Crowded Train

Everyone involved regrets Friday’s rather long Link outage after the Apple Cup. Coming after a major sporting event and shortly after new stations opened, there were probably quite a few new riders who said “never again,” and that’s sad.

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.

With the severed cable preventing the operator from communicating by intercom with passengers in the trailing three cars, an unsafe incident developed when passengers decided to use emergency exits to leave the train.

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. There were no injuries.

Maintenance problems happen. I’m not sure if Sound Transit has a lot of them, or it’s just a matter of Twitter letting us know about each one. I can’t say how ST can improve maintenance procedures.

What I can say, with bitter experience, is that ST does a lousy job of communicating useful information during interruptions. Sydney Brownstone reports ($) that a packed train was left for over 30 minutes with no communication thanks to the severed cable. Rather than figure out a way “to ensure passengers stay onboard the train,” ST should have systems to give passengers useful information.

Let’s start with a simpler scenario. ST will often play an announcement in stations — and on Twitter — that there is a “service disruption”. But there’s no information that enables a rider to make an informed decision. Details almost never follow until service resumes. Will it be a few minutes of delay, or a few hours? Should I take a much slower bus, or wait for the train to resume? As Sound Transit develops experience with these outages, I’d hope that they would be able to apply some guidelines that produce order-of-magnitude estimates and advice on whether to hang tight or make alternate arrangements.

Getting the word out on a train with a severed cable is a harder problem. Redundant systems might help, but in unforeseen situations there is no substitute for improvisation, flexibility, and a commitment to keeping people informed. The driver could have gotten out of their cab and simply addressed each car, explaining the situation and providing instructions to stay. Or simply put something on twitter! A group that feels abandoned will take matters into its own hands, so the first imperative is to not make them feel abandoned.

70 Replies to “For the lack of an announcement”

  1. ST sends out text messages when there is a problem saying that there is service interruption but no details whatsoever on what and where the interruption is so riders have no clue what is going on. Is the entire line stopped or is the interruption just a small part of the line.

    Some years ago I wrote an email to ST about the lack of information in the texts and the response I got back said that they don’t send more information because the interruption may be only for a short period of time. But the riders don’t know that yet with those texts and the lack of information they have to decide what they need to do. Wait and hope that it is just a short interruption or make other transportation arrangements. And of course sometimes the interruptions are for a longer period of time so for ST to hope that they are not is a disservice to its riders.

    The response also came across as arrogant like how dare you question the texts we sent out. Yet I am rider and I do have the right to question them.

    I still get those texts and they are just as bare of information as ever.

  2. Lack of announcements is only one of many problems exposed here. There seemed to be a lack of any planned SOP to respond to a train becoming disabled in the tunnel. I’m also worried that ST is a construction company first and a transit agency second, and this sort of mishap amplifies that perception.

    Hopefully the actual train had more mask wearing than the picture. It’s one thing to be on a train with unmasked people and quite another to be stuck on a train with those people going nowhere.

    1. The picture shows LRV #104, which was NOT part of the incident train. Seattle Transit Blog evidently reached into their historical archive and pulled out a stock picture. The “stuck” train was more fully packed, and was completely dark due to the “severed cable”. #104 is a Kinkisharyo brand vehicle originally purchased in early 2008-2009, and the incident train was one of the new Siemens trains received in just the last two years and would have been numbered 200-series.

      1. It’s a picture from 2009. Note the lack of football attire and absence of masks.

        Apparently they just needed a picture of a crowded train to make their point, so they just grabbed one of the internet. While Martin didn’t technically claim it was a picture from the incident, it sure created a false impression.

        But the internet dies today at 2 pm local time, so I think we have bigger problems ahead than where Martin gets his pics.

  3. I feel for the passengers that were on the train. The train stopping in the middle of the tunnel is a scary experience at best, let alone on a very crowded train where a big chunk of people are likely not regular riders and are unfamiliar with Link.

    And ST’s response really annoys me. The line “an unsafe incident developed when passengers decided to use emergency exits to leave the train” is a mealy-mouthed combination of using passive voice to make ST seem like victims of happenstance and then following that up by putting all the blame on the passengers.

    Sound Transit isn’t alone in the lack of communication when normal service is disrupted. Metro is similarly lousy at communicating. Metro will send a text message saying “Route X is diverted off of Y street due to a blockage”. But won’t providing any details about what the blockage is, how long the diversion is likely to be for, what alternate route the bus is using, or other useful information.

      1. I’m not Larry, but I’ll respond…

        No, it won’t make me not ride Link.

        Yes, it reduces my already low opinion of Sound Transit and their ability to run a transit system.

        From the constantly broken escalators, to the inane announcements in the stations (and lack of train arrival)… I’m going to be very hesitate to vote “Yes” on any future ST ballot measure because, quite frankly, ST is a mess of an organization. And I’ve voted for every measure that’s been put forth.

  4. Thank gawd ST had this incident. It gives everyone on this blog a new cudgel with which to beat ST endlessly. Because the old cudgel of “but the escalators” was getting rather worn out and tiresome.

    But hey, I’m sure ST will figure out just exactly what happened and how to do better next time.

      1. And then what? Ban them from transit so they have to drive? Doesn’t seem like a positive approach.

        And there has been no indication so far that the breakdown was caused by the fans. None. Although I do find it interesting that Link worked just fine for several Husky games prior to this event. The breakdown only occurred when the Cougs were in town?

        Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidence.

      2. I’ve seen some videos and none of the fans that left the train appeared inebriated. The idea that these were just a bunch of drunken fans seems like nothing more than victim blaming. This sort of thing could have happened at 5:15 PM on a Wednesday, and you probably would have gotten the same result. The riders stayed in the car, then after a while figured no help was coming (or it could be hours) and figured they would walk. It was a perfectly rational response, and it worked out fine.

