Help on BART’s Transbay Tube
The San Francisco Bay area officially welcomed Bay Area Rapid Transit, BART, in 1972, when the first passenger rail service commenced. Two years later BART added the Transbay Tube, an ambitious project connecting Oakland with San Francisco via an under water tunnel planted beneath the Bay.
I lived in the Bay Area when the Transbay Tube opened to passenger shuttles. During the first couple months of operation, there was speculation and public concern about the tunnel’s safety, like how it could be evacuated in a timely manner if there was a fire, since it was almost six miles long, and there was fear the tunnel might crack and leak in the sea. I was one of those concerned, and my concern grew to fear, then to certainty, that I would drown if I ever rode BART under the Bay. I soon had the opportunity to test that paranoid theory.
Jim called. Jim was my first love. The beginning of my senior year in high school I met this wild Mick Jagger like, musician’s friend, who shared a flat in the Berkeley Hills with two other UC Berkeley (Cal) students. Jim was in his Freshman year at Cal. I didn’t like him initially, he seemed insincere, but he introduced me to French restaurants, ordered white wine, wrote poems. Wine dinners, and Fondue lunches at the original Melting Pot off Telegraph Avenue, salami and jack cheese sandwiches from the Seven Sea’s Deli on Euclid, North of campus, exotic meals, wine, music, poems, and I was sufficiently wooed.
Then the dynamics changed. My family upped and moved to a ranch house in Roseville, CA a cow town 160 miles away. The last half of my senior year was spent at Del Oro High School in Loomis where my nickname was Libby, short of Women’s liberation. Jim and I began a long distance relationship with a rotary phone.
The day after graduation I moved to an apartment in Oakland and lost my self-confidence. It wasn’t long after that I lost Jim too. He moved on and I pined with a journal, hoping he would come back and love me again.
A few months after the tunnel opened Jim called. He said was living in a rented apartment in the Diamond Heights Area of San Francisco, had just returned from a month of sunning himself on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale Florida. He’d dropped out of college, and was trying his hand at being an entrepreneur, in the import business. I suspected I knew what that meant.
Jim invited me to come over to The city and visit him, he missed me. The phone call made me hopeful, so I promised to hop on BART the following day. When we hung up I experienced the first sense of panic.. BART, the Tunnel? Oh no.
I was already sweating, fear sweat, as I stood on the platform waiting for the BART train, cows lined up at a slaughterhouse. That’s how I felt. I couldn’t leave, and I couldn‘t stay, but I walked into the train when the doors opened. Panic rolled up in my stomach became a ball, a beach ball, and I wanted to cry.. as the train rolled through Union city, then Hayward, San Leandro, to the trushold of Oakland, the last chance to disembark.
Then I saw the three Sister’s, Catholic Nuns in full uniform, sitting together, talking amoung themselves, and I knew they were the only chance for saving my sanity or my soul depending on the course of the ride. I sat down next to one of them, “ I’m afraid of going under the tunnel, can I sit with you?” “ The nun smiled, and took hold of my hand as we decended into the darkness, and the lights in the cab brightened. Sister held my hand, for ten minutes as the train speed towards it’s destiny. If we talked I don‘t remember, only that she smiled, and patted my hand. Then we popped out into daylight, terra firma San Francisco.
Once on the other side, I realized the panic wasn’t gone totally. A fear lingered, mixed with uncertainty, a disorientation, and a question “ What was I doing?” I sat with the Sister’s until the train stopped. I thanked them for helping me, hugged the sister who held my hand. She gave me a black rosary.
I was eighteen then, in 1974, a young woman with life spread out before her but afraid to use the crayons on canvas. The fear of the Transbay Tube was a symptom of my life’s chaos, surviving the ride wasn’t the cure. I found that later, without Jim.
Today, BART has an average weekday rider-ship of more than 300,000 passengers, has 104 miles of track, and services four Counties. In 1979 there was an incident in the Transbay Tube, an electrical fire on one of the trains. A firefighter was killed. And the Tube was closed the day of the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake, but after an inspection was found undamaged and opened hours later. The sea has never visited the tunnel.
That day was the only time I rode BART through the tunnel. But I could do it today without holding a Nun’s hand, but I would wear the rosary she gave me. The black beads, and silver cross, a keepsake.