Heat wave causes major transit delays

Record-breaking heat that swept over the Bay Area on Tuesday inspired a Spare the Air Day — a day people are asked to take public transit rather than drive — but it also caused major breakdowns on two of the largest public transit systems in the Bay Area.

The heat — which maxed out at 98 degrees in San Francisco, 97 degrees in Redwood City and 92 degrees in Daly City — proved enough to melt Caltrain’s tracks, turn a third of BART cars into sweatlodges and force human train operators to take the helm from their automated computer counterparts.

According to Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn, the trains on the agency’s Peninsula tracks were forced to slow as a safety precaution.
Trains were delayed as much as 40 minutes during the evening commute.

The heat also wreaked havoc on BART operations when computers that typically control the vehicles overheated, since BART does not have air conditioning for the rooms they are kept in. In the areas where those computers could no longer control the trains, human conductors had to take over, which slowed the trains from their normally zippy 50 to 70 mph to a sluggish 25 mph.

The 25-minute delays this caused during rush hour were especially miserable for riders who had the misfortune of riding on cars with broken air conditioning — fully one-third of the fleet, said Johnson.

BART took the malfunctions as an opportunity to demand more funds for the agency, saying it needs more money to air-condition the rooms the computers are located in, as well as to fix or replace the fleet with no air conditioning. The agency this year has an unexpected $4.5 million surplus.

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