Crews who deep-clean BART train cars see and scrub it all

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COLMA — The social media posts are notorious. Frequent riders may have a horror story of their own. A lack of cleanliness has consistently ranked high among complaints of BART riders and, as the agency tries to lure passengers back on board, they’re going all out to make people feel more comfortable.

That means an occasional deep-clean for the train cars and it is no easy job.

“What kind of stuff do I see?” Demariante Clark asked rhetorically. “What don’t I see!”

Clark was kicking off his overnight cleaning shift at BART’s Colma yard.

“I’ve seen a lot of things on these trains,” Clark said. “I’ve seen animals. I’ve seen chickens.”

“We usually see gum, graffiti,” added foreworker Rose Burditt.

Burditt oversees the cleaning crews and, after 28 years, she has developed a well-trained eye for grime.

“You can see the dirt on the baseboards,” she said, pointing at an obscure area. “Behind the seat backs.”

This, however, is no everyday cleaning. This is the deep clean — BART’s all-out, every-nook-and-cranny effort to fight back against whatever the Bay Area throws at or into these trains. 

“Every 400 hours we come in,” Burditt explained. “From top to bottom.”

Each car takes two people and about two to three hours to complete. 

“If the train is really bad, I’ll put three people on it,”  Burditt said. 

It’s not just a scrubbing. The entire car is hit with disinfectant.

“Everything that people touch, ” Clark said. “And even things people don’t touch.”

While the new trains are said to be easier to clean, they still take a beating. 

“This is excess paint from us, having to spray-paint the seats where the graffiti doesn’t come off,” Clark said, scrubbing at a layered stain. 

This is not the only cleaning these cars receive. They are swept several times during the day and, at the end of each day, they are cleaned and wiped down. The deep clean, however, used to be done every 900 hours That was dropped to 400 hours during the pandemic and the people who clean these cars know as well as anyone what riders see every day.

“I know. I know. Sometimes I get on the train and, if there’s a dirty seat, I won’t sit there,” Burditt said.

Does it drive these workers  crazy when they see people throw trash on the trains?

“I see people throw trash,” Burditt said. “And, because I am a customer at that time — I’m not at work, I’m on my way into work — I just have to watch them. There’s nothing you can really do until I make a call and I have someone board that train to please take care of that ice cream. But I know it’s tough on the customers. That’s what we’re doing. Everything we can.”

So every night, a handful of cars get the full treatment, no matter what they bring in, before heading back out into the wild for the next 400 hours. 

“You never know what you’re getting with a train,” Clark said of his work. “The only thing you know is the end result, which is a clean train.”

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