        The idea that they were somehow in grave danger is ridiculous. The train was stuck between UW Station and U-District Station, which means that riders knew they were fairly close to a station. They walked on the same side of the tracks as the stalled train. The only way they could have been hit by a train is if one was traveling on the same tracks, approaching the stalled train, which means it would have been going very slow. Even then it appears there is enough room to avoid a train. It also seems unlikely that any train would go on those tracks, and that they would instead run the train on the other track, allowing people to easily transfer from one train to the other. The system worked (i. e. people were safe) despite the failures.

        If you ride the subways in NYC, you know that delays are common. The operator will make an announcement (heard on every car) giving some sort of estimation for how long the train will be delayed (and why the train is delayed — typically some other train is using the track). I would expect ST to improve the system and enable something like that. It is also possible they already have a system in place, but the operator didn’t use it (i. e. didn’t follow the recommended procedure).

        As our system makes the transition from being mostly about building new lines to using them, this sort of thing will become increasingly important.

      3. @Jim,

        The acting coach for the Huskies during this Apple Cup was a former Coug player. So, yes, he most definitely Couged It.

    1. Yes Lazarus, by all means let’s shrink ST’s circle of friends to exclude STB!

      We endlessly complain about rider communication and vertical conveyances because for over a decade ST has done very little to improve the situation to a standard met by virtually all other transit systems. If they fix the problems, we’ll stop complaining.

      1. “Circle of friends?” That made me chuckle! With friends like STB Sound Transit doesn’t need enemies!

        And I would refer you back to the Seattle Times article that clearly shows that the bulk of escalator issues are actually the result of Metro’s failed maintenance program and not the fault of ST at all.

        Ya, the escalator issues at the new stations are troubling, but why not do some actual informative reporting on the issue instead of just using it as a cudgel?

        Do you want to inform? Or not?

      2. King County’s, not Metro’s. Metro has only enough money for operations, planning, and fleet replacement, not to replace all the DSTT escalators and elevators. All the fixes it did required federal grants, and waiting for federal grants. King County owned the tunnel, and it was the politicians’ job to decide whether to allocate money to replace the escalators and elevators, and what to take it out of, or whether to raise taxes for it. In the last years the county decided to punt it to ST rather than spending money it would get little direct benefit from. That may or may not have been a good idea but it’s at least understandable.

        In any case, comparing broken esclators to a broken communication cable that caused people to be stuck in a tunnel is just nuts.

      3. @Mike Orr,

        And that is exactly why we shouldn’t entrust KC Metro with any large pieces of infrastructure like the DSLRT ever again. Because if they can’t maintain it in good working order, then they simply shouldn’t be in charge.

        And let’s be honest here, maintenance costs and budgets were estimated by KC Metro before the tunnel was even built. Those budget estimates were known before the decision was made to proceed with the project. Now KC Metro might have blown their estimates, or they might have decided later to shift funds to operations, but both of those decisions would be on KC Metro as the supposed experts in the room.

        Additionally, intentionally running something into the ground because the future owner supposedly has deeper pockets is just bad policy. It punishes innocent users in the short term, and drives up total cost in the long run. It is not a good nor informed policy for any government agency to follow.

        And keep in mind, the escalators are just the most visible sign of Metro’s neglect. We don’t really know what other systems in the DSLRT they also neglected.

      4. “why we shouldn’t entrust KC Metro with any large pieces of infrastructure like the DSLRT ever again. Because if they can’t maintain it in good working order, then they simply shouldn’t be in charge.”

        You tell the county council that, and also tell them which program to cut for it or which taxes to raise. Because that’s the issue; it’s a county budget issue, and how the county should prioritize its activities, and what’s the minimum amount of services and revenue that are necessary. It’s not something Metro can just fix out of its administrative fund, otherwise it would have been done decades ago when the escalators first started failing.

        “maintenance costs and budgets were estimated by KC Metro before the tunnel was even built.”

        By King County. It was a county levy that built the tunnel. I don’t know whether there were maintenance cost estimates in the 80s or how the county planned to handle that, or when the process broke down. Many transit capital projects in the US had inadequate ongoing equipment replacement budgets; viz. the New York subway, DC Metro, and BART. Maybe all transit projects did then, and replacement was to be funded by future levies. Link is the first one I’ve heard of that has end-of-life fleet replacement built into the original budget. Anyway, you’d have to ask county officials these questions because we don’t know the answers.

    2. So you think the escalators not working isn’t a problem? I mean, these are brand new stations and we can’t even expect ST to have those working at the start? Man, low bar for ST.

    3. So … STB’s job is to beat Metro endlessly, and pretend ST does not make mistakes. Got it.

      We’ll start by blaming Metro for the Lakewood derailment, the freshman mistake of having side platforms at Mt Baker and TIB, and the loss of the HOV and Mercer Islander express lane. Mercer Island seems to be taking their long-standing feud with ST out on Metro anyway. So, that’s a start.

  5. We were the 5th and 6th people stopped at the top of the escalators at Husky Stadium station to wait before entering after this event apparently occurred (this is not uncommon so that they can clear the platforms – it usually means a couple of minutes’ wait). The wait dragged on and on; the poor ST security person holding us had no idea what was happening. She continually tried to get information from someone as to what was actually occurring so that she could give us the information as well. Eventually people started trickling up from the platforms and telling those of us waiting that “a northbound train was stuck”. Still nothing from ST – these people were seeing this on Twitter feeds (not ST’s). People continued to wait, not knowing if ST could run trains to Husky Stadium and use the crossover tracks to turn back southbound as had been done until the Northgate extension opened – if so, SB passengers could still leave.

