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SMCo. BART ghost train, signal system snafus snarl service

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  • 2/17 SF Chronicle
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 17, 2005
      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
      morning.

      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
      routing snafus.

      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
      systemwide."

      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
      spokesman.

      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
      traffic.

      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
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/22778

      SMCo. BART software bug delaying trains by up to 30 min.
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/22751

      Column: Software bug plagues SMCo. BART
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/22708 ]
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