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.