    At some point, 10-15 minutes later, another ST staffer came up from the platform level and talked to the woman at our entrance – but apparently with no real info as she still couldn’t tell us anything. Around this time someone downstairs either made an announcement or everyone just decided to leave the station – but still no station announcement about anything that was going on. Maybe 5 minutes after that, someone got word to our ST staffer that the system had shut down and we needed to find alternate ways home. Even this was not announced on the PA system or shown on the screens – the few of us that could hear her passed the information back to the hundreds of people still waiting.

    During this entire time the PA loudspeakers and TV monitors were in clear view of us; neither was ever used at any point to inform anyone of anything even in a cursory fashion. This type of event would seem to be precisely why these systems were installed, yet nothing. Front line staffers were left without the information to do their jobs – clearly frustrating for them as they wanted to help us but couldn’t.

    I was the first to give kudos to the agency when they kept the system running late the day of the lighting storm-delayed game – the UW was able to make announcements assuring us that Link was going to be able to get us home even though it was 1:30am when the game ended. This, however, was a failure at every possible level. Lol at anyone trying to say otherwise.

  6. Look, we’re all armchair quarterbacks here and I’m a transit geek who doesn’t even live in Seattle, but it seems to me that Sound Transit’s response to the whole situation should be a “lessons learned” experience. Let’s look at it from the trapped passenger’s point of view:
    1) When the communication line broke, the train probably stopped much more abruptly than normal.
    2) Between stations, on a packed train: uncomfortable, to say the least in the best of circumstances. Add on the presence of a pandemic, and the desire to get the hell out of there would be overwhelming.
    3) No communication of any kind to the trailing cars. Did the train operator know this, and if so, should he have left his cab to notify the passengers of what’s going on?
    4) It’s not clear to me why walking to an emergency exit was an unreasonable thing to do, given the unknown nature of the situation. The train wasn’t going anywhere and was protecting the track ahead anyway. Once people started evacuating, should the operator have then managed their exit in the safest way possible?

    Managing crowds in the event of a train failure shouldn’t be an unexpected problem. It happened before in Vancouver, and the passengers attempted to exit to arguably much more dangerous condition. The Skytrain track was 25 feet in the air, it’s powered by a 3rd rail, and the automated train could have restarted at any time.

  7. The passengers on the train were in no danger staying on the train, unless they feared for their safety from the other fans. They were uncomfortable.

    From watching that Twitter timeline, it was approximately 10 minutes and then someone decided to push buttons. And only 10 or so minutes before the ‘leaders’ in the crowd decided they knew better and left the train.

    As stated in the other thread, it proves that the design for emergency egress works.

    What they did however was cause the inconvenience of every other rider in that segment of Link.

    With passengers in the tunnel, Sound Transit had no choice but to shut everything down, in order to clear the tunnel. They weren’t going to take the chance of someone being where they weren’t supposed to be.

    Operations could have continued in the other tunnel, but instead everyone was inconvenienced a lot longer than need.

    Frankly, because of a few self-centered fans (and I’ve been looking at that Twitter feed, yeah, I see mostly White guys!), everyone had to deal with the situation a lot longer than needed.

    Fortunately, that was the worst outcome of this.

    1. The whole system had to shut down because people ignorantly used the cross-passage and went to the active tube for trains traveling full speed in the other direction, rather than walk in the same tube the direction they came from, or better yet, wait for direction from the operator regarding a rescue train.
      The operator of the train knew exactly what she was doing, as she was a fully trained test operator on the new Siemens trains, and knew exactly what to troubleshoot in order to attempt to get the train moving with minimal help from the radio communication she had from her portable radio with the control center.
      Without a public address system, do you spend time wandering through the four-car train endlessly repeating yourself for passengers that can’t hear you about what might possibly be wrong with the train? Or do you do your job as an operator in coordination with the Link Control Center and Vehicle Maintainance and troubleshoot the problem in an attempt to get the train moving as quickly as possible? I know what I was trained to do as a Rail Operator.

      1. The whole system had to shut down because people ignorantly used the cross-passage and went to the active tube for trains traveling full speed in the other direction

        Are you sure about that? My understanding is that the train got stuck between the UW and the U-District. This is a relatively short distance, and I don’t imagine the train gets up to full speed between there. It also looks like they exited on the outside of the train. This means they would be walking next to the train tracks that contained the disabled train. To get to the other side they would have to cross the tracks, which seems unnecessary.

        Oh, and wasn’t the system shut down both directions anyway? Were they running trains the other direction, even though they had no idea why the train was stopped? I have no idea — I’m just thinking that with an abundance of caution, that would be the approach to take.

        According to the Seattle Times:

        Transit employees and King County Sheriff’s Office deputies moved the remaining passengers inside the stuck cars to a rescue train that then moved at a slow speed through the tunnel.

        This means the train wasn’t “fixed”. It didn’t just start going again. The entire system had to be shut down, in order to operate the rescue car. I’m not convinced that the people who left by foot caused any delay at all. Either way the rescue car is going to go slowly through the tunnel, as whatever caused the disabled car (e. g. debris) could cause problems the other direction. At worst it meant the rescue car ran at 5 MPH instead of 20 MPH, for the relatively short distance between stations. The transfer time (from the disable train to the rescue train) was reduced, which means it was probably a wash, time wise.

        I get why ST doesn’t want people to use the emergency system. It is like using the fire escape just to save some time. That’s not what it is there for. People could slip, and hurt themselves. But it sure doesn’t sound like much harm was done — it is more that something bad could happen.

