 seated and 96 standing. That's about twice the capacity of a traditional BART car.

Trains on the Antioch extension will range from one to three cars each, and BART officials say they will carry up to 2,400 riders per hour. It's a 17-minute trip between Antioch and Pittsburg-Bay Point, including a stop at the new Pittsburg Center (Railroad Avenue) station.

Construction of the eBART line began in the spring of 2011, and testing of the cars and tracks has been going on for several weeks.

More than 1,000 people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house today at the new Antioch BART station, and the mood among officials gathered there was celebratory.

"This will offer needed relief to commuters on Highway 4 -- 10.1 miles of relief," BART director Joel Keller said.

The new line to Antioch, entirely within the median of Highway 4, is not electrified, one reason the extension's $525 million price tag was less than half of what it would have cost to extend the third-rail-equipped tracks to Antioch, BART spokesman Jim Allison said.

Standard eastbound BART trains arriving from North Concord will load and unload passengers at the Pittsburg-Bay Point station, and then head several hundred feet further east to another platform.

There, passengers headed either to the new Pittsburg Center station at Railroad Avenue or to the Antioch station at Hillcrest Avenue will then leave the standard train and board a diesel-powered train. 

On a public test run today, the DMUs were surprisingly quiet, especially given there's a large Cummins engine on each unit.

The new diesel cars, which burn fuel made from hydrogenated vegetable oil, have a top speed of 75 mph, but will generally keep to 60 mph -- much faster than Highway 4 traffic goes during a typical commute.

Jeanne Krieg, CEO of Tri-Delta Transit, East Contra Costa's bus operator, said BART to Antioch will be a boon to local travelers, including bus riders.

The agency has reworked its entire schedule to mesh with the new eBART service.

"It's all going to change the way people move around in East County," she said. 

Mario Vasquez of Antioch brought his grandson Logan and granddaughter Kaylee to the grand opening. He was a youth when he rode the first BART train to Concord in 1972.

"We're finally seeing our tax money working or us" here in East County, Vasquez said. "It isn't a bullet train, but we'll take what we can get for now."

And the various officials said today they hope the new Antioch and Pittsburg Center stations aren't eBART's last.

"It's BART to Brentwood next," Antioch Mayor Sean Wright told the ceremony crowd. "This isn't the end."