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Gondola to the Greek? A-BART-ments? Drag show prop? BART wants your ideas for creative reuse of train cars

What would you do with a decommissioned BART car?

A very Bay Area-themed bar? Props for a Hollywood movie? A gondola to the Greek Theater in Berkeley? Or, to the new A’s stadium at Howard Terminal? Or, better yet, train-cars-turned-box-seats for baseball fans?

Maybe all of the above?

Those were just some of the ideas stirring in a Twitterstorm BART spurred last week when it floated the idea of what to do with its old, dysfunctional cars as it makes way for a brand-new fleet. Already, some 45 new train cars have arrived, with about half carrying passengers.

As new cars arrive, they’ll help grow BART’s existing fleet so the agency can run longer trains to carry more passengers, BART staffer Melissa Jordan said in a blog post on the agency’s website. Within the span of two years, BART expects to have 775 new cars on hand, replacing all 669 of its cars that were built in the 70s, 80s and 90s, some of which have been rehabbed, and some not.

Ultimately, the agency hopes to grow that figure even further, bringing the total number of cars to 1,200 cars, so it can run more trains through the Transbay Tube (which will require upgrading its train control system, too).

At some point, though, BART will have to begin retiring its old cars to make room for the new ones. It’ll target its worst-performing cars first by analyzing data on how long each car goes without needing repairs, its condition, how many hours it has operated in service, and time remaining on key components in the car, among other factors.

But then what?

There’s a lot of interest in the old cars, including from train museums and trade schools, businesses and artists, Jordan said. The agency can’t resell them to other transit agencies since BART uses a different gauge of tracks than standard rail. And, it can’t just give them away, either — at least, not without some complication.

When the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) provides grants to agencies to build new train cars, or in BART’s case, rehab its old ones, it requires a return of its share of investment if that property is sold or donated, as long as the items are valued over $5,000.

The FTA provided BART over 70 percent of the funds it needed to rehab its oldest cars, comprising 439 of its 669 cars, and gave the agency nearly 55 percent of its funds to rehab the cars it got in the mid-1980s, representing another 150 cars. It didn’t, however, fund BART’s newest cars built in the 1990’s, called the C2 cars, which also tend to be the most problematic when it comes to breaking down. There are 80 of those on hand.

So, if a single train car were valued at, say, $10,000, and originally funded with a 70 percent match by the FTA, the FTA would be entitled to $7,000 — whether or not the cars are sold or donated.

Still, Jordan said the agency is open to creative ideas for reusing some or all of the cars. And, it’s likely to be a mix of things.