      2. @RossB,

        Speed between UWS and UDS are lower anyhow to reduce vibrations on sensitive research instruments at various UW laboratories, but I’m sure train speeds would be further reduced to a crawl until ST could verify that the tunnel was clear of peds. That just seems prudent.

        Regarding passengers opening the cross passage doors to the adjacent tracks, I don’t know why they would do that. It certainly doesn’t shorten the walk distance to the next station – both tracks go to the same place!

        My only thought is that maybe they thought the cross passages led to the surface. If so, then maybe one of the lessons learned here is that the cross passage labeling needs to be updated to indicate they don’t go to the surface.

        And Link LRV’s are not buses. They have doors on both sides. I’ve never checked, but I can’t imagine that ST wouldn’t put both walkways on the left side of the vehicle in the predominate running direction (I.e., the “center” side). That way peds and maintenance workers can move from tube to tube without getting off the walkways and crossing the tracks.

      3. @Lazarus — I think we are the same page here. I looked at some more video, and it sure looks like the passengers never crossed the tracks. They went to the outside of the train, which meant that even if ST was running the trains going the other direction (and my guess is they weren’t) and even if those trains were going fast (which they never do) they were in no danger of being next to a train, let alone hit by one.

        ST’s recommendation are prudent, but only out of an abundance of caution. For example, someone could have got bit by a rat, or slipped and got hurt. But as it turns out, everyone got out safely, because they were taking obvious precautions.

      4. OK, thanks to Mike Lindblom at the Seattle Times ( we have some more information. John was right — some people did use the cross-passage. I have no idea why. Maybe they just didn’t want to be stuck in the crowds, or thought it lead to a faster way out. The train was 1,000 feet from the UW station, which is where everyone walked.

        Immediately after the northbound stall, a dispatcher held southbound Train 5 at U District Station, then told the operator to proceed. She traveled slowly and carefully enough to prevent a crash. She stopped at cross passage 23 after noticing people coming out of the cross passage. She was told to stop there. Eventually, Train 5 became a rescue train, and carried some stranded riders at low speed back to UW Station.

        I’m still a bit ignorant as to the layout of the system. There are two tunnels at that point, each with a track and a walkway. Presumably the walkways are on the same side as the adjoining tunnels, which means that people who used the cross-passage didn’t cross over any tracks. While I think it was pretty stupid to use the cross-passage, it doesn’t seem as stupid as crossing over the railroad tracks. It also sounds to me like the rescue operation involved walking to the cross passage tunnel (but under the supervision of officials). Correct me if I’m wrong with any of this.

        The system worked from a safety standpoint. While there was some danger involved, I think in this case it was minimal. They alerted the southbound train immediately after the stoppage. Then it proceeded slowly. Even if it reached its normal top speed (35 MPH) it wouldn’t have been going that fast 1,000 feet from the station (it would be slowing down by then). Even if it was going fast, for someone to get hurt they would have had to cross over to the other tunnel, trip and fall onto the tracks, and then not get back on the platform before being hit by the oncoming train. That seems like a very unlikely combination of bad events. With all of the mistakes or flaws in the system, it is clear to me that it would have been much more dangerous to be in a car, or walking along the road. The Link system is pretty damn safe — I wish (in America) they cared as much about the safety on the roads (

    2. The passengers on the train were in no danger staying on the train

      How do you know that? Was every passenger tested for Covid? We are still in the middle of a pandemic, and the more time you spend around people, the higher the risk. Masks aren’t perfect and neither are vaccines.

      It was approximately 10 minutes and then someone decided to push buttons.

      Sounds reasonable. Ten minutes is a long time to be stuck on a subway train without an announcement, even in New York. Our trains don’t typically have delays like that (there is only one track). Something went terribly wrong, and that was obvious long before ten minutes.

      And only 10 or so minutes before the ‘leaders’ in the crowd decided they knew better and left the train.

      Knew better than whom? There was no announcement. There was no reason for people on the train to assume a fix was forthcoming. What if there was an earthquake, and the city is in a triage situation, with hundreds dead and thousands needing emergency care and the entire system shut down. Should they wait hours for a public official to press the button, and escort them out (using the same walkway)? If they disobeyed the recommendations then it would be one thing. But there were no recommendations, no announcements, nothing. It was quite reasonable for them to assume the worst (i. e. it would be hours before they get help, and the help might consist of them doing exactly what they ended up doing, but with a proper escort).

      With passengers in the tunnel, Sound Transit had no choice but to shut everything down

      Everything was shut down because of the disabled train. It isn’t clear whether this added a significant amount of delay.

      What they did was cause the inconvenience of every other rider in that segment of Link.

      Oh no! People were inconvenienced. You don’t think it is inconvenient to be stuck on a train for who knows how long? At some point, you just want to get the hell out of there. Anyone who even an inkling of claustrophobia finds it miserable. Not inconvenient, but miserable. Worse than a root canal.

      Again, this is more victim blaming. The people on the train acted rationally, and made the best out of a bad situation. I would have done the same. Any inconvenience is the fault of ST, and no one else. I’m not trying to attack ST. In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t the end of the world. It is isn’t the first shut down, nor will it be the last. But it is clearly the responsibility of ST to maintain the trains, and deal with situations like this in an orderly fashion. They failed, which caused the delay.

      I see mostly White guys!

      News Flash: Seattle is very white. Just the other day I was riding the train north of the ship canal, looking at a fairly full train car, and I didn’t see one black person. I was thinking #SeattleSoWhite, but then I paused a second and thought #AndAsian. Seattle really isn’t that white, of course, so maybe it is just a case of the demographics on the train north of the canal. We do have a lot of mixed race people, of course (second only to Honolulu if I’m not mistaken) and more black and Latino people than you would guess by being on the train. Regardless, I don’t think it would make any difference. People on a similar train in a similar situation in Atlanta or D. C. would likely have done the same thing. Of course people then would be making racist statements about what is fundamentally an American, if not universal trait. When the system breaks down, you take matters into your own hands. The people on the train acted rationally and responsibly, even if they didn’t follow ST’s (unannounced, unknown) procedures.

