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What went wrong on Link after the Apple Cup and what we’re doing to ensure it never happens again

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I recently updated the Sound Transit Rider Experience & Operations Committee on what we know about the incident following the Apple Cup on Nov. 26 that caused a considerable disruption of Link light rail service. I want to share what we know directly with our riders.

A northbound light rail train with hundreds of post-game fans abruptly lost power in the tunnel between the University of Washington and U District stations, causing a series of events that we never want to repeat.   

As I did before the committee, I want to start by apologizing to everyone impacted by this episode — especially those passengers on the disabled train.

It is our fault passengers were put in that position.

Some passengers were understandably frightened by the incident, and their frustration was shared by many others who did not receive timely information about what was happening.

I have charged Sound Transit’s internal auditor with investigating all aspects of what went wrong that evening.

Those issues span a multitude of Sound Transit departments, as well as our oversight of the King County Metro personnel who operate and maintain our Link light rail service.

Here is a more detailed overview of what occurred and the subsequent steps we’re taking.

At 8:21 p.m., a relatively full northbound train became disabled in the tunnel approximately 1,000 feet north of the University of Washington Station.

The train came to an abrupt stop that was undoubtedly jolting to passengers.

Although it took a significant amount of time to determine the cause, what happened was unprecedented.

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.

The operator, who did not have any way to know what had happened, immediately began troubleshooting the failure with the assistance of the Link Control Center.

We deeply regret the communications passengers received over the intercom were entirely insufficient. While the operator tried several times to restart the train systems, many train functions, including the intercoms, were unavailable or unreliable during and after the system reboots.

Due to the lack of communication, a number of passengers used emergency evacuation mechanisms on the train doors to self-evacuate the train.

Staff executed emergency protocols to stop the operations of Link trains through the area to protect passengers.

Sound Transit deployed a rescue train that slowly travelled through the southbound tunnel to pick up stranded passengers. Other passengers walked to the University of Washington, and possibly, the U District stations on their own.

The process of ensuring all passengers had been evacuated from the tunnel so that operations could safely resume took about 75 minutes.

Service from the University of Washington northward was fully restored at 11:58 p.m. after the disabled train was removed.

Trains continued running south of the University of Washington, with some delays.

Throughout this process, it was not only the people on the train who did not receive sufficient information, but all passengers trying to use the Link system that night, especially north of UW.

While we await the findings of the auditor’s thorough investigation, we have learned some initial and important lessons from this event:

  • Our staff focused too much on finding and fixing what was wrong with the train and not enough on keeping riders informed. We must ensure service resumption does not compromise passenger communications.
  • Many people waiting at stations and on other trains didn’t know what was happening, which is unacceptable. We must improve communications with all our riders, especially during service disruptions.

A severed train line has never happened before, and our intent is for it to never happen again.

There are more critical lessons for us to learn here so that we can continue to take necessary and appropriate care of our passengers during any type of incident. Please know we are dedicated to serving you better going forward.

(Peter Rogoff is the Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer)

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