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Electrical short caused BART incident in Berkeley Hills

KCBA News
December 4, 2013 6:30 pm

BART passenger receiving medical attention

The reason a BART train got stuck in the Berkeley hills tunnel Wednesday morning is that an electrical short caused the emergency brakes on one of its cars to suddenly activate while it was traveling at full speed at about 70 mph, a spokeswoman for the transit agency said.

BART spokesman Alicia Trost said shorts are “quite rare” for BART and have only happened three times this year.

Jim Allison, another spokesperson for BART, said the 10-car train, which was traveling from Pittsburg/Bay Point to San Francisco International Airport and was carrying 600 to 700 passengers, gradually stopped on its own when the brakes activated at about 8:20 a.m.

The brakes are friction brakes that have pads and the activation of the brakes created brake dust that got into the impacted train car from its intake system, Allison said.

The train was stuck in the tunnel for about an hour but finally arrived at the next station, the Rockridge station in Oakland, at 9:34 a.m.

Oakland fire Battalion Chief Melinda Drayton said medical crews treated 11 passengers at the station, nine of whom were taken to local hospitals with breathing problems and other issues. She said there didn’t appear to be any major injuries and there wasn’t a fire or any smoke.

Drayton said medical personnel came to the Rockridge station at 8:45 a.m. and had the situation under control by 10:30 a.m.

BART’s Orinda and Rockridge stations were closed while the train was stuck in the tunnel and BART service was impacted for several hours, as some trains were operating at reduced speeds for a time.

Allison said BART resumed full speeds on both of its tracks at 11:25 a.m. but there were still residual delays until noon.

Allison said the materials on the brake pads that were affected in the problem today are “organic,” meaning that they are carbon-based and don’t contain any toxic materials that might have harmed passengers.

He said the train that was stuck in the Berkeley tunnel was taken out of service at the Rockridge station and was then moved to the nearby MacArthur station in Oakland.

Allison said the train would be taken to one of BART’s maintenance yards when BART service shuts down for a few hours overnight.

Will Wilkins, 42, made it back home in Brentwood after sitting for an hour on the disabled BART train.

Wilkins was heading from Pittsburg/Bay Point to his IT job in San Francisco when the train stopped in the tunnel.

“At first when the train stopped, people were annoyed,” said Wilkins.

But when a smell, which he described as similar to electronics burning, and a visible haze filtered into the car, people became concerned, he said.

He said after a while the smell dissipated and “that’s when people got more jovial.”

Initially he, and his fellow passengers, thought the train was burning, he said.

“I instantly took inventory of everything I had and consolidated it,” said Wilkins. “I wasn’t going to panic; it wouldn’t serve a purpose.”

The train operator at one point walked the length of the train and told those more affected by the smell to head to the front cars.

Wilkins said there were some people in his car coughing and others who were sensitive to the air quality.

His car, filled mostly with commuters, who were all on their phones once the train stopped, he said.

Wilkins said social media was more informative than information BART was telling passengers. He read some tweets aloud to those sitting near him, he said.

Once the train eventually made it to Rockridge station on its own power, Wilkins said he didn’t feel well with a splitting headache. He waited for trains to resume service and decided to not go into the office.

Given the long-lasting ordeal and potential for chaos, he said, “Everyone handled it really well.”

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