SMCo. BART ghost train, signal system snafus snarl service
- Published Thursday, February 17, 2005, in the San Francisco Chronicle
BART snafus gang up on morning commute
3 minor problems conspire to keep trains at a crawl
By Leslie Fulbright
Chronicle Staff Writer
A confluence of three problems -- any one of which individually,
BART says, would have been insignificant -- conspired Wednesday
morning to bring the entire system to a crawl for much of the
First, a computer spotted a "ghost train," forcing operators to
run their trains manually at drastically reduced speeds. That was
followed 30 minutes later by someone tossing a gun onto the tracks
at Powell Street Station, bringing the line to a halt. And then
there were switching problems near Daly City Station that led to
The set of troubles left trains running 20 minutes late until early
afternoon, even though all problems were corrected by 11:30 a.m.
"Independently, they would not have been a big deal," said BART
spokesman Linton Johnson. "Combined, they created problems
BART's problems began around 7:30 a.m. when a computer at
Embarcadero Station saw a "ghost train," requiring operators to
proceed on manual at no more than 25 mph, rather than at the normal
speed of up to 70 mph.
A ghost train occurs when the computer indicates that a train that
doesn't actually exist is on a particular track. Tracks are divided
into 1,000-foot segments; when a train crosses from one segment to
another, it sends a signal to a computer at the BART control center.
On Wednesday, there was no signal indicating that the train had left
the segment of track at Embarcadero Station.
"It has happened before, but usually no one notices," Johnson said.
The computer glitch created a backup in the Transbay Tube and slowed
the entire system. Trains headed into and out of San Francisco were
delayed by 15 to 20 minutes, said Jim Allison, another BART
Minutes later, BART police responded to a medical call at Powell
Street Station to help an unidentified woman with a minor problem.
After resolving it, the officers questioned a suspicious man lying
on a bench who did not have a ticket and refused to show
identification, Allison said.
"They tried to pat him down and he took off running, bowled over
one woman who required medical attention and then tossed something
onto the track," he said.
Officers tackled and arrested the man and then found a loaded 9mm
pistol on the tracks. That forced BART to halt traffic for about
five minutes around 8:10 a.m., further delaying trains that were
already crawling through Embarcadero Station.
Then the switching system that controls the routing of BART trains
bedeviled Daly City Station, causing delays of up to 20 minutes on
the Peninsula. Trains heading from Fremont to Daly City were turned
back at 24th Street Mission Station to alleviate some of the
The switching problem occurred between the Balboa Park and Daly City
stations on two separate segments of track as the computers issued
incorrect codes. Johnson said the problem started Tuesday but was
not a problem until Wednesday morning.
BART officials stressed that the ghost train and the switching
problems were not caused by the software bugs that have plagued the
10-mile route between the Colma and Millbrae stations and delayed
passengers trying to get to San Francisco International Airport.
"We are not sure what happened," Allison said. "We are still trying
to figure it out. It wasn't a big deal until it was combined with
all the other problems at rush hour."
E-mail Leslie Fulbright at lfulbright@...
[BATN: See also:
BART has "strategy" to fix SMCo. train-delaying software bug
SMCo. BART software bug delaying trains by up to 30 min.
Column: Software bug plagues SMCo. BART