BART train derailment may hamper morning commute

March 13, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A BART train jumped off the tracks Sunday morning sending three people to the hospital.

The crash happened just south of the Concord BART station. The train was heading to the airport when it derailed, leaving the train teetering on the tracks and dozens of passengers briefly stranded.

BART crews were expected to be at the scene all night Sunday working on the problem. Service between Pleasant Hill and Pittsburg-Bay Point was still disrupted Sunday evening. The rest of the system was running fine, but getting the train off the tracks was just part of the problem. Crews also need to repair a portion of the electrical rail. The good news is that there were only three minor injuries. However, the bad news is that this could make for a very messy commute Monday morning.

The 10-car train looked more like an accordion sitting stranded on the Concord tracks. At 9:20 Sunday morning, the wheels of the eighth and ninth cars slipped off leaving the train teetering on the rails. 65 passengers had to be evacuated to safety. Three were taken to the hospital.

"It was like shaking, moving back and forth. I thought maybe his tracks were clear. It seemed like he kept on braking or something of that sort," passenger Nachatr Dhillon told ABC7.

"Then, that's when it stopped and the operator went ahead and came out and told us he was going to go try to look at the problem himself. He thought the wheels came off," Natalie Arias recalled.

The derailment happened as the San Francisco airport-bound train was traveling at slow speed, just pulling out of the Concord station. BART officials say crews were working on tracks south of the station. The train had just switched to single-track mode to get around the work.

"This was the first train to start single-tracking around the work and when it was crossing over to go into the single-tracking mode, that's when the slow-speed derailment happened," explained BART Chief Spokesman Linton Johnson.

As BART investigators tried to figure out the cause, BART riders had to figure out how to get where they needed to go, many of them, to the airport. Buses ferried passengers through the portion of the line that closed between Pleasant Hill and Pittsburg-Bay Point, and BART crews began the complicated task of re-railing the de-railed train. To make matters even more complicated, a stretch of the track was damaged during the crash.

BART said the fix could take all night Sunday.

"It could impact Monday morning's commute, but certainly we're going to make all effort to try to get this out of the way as fast as we can, but of course, we want to preserve the integrity of the investigation first and foremost," Linton said.

It could be weeks or even months before BART knows the official cause of the derailment. That switch to a single-track is a very common maneuver. What is not so common, are derailments, with just three in the past seven years across the entire BART system. Buses have been working to take passengers to other stations as BART crew continue working through the night.


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