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After stranded light rail riders hiked out of tunnel, Sound Transit says, next time, wait for the ‘rescue train’

(Image: @Danielhep)

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.

What it looks like inside one of the tunnels below Capitol Hill

“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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Nathan
Nathan
8 months ago

Curious why there’s no reporting of what the Transit Operator did following the stoppage. There’s no reporting that there was NO MESSAGES in the other cars either. How the hell are they supposed to know what do when they aren’t being told, and it’s not where on the railcar. Really getting tired of this one-road reporting.

Carol Isaac
Carol Isaac
8 months ago
Reply to  Nathan

Could something could have been tweeted or emailed to ppl with phones?

VisionTransit
VisionTransit
8 months ago

I don’t blame people for leaving the train after being crammed body-to-body with drunk fans for 40+ minutes with no real information. ST didn’t even declare a service alert until after the whole thing was mostly resolved!

Web
Web
8 months ago

I was a passenger on that train, and while I remain a strong proponent of more transit, the response to this event was incredibly sloppy, and a serious warning sign. Had this been a more threatening situation, the passengers on that train would have been stranded while sound transit scratched its chin…
Conditions on the train cars were awful – lights out, no ventilation, packed shoulder to shoulder with a post-game crowd of screaming drunks while temperatures quickly rose in the sealed compartments. The idea that transit authorities have no better response beyond intending to seal passengers inside unventilated train cars during a pandemic is, a real failure. That’s my polite response.
I’m severely unimpressed by both their initial response and their ‘blame the passengers’ attitude they’re pulled in the wake of this idiocy.

Patrick
Patrick
8 months ago
Reply to  Web

Thank you! I’ve emailed sound Transit with my take on it. If you’re ever interested in getting a group together to hold them accountable feel free to contact me

Patrick
Patrick
8 months ago

I was on the train, packed llike sardines within 5 minutes it became very hot the windows fogged up.
I started to have an anxiety attack two very kind people walk me through it
After a half hour people got really upset it was roasting it was starting to feel like there was no air. Of course the emergency exits were opened
Sound transit’s main priority is to make sure it’s passengers get air, then they can communicate to stay on the train
The lack of communication was appalling. I love having a light rail system but they really f***** up

kent
kent
8 months ago
Reply to  Patrick

The agency needs to formally retract their criticism of the passenger response and instead consider that they did exactly what they needed to do. Their response was entirely predictable, if only in retrospect, even advisable. The next station was not a long walk, and it is reasonable to expect zero oncoming train traffic ahead of a disabled train. The official procedure for handling such a situation should *assume* that the passengers will walk to next station, except for those that cannot. The operator should remain with the latter.

The bone-headed assertion that folks should have waited in the packed train cars is at least as troubling as whatever failure that killed the train. Sounds like they waited long enough for better options.

Don’t pay the ST folks any attention, stranded riders… You did just fine!

Perhaps an in-tunnel comm system…? Else don’t blame your customers for leaving the train when it dies.

Was it one of the new trains?

Patrick
Patrick
8 months ago
Reply to  kent

Yes it was one of the shiny new trains, I’m just glad one of the passengers knew how to open the doors because it was getting unbearable.
I really do love the light rail though and I am proud of Seattle for actually making a viable Subway
I don’t want this to turn into an orgy of sound Transit bashing

joanna
8 months ago

It appears that there are several communication problems in need of a solution by Sound Transit. I hope to hear what the new plan is from ST. And perhaps, even possible additional type of escape between stops in the case of a different type of emergency. I can only say that I am glad I was not on that train.

Paul
Paul
8 months ago

Sound Transit inept? No way! Northgate is finally open many years late and billions extra. They couldn’t even install well designed escalators or stairs for Montlake serving a 70,000 seat stadium. Their real estate spin-off at Capitol Hill is an orgy of Neo-liberalism and hideous urban design. They crashed a train killing people near Tacoma. Yet the same voters who support people like Seattle City Council dips are still cheerleading for Sound Transit because they don’t understand mass transit and good governance.

Fairly Obvious
Fairly Obvious
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul

Northgate is finally open many years late and billions extra.

Sorry to trample on your anti-transit rant, but:

The Northgate Link project was proposed as part of the “Sound Move” ballot measure in 1996, pending additional funding, but was deferred until the voter approval of the Sound Transit 2 package in 2008.

Ethan
Ethan
8 months ago

Instead of reviewing measures to keep passengers onboard they should review alternate means of communicating with passengers when their wires fail. This is a perfect case of why systems need redundancy (also see: broken escalators).

I’d like more details about how long it took them to dispatch that “rescue train”, it sounded like people waited a half hour before exiting the trains. Also, how long should people be expected to wait (without air) for a “rescue train” in the future?

Patrick
Patrick
8 months ago
Reply to  Ethan

Exactly, even though the crowd was drunk and rowdy everyone was patient and good natured. But after a half hour with no circulating air somebody had to do something
It seems to me they could open the emergency doors and make an announcement to stay in the trains
Hopefully they’ll learn from this