On a recent trip via public transit in the US, I found myself in a subway car so jam-packed that there was scarcely room to breathe. The car was jerking about quite a bit, and there was little to grab on to other than your fellow passengers. This is a fairly regular occurrence on this line, and they do not seem to enforce any capacity limit other than "everyone must be inside the doors." This strikes me as extremely unsafe. If the train had crashed, or there had been a fire, there is no way we would have been able to get out of there. I have to believe this has to be against some sort of safety regulation, but I have so far not been able to find anything applicable. Are there really no laws governing train car capacity?

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    This is unlikely to be. Federal master - it is not clear why it would engage Federal jurisdiction. The US has 50 states and considerably more cities all of which have laws - where is this?
    – Dale M
    Jun 12, 2019 at 2:44
  • This in particular is in California, in the San Francisco Bay area. Jun 12, 2019 at 5:35
  • Right there in Wikipedia if you were on the Muni Metro.
    – mkennedy
    Jun 12, 2019 at 17:53
  • This was actually on BART. Since they only appear to talk about "expected capacity," I guess the answer to "how many people should you put in one train car?" Is "however many you can fit." Jun 12, 2019 at 18:00

3 Answers 3


Regulation of public safety is generally reserved to the states, with the federal government having an interest only if a state line is crossed or if it involves a federal property.

You mention it was BART in San Francisco, so the primary regulator is California.

Not being expert on California, I'm not sure how much power has been delegated to county or city governments, but federal involvement is unlikely.

  • Federal authority may come into it via the fact that many transit agencies receive federal funding. This gives the feds some power to dictate standards for the disbursement of these funds. Jun 14, 2019 at 14:07
  • Like states being required to raise the alcohol purchase age to 21 for them to receive highway funds? But the states (or local governments) are still doing the regulating; otherwise there could be delegation issues, I think.
    – zeroone
    Jun 15, 2019 at 13:50

I don't believe there is any federal law that covers this. Even if there were, BART says that it can carry "over 200 customers in a crush load." So that's comforting.


A2 cars can only operate as lead or trail cars in a train consist. A2 cars have an operator's cab, automatic train operating equipment, and two-way communications system. The A2 car seats 60 customers comfortably and can carry over 200 customers in a crush load.

B2 cars can only operate in the middle of a train consist; they do not have a cab nor do they control the operation of the train. They can, however, carry the same customer load as an A2 car.

C1 cars can operate as either lead, trail or in the middle of a train consist. They are equipped with an operator's compartment, automatic train control equipment and a communications system. C1 cars give BART flexibility to change train size without rerouting to a storage yard. Seating capacity is 56, but can carry over 200 customers in a crush load.

C2 cars are nearly identical to C1 cars. Seating capacity is 56, but can carry over 200 customers in a crush load.


The federal body in charge of transportation safety is the National Board of Transportation Safety (NBTS). They are involved in safety advocacy and so I would recommend that you get in touch with them directly about your concerns.

Alternatively, you you could take direct action. For example, why not pull the emergency brake cord and then have an argument with the driver about your concerns? Played right, this might also get picked up by journalists and so publicising your concerns to a wider audience.

Such problems of congestion are actually a reflection of deeper problems of the public realm and its there that this issue needs to be debated. For example, Jacinda Ardern, the current prime minister of New Zealand, in the aftermath of the coronary virus pandemic to open up a wider debate on how society is organised. Transport of course is a key part of that.

For example, one idea that is being closely examined is a four day working week. Obviously, this would have a huge impact on transport congestion. If they went further, and had a three day working week, then this would cut traffic congestion and your subway congestion in half.

And then you'll have some space to stretch out your legs.

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