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delay is in the details

By enelson
Monday, May 22nd, 2006 at 6:09 pm in BART.

In an effort to bring seemingly heartless transit bureaucracies closer to the riders, I post the following query from a reader. He told me that on May 11 he experienced the “worst BART delay ever.” I asked him for details, which arrived today and I’ve shortened a bit.
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I was at the Powell station. I can’t remember as clearly now, but there
was a clear delay with some train ahead on the line … The train I
usually get on arrived finally and we got on, but it didn’t move. Then
they made an announcement that there was a train stuck at Montgomery. At
first our driver (either Richmond or Pitt/BP) said there was a slight
delay, then he comes on later and says it’ll be a 15-minute delay, then he
comes on and says he has no idea how long it’ll be.

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Eventually, he told us they’d be shutting down the incoming tracks to allow trains behind to
switchover to the opposite tracks so they could head toward the East Bay on
that track instead, so most people got off the train at that point. But trains kept coming in normally (headed toward SFO/Daly City).

Then our driver said they had cars totally out of commission at Montgomery that they had to clear from the tracks ahead and he had no idea how long that would take. Finally, after waiting on the platforms, our driver says, “if
you want to gamble, get on now.” So most of us got back on and we started moving forward.

But then we end up stopping in the middle of the tunnel! The driver comes back on and says he’s managed to get the first car into Montgomery station, so if you want to get off, you have to make your way to the first car to get out! After getting sick of waiting, I decided to try to make my way to the front and get out of there, but then the train started moving again, and the driver says they finally got that train out of there.

I’ve been on so many delayed trains these past few months, my boss/co-workers don’t belive me when I tell them why I keep coming in late (if I miss my connecting bus,
I’m going to be at least a half-hour late while I wait for the next one).

I’ve decided to try to make it an extra half-hour to 1 hour early to the BART station now, because I’ve found them to just not be as reliable as they keep trying to claim. No apology or explanation on their website either. I think it’s probably poor maintenance, but they don’t want to admit it.

For the past month or so, there’ve been problems with the 7:30-7:40 trains
(the ones I usually catch to work). Once (I think it was the Dublin/Pleasonton) train couldn’t get out of the station. The doors kept opening and closing, but the train wouldn’t budge. After around 10-15 minutes a mechanic could be seen going through all the cars. It prevented the train I wanted to catch from getting into the station.

The explanation came with lightning speed from Linton Johnson, BART spokesman:

We had a mechanical problem during the height of rush hour in one of the
most critical spots in the system – Montgomery Station. We have trains
arriving every 2 to 3 minutes in each direction. This quickly became a
choke point because there’s no wiggle room.

It’s virtually impossible to quickly move trains around a train that gets stuck, as was in this case.

The situation is quite chaotic, and each decision that’s made by Central (control) has a huge ripple effect on the rest of the trains. And when they think they’ve got away out of the problem, then another wrench is thrown into the mix, and they have to change course. That’s why information that’s announced to passengers is then revised.

It’s like being a traffic cop at a busy intersection where there’s an accident. You try to get everyone around the accident, and all you need is one driver to not obey orders and it messes up the plan to get everyone around the accident.

This is actually a good example as to why we have to replace the entire fleet and implement the new preventative maintenance program as soon as we can. The program calls for replacing parts BEFORE they break down, so they don’t break down in the middle of the rush at the Montgomery Station, causing that back up.

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One Response to “delay is in the details”

  1. Leslie Stewart Says:

    Linton Johnson should also have mentioned that the “doors opening and closing” problem which required a technician can be avoided if people don’t insist on jamming themselves into a door as it is closing and shoving it open again. That often screws up the door mechanism and sooner or later it will create problems.

    Leslie Stewart

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