      1. What would people be saying if everyone stayed on the stalled train, and the following train crashed into it? Everyone would be saying, why were they just standing there in a dark, broken-down train? What did they think the emergency doors and the tunnel sidewalk is for?

    3. Re: “What they did however was cause the inconvenience of every other rider in that segment of Link.”

      No riders were going anywhere until power was restored to trains in that segment, in any case.

      No word on whether any decision could have been made to single-track trains and bypass the stranded train, but sending a rescue train in would have complicated that greatly in the first place.

      But these trains, presumably, were running on a 10-minute headway or less. They already have an operator on board. Seems like many opportunities to empty the forward-most train and send it over were missed. Or to send a train from up north and mount a cross-tunnel egress.

      Of course, the operator of the disabled train would have been crucial to communicate this all much more quickly to the crush-capacity train cars behind him.

  8. Maintenance issues are inevitable, whether minor or severe. Those are easy to fix. What’s not easy is changing the culture of communication within Sound Transit. Just look at the current ride alerts: they’re vague and the delivery is clunky. The reader boards at each station are useless and station announcements are excessive, thus making the message ineffective.

    ST doesn’t need to learn from this lesson alone but rather adopt I completely new mindset on how to communicate with customers.

  9. While this can be seen as a major communications failure, it can also be seen as a test of the emergency exit system. It worked well. Everyone who decided to exit the train got out just fine. If I was on the train, I likely would have done the same thing, and been happy that such an option was available (even though in this case it wasn’t necessary). But at some point, it might be. For example, if there is an earthquake, they might have to close down everything, and ask everyone to exit every train. Getting people off of the trains would likely be low on the priority list, depending on the amount of damage. I’m reminded of what a former FEMA official said (and I’m paraphrasing from memory). It is more important to create a system that allows people to rescue themselves, rather than create a system that can rescue everyone. Our light rail system enables that, which is a good thing.

  10. Neither the control center, nor the operator, voiced concern with riders walking in the tunnel. Someone named Stan posted the communication between the Link operator and the Link control center. When the operator told the control center the emergency doors were open and riders were walking in the tunnel, the control center didn’t tell the operator to warn everyone to not walk in the tunnel, and to remain onboard. The focus of their conversations and concern was checking various circuit breakers.

    1. Which just shows that it was a reasonable thing to do. If we had a third rail, you can bet your ass they would have told people to stay on the train. But there is a safe exit path, and people used it.

  11. The problem is ST thinking it’s OK to leave passengers on a stuck train with no information. If ST didn’t want a hundred passengers evacuating in the tunnel, why didn’t it have one train operator walking in the tunnel to tell the passengers in each car what was going on and what ST was doing about it? Saying the passengers created an unsafe incident misses the point. The unsafe incident was a stuck train in a tunnel whose inter-car communication didn’t work. And yesterday’s comments in the open thread said the HVAC didn’t work either, in the middle of a pandemic, when it was essential to get fresh air.

    1. Thank you for being direct about the core problem, Mike! There are multiple ways to get info to stuck passengers. Clearly, ST needs better procedures.

    2. Exactly. People wouldn’t believe people are sitting on a train for an hour when all the lights are not. If that’s not a reason for evacuation it’s hard to imagine what is.

  12. This is obviously an incredible failure of planning in regards to communication and passenger management. While they may have a plan for how to retrieve stuck trains, ST clearly didn’t think through what passengers would do if communication broke down in the tunnel.

    One twitter thread summarized about 45 minutes of ST radio communications, and clear the operator (who sounded feminine, so assuming a male operator is probably wrong) had no idea what happened and initially couldn’t “key off,” meaning the train was “on” but the power was out. I would be freaked out too if at any point, power could return to my train while it was keyed to full speed. I doubt the operators are suggested to leave their booths, either, since power could have returned at any time until they figured out the source of the problem. However, I doubt operators are trained in maintenance, so it’s doubtful they could have done anything about it anyways. Although there are many things ST could have done to communicate to riders elsewhere in the system, I have a hard time figuring out what the operator could have reasonably or safely done to communicate to the passengers in the affected cars.

    Regarding communication to rest of the system, an easy solution would be to include waking up the social media director and getting whoever’s online at the time to say something, anything! I’m not a social media manager, but I am terminally online so here’s 277 characters that are better than anything ST put out: “A northbound train has lost power between UW and U-District Stations. A rescue train has been sent retrieve passengers from the stopped train. Trains will be single-tracking until the tracks are cleared. We do not currently have an estimate as to when full service will resume.” Bam.

    Then, their social media and transit alerts manager should have coordinated to get updates from whatever the response team was to translate the situation to frequent (15 minute minimum) updates.

    All ST has to do is do better than the competing transportation systems, and they have to do better than the mediocre service alerts provided by KCM and WSDOT. Actually, WSDOT’s social media team in Seattle is rather good when major disruptions happen on their roadways, so maybe that’s the minimum standard ST should be trying to meet.

    Do better than WSDOT. It’s not that hard.

    1. Agreed fully re the social media aspect – TBH it wasn’t that late so perhaps waking them up wouldn’t have been necessary. ;-) It would make sense that someone on ST staff should have authority/be tasked to tweet/post at least pre-approved messages like the one you wrote once approved (if they’re a manager they potentially wouldn’t even need approval).

