Sound Transit says it is reviewing safety and emergency procedures after a breakdown in the light rail tunnel between the University of Washington Station and the new U District Station left a train full of riders stranded with many opting to hike out of the subway on foot during the Friday night incident.
“A Link light rail train became disabled in the northbound tunnel between University of Washington Station and U District Station after the electronic cable linking the first car and the trailing three cars was severed. As a result, the train came to an immediate stop,” Sound Transit said in its statement on the breakdown that came around 8:25 PM as crowds were leaving the Apple Cup game at Husky Stadium.
Sound Transit says the severed cable prevented the train’s operator from communicating by intercom with passengers in the trailing three cars, and “an unsafe incident developed when passengers decided to use emergency exits to leave the train.”
Riders posted updates to social media describing an increasingly tense scene on the darkened cars as Sound Transit’s Twitter and Facebook feeds remained quiet. Passengers used emergency exits to leave the train and many began to walk out of the tunnel to UW Station.
Sound Transit dispatched a “rescue train” to pick up passengers but many had already made the hike.
“Sound Transit immediately followed its safety procedures by suspending service in both tunnels to protect passengers until they could be removed safely via a rescue train,” the agency said in its statement. “There were no injuries.”
CHS reported here in October on the opening of the new extension adding the U District, Roosevelt, and Northgate stations.
A walk under Capitol Hill would have been a longer trek. In 2014, CHS toured the 3.1-mile twin tunnels from Husky Stadium to the edge of downtown with the first segment ascending the steep slope up the northside of the Hill from Montlake starting under the waters of the Montlake Cut. Despite passing beneath the Cut and then up Capitol Hill, the incline is incredibly gradual and the grade never climbs beyond 4.5%.
The twin tunnels pass beneath dozens of apartment buildings, about 250 homes and several municipal structures at depths between 15 feet (beneath the Montlake cut) and 300 feet (beneath Volunteer Park) below the surface. The deepest point between Broadway and downtown bottoms out at 150 feet below the pavement.
If for any reason you ever need to walk out from near Capitol Hill Station, you’ll be hiking to Montlake, Broadway or Pine near the Paramount — there are no emergency exits along the way. The twin tunnel structure includes 21 hand-dug cross passages to connect the tubes. The design should allow anybody who needs to the ability to move back and forth between the tunnels should one passage be blocked.
But Sound Transit says it is hopeful its riders won’t feel the need to set out on foot again and is spreading the word that it is better and much safer to wait for a rescue train.
Sound Transit now needs to make sure that message is part of future emergency communications.
“Sound Transit is launching a thorough investigation of the incident in coordination with our King County Metro Transit operations and maintenance contractors to determine the root cause and address any future vulnerabilities,” its statement on the matter concludes. “The investigation will include review of measures to ensure passengers stay onboard the train during such incidents for their safety. We apologize for the considerable inconvenience to our passengers.”
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