Smoke caused by the sudden deployment of a BART train's emergency brake threw the East Bay commute into near chaos Wednesday morning and sent some passengers to the emergency room suffering from shortness of breath.
The westbound Pittsburg/Baypoint train, with about 700 passengers on board, was stalled in the Berkeley Hills tunnel between the Orinda and Rockridge BART stations for more than an hour around 8:15 a.m. after the brake deployed while the train was traveling 70 mph, according to transit agency officials. They say the brake became engaged because of an electrical short.
Nine people were transported to three area hospitals complaining of breathing problems. Two people refused transport to the hospital.
"We had two staging areas. One at Orinda, one at Rockridge, and fire personel on both sides," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said. "We were able to get the disabled train to operate under its own power and remove that train to Rockridge at about 9:30."
There are accounts of passengers who were trained in medicine who jumped in escorting help people who experienced problems breathing. Video from inside the train shows nurses walking a dazed-looking through the train and away from the smoke.
Passengers were seen exiting the train in tears.
“It’s scary,” passenger Kaylee Adams said. “You’re in a tunnel and you don’t know if you’re going to get out.”
Passengers were stuck in the tunnel for more than hour until the train operator was able to move it to the next station.
Once the train was able to move, several passengers were taken off in an ambulance.
The Rockridge station was evacuated as a precaution, and both the Rockridge and Orinda stations were closed just as the morning commute was wrapping up stranding hundreds more passengers.
The BART train that had the problem was stopped in the Berkeley Hills tunnel.
BART officials said the 40-year-old train had maintenance in October and was in good working order.
Trains were having to single-track around the disabled train.
“As soon as I got my BART ticket and come through the gate, the station manager said ‘Nobody come in.’ They were sending everybody out,” passenger Amiee Dawkins said.
Passenger Angela Moore, 32, of Pittsburg, told Bay City News she got on the train around 7:45 a.m. at the Pittsburg-Bay Point station and was headed to the 12th Street station in Oakland but when the train went into the tunnel it stopped.
She said her train car, which was in the middle of the train, smelled like smoke.
The train sat for about a long time in the tunnel. "I wanted it to be over," she said.
A train operator came to her car and told passengers to stay calm, and told those affected by the smoky conditions to move to cars closer to the front or back, she said.
Once at the Rockridge station, she was evaluated by Oakland fire medical personnel. They offered to take her to the hospital after she said she wasn't feeling well, but she declined.
Instead, as of 10:30 a.m., she was waiting for her husband to pick her up at Rockridge and take her to her own doctor. She said her throat feels scratchy and it feels like she needs to cough. She also has a headache, she said.