      However, the exact same message should have also been broadcast over the PA system as well as displayed on the screens where possible (like at Husky Stadium). I assume there is someone on duty at any time who is able to handle emergency messages, and that person should have been able to get these messages out directly to the in-station notification systems. Otherwise, what’s their point?

    2. The inability of the operator to trouble-shoot the mechanical issue, and the fact it was on a de facto holiday suggests another possible contributing factor: substitute operators. She might not have had much experience with a Siemens train.

      Having a substitute engineer on the inaugural and final run of that Talgo trainset that fell onto I-5 was a contributing factor in the Amtrak disaster.

      It will be interesting to find out if a lack of sufficient operator training contributed to the Apple Cup mess.

  13. I see this incident as indicative of when a transit operating agency fails. I’m not yet convinced that ST is seen in political circles (and seen by senior staff) as primarily an operator rather than primarily a builder. The very hiring of Rogoff is indicative of a board attitude about what’s most important to them about leading the agency as he has never run a system (and to be clear he hadn’t built one either).

    What I hope doesn’t happen is a year+ study to assess the incident that results in no changes to communications or agency procedures and specs. I kind of feel that this happened in the ongoing escalator and elevator service crisis (and that exists at stations which ST built). And the ultimate solution — escalator/ elevator redundancy when building new stations — is still not touted.

    Many stations opening by 2024 will be used by important people typically more vocal than college students or immigrants. Trains and ridership will almost be tripling by then. If ST doesn’t get a resolution to the communications failures in the current system, the political burden on the entire executive team and board will be overwhelming by 2025 or 2026.

    As have said before, ST needs an executive director who knows how to run a light rail system and can break through the tacit senior employee perspective that there is nothing wrong and few day-to-day operating issues to worry about.

  14. Did you hear the one about the onboard displays showing the wrong stations? A few times this year I’ve been on Link and the “Next Station” announcements were the ones it passed three stations ago. This week as I was going from SODO to Capitol Hill, the sign wasn’t only slow, it was going in the wrong direction.

    This has been happening on the First Hill Streetcar for a few years, but now it’s spread to Link. I wonder if it’s the same problem that makes the next-arrival displays inaccurate (and why they’re currently turned off).

    Hopefully visitors can find their way around in spite of misleading station announcements. At least it gets the train destination right. I don’t think I’ve seen “Angle Lake” on a Northgate train or vice-versa, but I might have at some point.

    1. That station slippage (I think it was advancing two stations in its count for each station) happened on a train I was on, too.

      The operator got on the loudspeaker and told everyone to ignore the next-station graphics, and he just announced each station.

  15. They could also learn from the experience of other major systems in the US and elsewhere (BART in the SF Bay Area, Metro (Washington DC), New York, Boston, The Tube in London and Le Metro in Paris, among others) of what to do in these situations.

  16. An important baseline fact in the analysis of the stuck train incident for Sound Transit’s Link Light rail service on Friday evening November 26 is that all the action of that evening — train control, interaction with passengers, and so on — was carried out by personnel from King County Metro Rail Division which operates the service under contract for Sound Transit. This is a division of Metro that also operates the two Seattle Streetcar lines. The size of the Light Rail Division can be seen in the roster of its employees posted on the public internet at A posted announcement of the 2019 renewal of the contract between Sound Transit and KC Metro to operate light rail is described and celebrated at

    Another baseline piece of information on the Apple Cup incident is the posted audio recording of the radio communication among the various KC Metro employees on duty that evening. It takes more than three hours to listen to and interpret what is recorded across multiple simultaneous channels from 8:15 PM to 11:15 PM, but that will be key for ST and KCM in understanding the sequence of what happened. That recording is at,60080&time=1637987400000
    I have listened to some of it and from what I heard I hold the opinion that KC Metro did an admirable job in keeping Sound Transit customers safe. This would be especially true IF the ST-KCM investigation determines that a transfer of a full load of passengers from one train to another on the emergency cross passages between tubes — the rescue Train 5 coming south from Northgate in the southbound tube — and then taking rescued passengers who walked between the two tubes in the same northbound direction the busted Train 6 was going — wasn’t ever practiced in a rehearsal drill. I don’t know one way or the other if it ever was. It was a beautiful operation, really! Radio traffic indicates two supervisors walked down to the event from UW Station to assist. Some letters of commendation should be issued, unless there are troubling aspect of this I’m not picking up from not being there. I heard nothing except people doing their jobs.

    If as a passenger on board Train 6 you didn’t want to wait for this uncertain, unannounced operation and decided to walk down the tunnel back to UW on your own, I totally get it. That’s what I would have done. Given the general confusion, and lack of communication to passengers, who would have assumed that this rescue train transfer would be achieved?

    What I’m hoping to see come out of the investigation to come.
    1. Why did that critical cable on Train 6 become detached or break or whatever happened?
    2. Can independent emergency voice communications from a train operator to all passengers be made reliable and independent of all other train systems, and protocols established for what operators are to say in a variety of circumstances?
    3. Can systems and protocols be established for system-wide communications to all light rail passengers in all locations — on trains, on platforms, on e-messaging channels to anybody interested in knowing — about train operating status? The two alert emails sent out that were echoed in two Tweets, “1 Line is experiencing service delays due to a mechanical issue” at 10:01 pm that evening, and then “The 1 Line has resumed normal operation at all stations” at 11:16 pm were inadequate to say the least.

    1. “If as a passenger on board Train 6 you didn’t want to wait for this uncertain, unannounced operation and decided to walk down the tunnel back to UW on your own, I totally get it. That’s what I would have done. Given the general confusion, and lack of communication to passengers, who would have assumed that this rescue train transfer would be achieved?”

