Bart computerized switch fails : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Embedded chip?

Posted at 12:56 a.m. PST Thursday, February 10, 2000

Commuters delayed both on freeways and BART BY DENNIS AKIZUKI Mercury News Staff Writer

The Bay Area's stressed-out transportation network buckled a bit on Wednesday as both BART trains and automobiles on nearby freeways slowed or ground to a halt from an assortment of problems.

It took some commuters such as Ed Burns of Berkeley, who takes BART into San Francisco, as long as three hours to reach their offices.

The failure of an automatic switching system in Oakland threw BART into chaos, creating packed train cars, jamming station platforms and adding traffic to already congested East Bay freeways during the morning commute.

Complicating the situation was an assortment of accidents and other delays that caused backups on several freeways. The combination of problems illustrated the fragility of the area's over-taxed transportation system.

``It doesn't take much, whether a stall or an accident, to clog the system even worse or stretch out the commute,'' Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones said.

BART reported delays of up to 90 minutes at the height of its snafu, which disrupted service from the East Bay to San Francisco and forced BART employees to manually crank the track switches so that westbound trains from the several routes could pass under the bay.

``This is the worst switching problem we've ever had,'' said BART spokeswoman Vicki Wills.

The computerized switching system failed at 7:30 a.m., affecting trains traveling through Oakland's Lake Merritt, 12th Street, 19th Street and MacArthur stations -- the hub of the transit system. Commuters on the Fremont, Dublin-Pleasanton and Pittsburg-Bay Point lines headed toward San Francisco at the time of the failure were stuck in their motionless BART trains for about an hour.

The problem was identified as a blown wire connecting to a box just east of the Transbay Tube. The box sends out automatic switching signals.

Wills said trains on the other lines began moving about 8:30 a.m. For a time, so many trains were backed up throughout the system that BART officials temporarily discontinued Richmond-to-San Francisco service and Dublin/Pleasanton-to-San Francisco service.

And passengers on the Dublin/Pleasanton and Pittsburg/Bay Point lines were forced to transfer to other trains in order to make it to San Francisco, leaving some cars and boarding platforms packed like sardine cans.

The automatic switching system began working intermittently around 1:45 p.m. and was completely restored by 3 p.m. -- in time for the afternoon commute.

That was little solace to the thousands of BART commuters who had to endure long delays on the morning commute.

Burns, who hops on a San Francisco-bound train every morning, boarded the 9 a.m. train in North Berkeley. Then the train stopped at the Ashby station. Half an hour later, it was still not moving.

``For the next hour, it was stop and go,'' said Burns, a computer programmer at Vestek Systems in San Francisco, who got off the train at 19th Street in Oakland.

``I was just going bonkers. I had to get out and have a cigarette around 11,'' he said. ``They told us the train ahead was stopped. Then they said something about switching problems. It was crazy.''

He went out to lunch, then about noon tried BART again. Finally, he got to work about 12:30. His usual commute of 30 to 40 minutes turned into 3 1/2 hours.

By the time Burns got to his office, he was furious. ``I came in and vented all my frustrations on my co-workers,'' he said. ``I hope they know it was nothing personal.''

Monica Rodriguez normally catches BART from Fremont to San Francisco. She saw people standing around the station, found out that the trains weren't moving and, after 20 minutes, decided to drive.

``That was a mistake,'' she said, after spending nearly an hour inching along Interstate 880. Thinking the Bay Bridge would be worse, she veered across the San Mateo Bridge.

Another mistake.

``Did everyone who takes BART get in their car?'' she asked. ``The San Mateo Bridge was a zoo.''

After more than two hours on the road, she finally reached San Francisco.

But what was a horrendous commute by car for Rodriguez was just above average congestion on the East Bay freeways, according to Caltrans.

``The whole day was slightly worse than normal, but it was nothing egregious,'' said Caltrans spokesman Jeff Weiss.

The Bay Bridge metering lights -- which normally are turned off at 10 a.m. -- blinked off at 10:12 a.m. Traffic was backed up farther than usual east of the toll plaza.

Filming of a Mitsubishi commercial added to the congestion. For brief periods from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., a California Highway Patrol vehicle slowed westbound traffic on the bridge to allow crews to film.

Another problem blocked traffic for more than an hour on southbound Interstate 680 at the junction with Highway 242. Part of a modular house being moved by a tractor-trailer struck a temporary support for a bridge being widened. Traffic backed up to Highway 4.

-- Martin Thompson (, February 10, 2000


This does sound like an embedded chip problem, not a wire trip. For safety's sake, you would think that a faulty wire would blow one individual box, not thirty-one. (?) .....

From the San Bernardino Sun archive, article #140393:

Slow starts plague BART

February 10, 2000


A switching failure paralyzed BART trains systemwide Wednesday, turning often-zippy commutes into hours-long ordeals. The automatic switching systems, which route the tracks, went kaput at 7:45 a.m. Wednesday, BART officials said. Workers resorted to hand- cranking the switches, doubling normal commute times.

"Over a hundred thousand people were affected. We don't know how much more we can apologize. It's horrible," said spokeswoman Vickie Wills, who added it was unprecedented for a switching failure to cause such massive delays.

The switches -- which send electronic messages telling the tracks where to point and control train speed and destination -- are located in MUX boxes along the tracks. Thirty-one boxes located in a critical triangle of West Oakland, MacArthur and Lake Merritt stations went out Wednesday morning. The switching failure created problems throughout BART lines since all trains pass through that geographic triangle.

Late Wednesday, spokesman Ron Rodriguez said a zap of electricity disabled the boxes along West Oakland and Lake Merritt. It was unclear where the electricity came from, and if it affected the MacArthur station.

"We'll be going over this with the proverbial fine-tooth comb for weeks," Rodriguez said.

Without the automatic switches, commutes were agonizingly slow. A train moved a few feet, then workers had to reposition the tracks. The train would scoot a few more feet, workers would crank the tracks again, and so on.


Officials don't know what caused the switch failures. The timing is especially embarrassing, coming a day after BART trumpeted that its ridership had soared to 326,000 each weekday.


Some riders complained that BART had no contingency plan to handle emergencies. Electronic signs flashed the wrong destination, and drivers didn't always tell passengers what train they were boarding. Riders were uncertain which buses would take them where they needed to go.

"This is what happens with BART because it doesn't have a plan B or C," said Phil Williams of Oakland who was trying to get to Berkeley.

Wills defended BART's response, saying officials waited an hour before hand-cranking the trains because they kept expecting the switching problem to right itself within 15 minutes, as it has in the past.

Also, it was unwarranted to arrange for a special bus to convey riders to San Francisco.

"If trains are still running, you don't bring buses in," she said. "They're still running, you're just late."


-- Lee Maloney (, February 17, 2000.

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