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Oakland Airport Connector Gets Test Drive

It runs on a cable system, but it doesn’t look quite like the Bay Area’s other cable cars. It’s the brand new, American-made Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) vehicle, and it successfully made its inaugural run at full speed in February. 

When it opens by Thanksgiving 2014, the OAC — a 3.2-mile extension of BART — will shuttle travelers between BART’s Oakland Coliseum station and Oakland International Airport, along the Hegenberger Road approach to the airport. The four trains and four cables will run counter-clockwise in unison; trains will travel simultaneously, continuing to detach from one cable and fasten onto the next segment of the route. At the bunker-like control center — dubbed the Wheelhouse — bright 12-foot diameter motorized steel wheels will propel and brake the vehicles. OAC riders can get a glimpse of the mechanics in action at the stations, where similar wheels will keep the system running behind a glass wall. 

The airy metal latticework guideway has been particularly well-received by future customers, said project manager Tom Dunscombe. “They’ve enjoyed the lightness of this, that it’s not so imposing,” he said. Austrian manufacturer Doppelmayr has built 14,000 cable transport systems, including many ski lifts, around the world. 

The OAC cars are being assembled in the US and, in compliance with federal law, over 60 percent of all materials are US-sourced. Each of the four OAC vehicles is about the length of a traditional BART car, although it technically has three articulated cars. One train holds up to 150 passengers — and those who don’t make it can catch the following train in 4.5 minutes during most of the day. 

At 30 miles per hour, the entire, almost exclusively aerial ride will take eight minutes and will drop passengers off closer to the airport than the nearest parking space would. “You can get off the train and walk to the front door in two minutes,” Dunscombe said.

At the other end, the OAC gates are connected to the Coliseum BART station by walkway. The three handicap-sized gates give ample room for travelers’ luggage, and each station features art commissioned for the OAC. Unlike the current AirBART bus option, the OAC accepts regular BART tickets and Clipper® cards. The exact fare has yet to be determined.

With work on the guideway, maintenance facility and storage facility complete, and construction on the stations set to conclude in April, the OAC – likely the longest cable-driven transport system in the world, Dunscombe said – is on schedule to make the Thanksgiving travel season much smoother. 

MTC contributed $179 million ($146.2 million in bridge toll funds plus $32.8 million in state bond funds) to the $484 million project. 

--Natalie Orenstein

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