      Well, the next time I get a little uncomfortable or impatient on a train, I think I’ll start punching buttons and taking the initiative. I mean, does it matter that I don’t have a fucking clue how to behave
      around active train tracks?

      How dare I be inconvenienced!

      I hate traffic jams.

    2. A reader called me this morning (Monday) to say she was in the rear train and people around her did wait a full hour to be escorted by transit staff through the cross passage into Train 5. She was shocked to hear from me that riders up front were panicking and one person verbally bullied the train operator (which folks can hear in certain dispatch recordings). She described her pleasant chat with younger riders. So there are some more nuances to the story.

      1. Nuances, yes! I may not be getting an accurate time line from my interpretation of the recorded audio radio messages, although I’m not willing to retract anything I already concluded. At this point in time, after four hours listening to the recordings and thinking I had a mental picture of what happened, I’m going to stand down on analyzing this event further and wait for the official review. I do hope there are outside critical reviewers of the Apple Cup Incident who are not employed by or otherwise compensated by Sound Transit, such as FTA or NTSB. There are important safety implications for improving response to tunnel incidents and for that matter any incidents where trains stall and passengers need to evacuate.

      2. My concern is the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in efforts to solve the problem with passengers putting themselves in a potentially deadly situation.

        Whatever strong reactions I have to some of the passengers’ behavior is somewhat tempered by the revelation (if true), that if there were people vomiting in my train car I’d be thinking of a quick exit. Fresh air/emergency venting/air movement tied into the emergency lighting is a good start.

        Just remember, Customer indignation and righteousness will not save you if you occupy the same space as a moving train.

        “I’m going to stand down on analyzing this event further and wait for the official review.”

        Good idea.

  17. Even when the intercom cables aren’t severed you still can’t hear the announcement. Happened to me last week on Thanksgiving Eve and then again to a friend today.

  18. Hello all, I was a passenger on this train.
    One thing I’d like to mention is that the train cars do not have any vent windows that can be opened. This meant that as soon as the train stopped the car started to get hot and humid from all the riders. Windows fogged over. knowing that you are in a sealed car in a tunnel starts to make people claustrophobic. The urge to open the doors just to get fresh air was strong. A passenger 3ft from me had a panic attack and was screaming about needing to break the windows to get fresh air. Luckily a couple of nurses were in our car and were able to find him some water and calm him down.

    Everyone in our car exited onto the tunnel walkway and walked down to a cross passage to the other tunnel where a waiting train took us to the u district station.

    1. Fil: Question about your walk to the rescue train after going through the cross passage: was a supervisor there to assist you in either tunnel tube? The radio traffic I heard suggests that two supervisors did walk from UW station to the trains, one in each tunnel, and did assist. I think these would be KC Metro employees from the Rail Division, but I could be wrong about that … maybe they are Sound Transit employees.
      My working hypothesis is that zero Sound Transit employees were working that Friday evening except for whomever entered the two @SoundTransit status report Tweets, one at 10:01 pm and one later at 11:16 pm. To aid in the investigation that has already begun, I urge anybody riding the northbound Train 6 that failed to contact ST and give permission to be interviewed by investigators.

      1. Why the distinction between “KC Metro employees from the Rail Division” and ST employees? There are ST employees on duty 24/7, but all the relevant trained personnel who would be responding in person to an incident like this would be KCM employees because that is how Link’s labor force is constructed. For day-to-day Link Operations, ST staff do little more than set contract parameters and audit performance.

      2. AJ’s comments reflect something I brought up in a previous post and prior posts. ST has never, to this day, been an operating agency. We’re changing now that Link is crossing county lines and expanding. Should there be a new or different operations responsibility. It’s filling the same role as WSF but that agency is in a world of hurt.

      3. From the public perspective, ST is responsible. Contracting out personnel does not absolve them from accountability. If anything, the branding by ST demonstrates their desire to take full credit and blame about what happens on Link. They can’t expect to get credit for all the good things but not take blame for any bad thing.

        I’ll even add that the CEO needs more operational experience if the operations are handled by others. Otherwise, they don’t have the nuanced skills to oversee operations that others do.

      4. ST was also the agency that got really dragged in the Surface Transportation Board report on the DuPont Amtrak derailment. It’s their line and were supposed to be overseeing its operation. The fact that operation over it was approved even though the correct signal system had yet to be started (which was part of the approval to start operation over the line) was blamed on their extremely hands-off management.

        If that wasn’t a wake up
        call, I’m not sure what will be.

  19. I’m reminded of a poor performing new GM car I owned from 1985-88. It had so many failures — window slid into the door as I was driving, turn signal bar just broke off one day, injectors would clog and the engine would die at any moment on the freeway, finally threw a rod after the oil leaked out — that I swore I would never buy GM again. I still haven’t. My support for GM cars was high in 1985 and was destroyed in just three years.

    I mention this anecdote because too many incidents like these can quickly sour any support for an ST4. No amount of PR will convince a majority of the public to expand a light rail system that has too many incidents like this. This failure comes after the escalator debacles and how ST unsatisfyingly reacted to that (year-long study that recommended changing escalators to stairs). I think that ST must simply reform its approach to communications as well as system failures or they can kiss future revenue measures good bye.

    No amount of pretty station sketches and slick system diagrams can overcome any perception of an unreliable system involving any part of ST. The scars can hurt an agency for years and even decades. If ST wants to have any public support for more funding, they must believing that the opposition comes from “transit-hating” outsiders and realize that their very operations reputation is ultimately what’s going to be judged first.

    1. American cars where shoddily built in the 1970s and into the 80s, riding the reputation of the most powerful nation on earth, and to incentivize people to buy new cars every three years to increase profits. Then Japanese carmakers came along and ate their bacon. Since then American carmakers have partnered with Japanese and European ones and adopted some of their techniques.

