SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Bay Area commuters faced overcrowded trains, travel delays and other inconveniences for the second time in two weeks Thursday due to a mysterious electrical problem affecting the region’s rail transit system.
Bay Area Rapid Transit officials said 50 of their train cars — twice as many as originally estimated — were damaged by unexplained power surges Wednesday.
The voltage spikes took out another 80 BART cars at the beginning of the month, but in a different segment of the system.
BART engineers have not been able to determine what’s causing the problem, and outside experts are being flown in to evaluate, system spokeswoman Alicia Trost said.
“What’s occurring is that when a train is traveling over that section of track, it experiences a high spike in voltage and that is damaging a piece of the propulsion equipment on the train car,” Trost said.
The Thursday evening commute from downtown San Francisco was expected to be just as frustrating, if not more so, she said.
There is speculation the glitch might be age-related since all the damaged train cars are of the same vintage, Trost said. So far, officials think the issue is mechanical, not the result of deliberate tampering or other human causes, she said.
“No one has indicated that, but because of the fact we haven’t gotten to the bottom of the root cause, I don’t know,” she said.
The electrical surges are burning out critical components and putting cars that typically carry over 200 passengers apiece during peak commute hours out of commission.
That has made BART trains even more crowded than usual and left some people in downtown Oakland standing on station platforms as packed trains passed them by.
System officials said the electrical problems don’t pose a danger to passengers.
Unlike the power problems that led to an unprecedented 29-hour shutdown of the subway system in the nation’s capital this week, the issues with BART have caused no electrical fires, Trost said.
The latest surges happened on a section of track that links two BART stations more than 30 miles east of downtown San Francisco.
The segment was shut down Thursday and was likely to remain so Friday to avoid any damage to other cars, Trost said.
Bus service was established to ferry passengers who needed to get to the two affected stations