NTSB investigates BART train collision

February 4, 2009 6:44:28 PM PST
A federal agency has joined BART investigators to find out why two trains collided in Oakland Tuesday, injuring a number of passengers. One train was being manually operated and one was controlled automatically.

BART officials called it a minor collision, but there are pictures of the train derailed off the track and plenty of emergency personnel helping in the aftermath of the crash at the 12th Street station in Oakland.

On Wednesday, the trains at the 12th Street hub were running normally again. Clean up crews worked through the night to remove the two damaged cars from the underground tunnel. BART and now the National Transportation and Safety Board are investigating exactly what went wrong.

"We're still looking at everything," said BART Spokesperson Linton Johnson.

What is known is that an operator was manually controlling one of the trains on Tuesday, the other was running automatically, controlled by a computer -- like most trains in the system. BART spokesman Linton Johnson said an operator could switch to manual mode for a variety of reasons.

"The train doesn't line-up properly at the platform. The train operator needs to manually move the train into position," said Johnson

The trains approached an area known as the "Y." It's a complex set of tracks where five train lines intersect and is the only spot like it in the entire BART system. And then they crashed, forcing 300 people to evacuate and injuring as many as a dozen.

"We hear a little rumble, a little metal banging... bam, bam, bam... and then it stopped, that was about it. It wasn't real exciting, but it was a little rough," said passenger Victor Johnson.

The last time two BART trains crashed was just this past December. In that crash the trains were also operating under manual mode. Investigators found the driver had been going too fast.

"This really is extremely unusual," says Trixie Johnson.

Trixie is the research director for the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose. She says BART crashes and derailments, like the one at the 12th Street station in Oakland back in December of 1992, are almost unheard. There's an obvious reason why the system relies on an automatic train operation.

"There's an obvious reason why they operate under electronic controls and clearly it's easier to eliminate errors," said Trixie.