      “No amount of PR will convince a majority of the public to expand a light rail system that has too many incidents like this.”

      The public has already approved plans to triple the light rail network that will take at least twenty years to complete. Some people think ST is already strategically planning for ST4, but I don’t believe it. They’ve got so much on their plate now, and work for a generation. By the time ST4 comes around it will be a different generation of boardmembers with possibly different ideas.

      Before ST3 there was a concrete goal: Everett Station, Tacoma Dome, and downtown Redmond. But it remained in the vague far future until Mike McGinn got a bug in his bicycle about a Ballard-downtown line and paid ST to accelerate its study and add a study of a Westlake streetcar corridor that Seattle would build. This got the other boardmembers to start thinking that ST3 didn’t have to be in the vague 2020s but could happen now. The 522 corridor was keen on a BRT line; Issaquah’s mayor was posessed by an Issaquah line; and Snohomish, Pierce, and South King wanted their Spine completed. That’s all what accelerated ST3, otherwise the board would have kept putting it off.

      When ST proposed a 15-year plan, the overwhelming public response was more, so they extended it to 25 years to complete the Spine and get Ballard and Issaquah in. (The extensions to Everett College and Tacoma Mall I didn’t hear until later, so I think they were last-minute ideas.) So ST3 includes much of what was previously expected to be in ST4.

      So suggesting that ST already has concrete plans and an election date for ST4 sound premature. Unless you think they’re doing for themselves what McGinn did for them in 2012. There’s no sign of that, or any concrete picture of what ST4 might include. With the Spine as originally envisioned completed, the suburban subareas may lose interest in another large package.

      The only thing we know is the corridor studies in ST3 (the same kind that McGinn accelerated). I don’t remember them offhand, but Snohomish has said its top priority is an extension to Everett College, Pierce’s priority is an extension to Tacoma Mall, and South King’s priority is an extension of West Seattle Link to Burien and Renton. North King has a few possibilities but none has gained a clear majority or an official champion. East King has nothing concrete, just a vague idea of serving Kirkland somehow. Or with its newfound equity emphasis it might support the Burien-Renton extension, since Renton is now the second-largest East King city. But there’s been no public discussion of when or how these might happen, and I doubt there’s been much private discussion either.

      1. Perhaps I should have called it ST3 Extra rather than ST4. We won’t be able to build ST3 as evolved without more public funds.

        I’d also note that there have been many recent efforts to find new revenue sources for ST expansion in the past year. I think we have enough projects for now (like you), but there are many transit advocates that want to create more taxes to expand ST beyond ST3.

        It’s important to understand though that Link is comparatively going from a hopeful young person with a bright future to a middle-aged person who is expected to produce. How Link performs on the job is going to increasingly be what people consider rather than what interesting degree they are earning in college.

      2. What transit advocates want and what ST boardmembers and cities want is often different. Building anything requires agreement by the latter.

        Link is already performing. It became much more popular with U-Link and Northgate Link. Ridership numbers may not match projections (which were inevitably guesses), but the stations north of Westlake are busy all day and most and the trains well-populated.

      3. Before ST3 there was the long range plan established in 2014. The Spine was the aspect of that plan most familiar with both the public and the politicians, but other key projects like HCT on SR 522, along I90 to Issaquah, and along 405 between Burien and Lynnwood are clearly documented in the LRP. Even projects like Pacific BRT and commuter rail to Ortig are in the 2014 LRP as potential projects.

        Similarly, the ST3 corridor studies are all in the 2014 LRP. Those are indeed likely to be the cornerstone projects for ST4, partially because of the pre-work done under ST3 but mostly because if they are politically important enough to be corridor studies in ST3, they are likely to be politically important enough a whenever ST4 is pulled together.

        “Some people think ST is already strategically planning for ST4, but I don’t believe it.” I agree. There are certainly some people in ST thinking thoughtfully about the future, but there is definitely no systemic strategic planning occurring for what the system could look like post 2040. I think ST is appropriately waiting for the ST2 segments to get into operation first and review the data on how those segments preform before even beginning to think about investments in 2040~2050.

      4. ST can extend the taxes forever until it completes all voter-approved projects, so it doesn’t need supplemental money for that. What it wants supplemental money for is to speed up those projects (all post-2024 projects) and to expand their scope (the Ballard and West Seattle tunnels). I could see a possible ST3.1 adjustment at some point but I don’t see it on the horizon now. The most likely vote would be to simply extend the debt ceiling. The problem is so many simultaneous construction activities in the 2028-2033ish timeframe that the bills hit the ceiling. That forces some of those activities to be delayed to ramain under the ceiling.

        I’ve thought all along that a future board might have a 3.1 to make sensible changes like replacing Issaquah Link with BRT and deleting the Tacoma 19th Avenue project. It seems to me like those project were scheduled last because it was obvious they were the least-justified projects and might get chopped at the end.

  20. Is there a map somewhere of the underground tracks, cross passages, etc? It would be helpful to help visualize this.

  21. Can ST (or someone) explain why stopping in the tunnel is the right response to the loss of the inter-car data link? Was that really better than letting the train “limp” to the next station where the passengers could safely exit onto a platform?

  22. The severed cable is fundamental to the train’s operation.
    The complete on-record explanation from the Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff posted on December 4th is here:
    Quoting Rogoff:
    “The train experienced a near complete severing of its train line cable. This is the thick cable controlling most key functions of the train, including normal braking and propulsion systems as well as doors and lighting.
    “The train brakes immediately deployed after the cable was severed, and the lights went out in the cars, leaving only tunnel ceiling lighting for illumination.”
    Read the complete post for more detail on the incident.

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