CHOKEPOINTS

Sound Transit says light rail cable break after Apple Cup unprecedented

Dec 2, 2021, 3:36 PM
light rail...
The University of Washington light rail station, next to Husky Stadium. (Photo courtesy of SoundTransit/Twitter)
(Photo courtesy of SoundTransit/Twitter)

It’s been nearly a week since hundreds of light rail passengers were stranded inside the University of Washington tunnel after the Apple Cup, forcing many of them to evacuate on foot. Sound Transit still doesn’t know why the cable broke, but the agency said it’s a situation that it has never seen before.

Sound Transit investigating incident where passengers on disabled train walked into tunnels

The northbound train was just 1,000 feet north of the University of Washington station when the emergency brakes activated and the passengers were thrown forward and left in the dark.

After 11 minutes in the dark, and without any information coming from the intercom, passengers opened the doors and started evacuating on their own.

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff told board members Thursday that what happened that Friday has never happened before.

“The train experienced a near complete severing of its train line, the electronic cable connecting the four cars that formed the train,” he said.

That cable controls nearly all the vital operations like braking, propulsion, and lighting.

Rogoff said the train operator spent those 11 minutes trying to reboot the train because she had no idea what had happened. During that rebooting process, the intercoms didn’t work.

“Our passengers were understandably shaken and concerned, and we deeply regret that the communications that they received by intercom were entirely insufficient,” Rogoff told board members.

Sound Transit has launched a full investigation into what happened, which Rogoff hopes will be complete within 30 days.

“We have a number of theories of what might have taken place, but I want to make sure that we’re really going to ensure that it [does] not happen again, that we get that right,” Rogoff said.

But there are things he is going to change coming out of this. He said this was a failure across the agency, especially when it came to keeping light rail passengers and the public informed on what was happening.

“Clearly, updated protocols must ensure that we don’t allow focus on getting trains moving again to allow riders to go uninformed,” Rogoff said. “Equally clearly, we must look at our procedures for evacuating passengers and educating passengers on safe evacuation procedures and when they are warranted.”

The initial investigation has found that the train operator was so focused on rebooting the train and getting it started again that keeping the passengers informed took a back seat. That is going to change.

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Sound Transit says light rail cable break after Apple Cup unprecedented