Investigation shows human error caused BART train derailment, fire

Two cars of the eastbound Antioch line BART train derailed Monday morning, Jan. 1, 2024. Photo by Allen D. Payton

Crossed over to opposite track; some riders self-evacuated


While the investigation of the January 1, 2024, derailment and fire just east of the Orinda Station continues, BART is providing an update on what occurred and next steps.

Condition of track equipment

That section of track where the derailment occurred, including the interlocking, was recently replaced and was in good operating order. BART’s train control system is being modernized as part of implementing Communications Based Train Control, a major rebuilding project underway.

Timeline of What Happened

At 8:45am on Monday, January 1, 2024, the computer system that monitors and manages BART tracks experienced a localized loss in communication with a field device specific to an area near Orinda Station, including the track interlocking located between Orinda and Lafayette stations. When this occurs, the Operations Control Center does not receive a status indication of route alignments in the area and track positions cannot be controlled remotely. The computer and communication system fails in a safe mode and there are procedures in place to continue to provide train service while crews troubleshoot the loss of computer communication. The system had been operating at the start of revenue service and one train had already travelled eastbound through the area. 

At 8:50am the Operations Control Center instructed the train operator of an approaching eight-car Antioch bound train to manually align the route at the interlocking. The route was to be straight through. The train operator left the cab to align the track route. PA announcements were made to riders on board about the delay. The train operator confirmed with the control center they had set the track for a straight through alignment. The control center instructed them to drive the train in manual mode through the area. 

Once moving, the train operator reported to the control center the train was crossing over to the opposite track, which was not the correct alignment. In response the control center held all trains in the area and instructed the train operator to move from the Antioch end of the train to the SFO end of the train and to move the train in the SFO direction to clear the interlocking area of the track and correctly align the route for straight through movement. The train operator walked to the other end of the train and moved it in manual mode in the SFO direction. Two cars derailed under slow speed causing electrical arcing, smoke, and flames. Some riders immediately started to self-evacuate by using the emergency door release.  

At 9:05am the train operator reported to the control center they believed the train had derailed. The train operator then began to sweep the train, walking through each car to tell people to evacuate. The operator reported the smoke and flames to the control center and advised that people had already started evacuating.

Orinda Police were first to arrive on scene and helped evacuate all riders safely and Orinda Fire Department extinguished the flames. 

By 9:23am, the control center was told all riders on board, estimated to be about 100-150 people, had been safely evacuated from the train.  

Next Steps

The investigation into the derailment continues. BART has 60 calendar days from the date of the incident to provide a report to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). Until the CPUC accepts and closes the report, the incident is considered “under investigation”, until such time, the report is unavailable to the public.

1/2/24 4:45am Update: Normal Yellow line service will run today following overnight repairs and safety inspections. The headline for this story has been changed to reflect this update.

1/1/24 9:30pm Update:

The incident train is now moving towards the yard. Crews are working on repairs. We will be using our tamper vehicle to surface the track area, pounding down the rocks/ballast. The good news is there was no damage to track switches which would have required more extensive repairs.

The bus bridge will remain in effect through the end of service tonight. Crews will work to make repairs and inspect the tracks this evening and overnight. We hope for full normal service between Walnut Creek and Rockridge tomorrow.

7pm Update:

The crane has successfully re-railed both impacted cars. We will now couple the incident cars with others to tow them out of the way.  Track crews have already begun making repairs to damaged sections of the track so we are hopeful to have, at minimum, single tracking train service through the area for morning service. It could be full normal service depending on progress made.

4:40pm Update:

The crane arrived on scene. 

4pm Update:

The two lanes on Eastbound Highway 24 are now closed and crane is enroute for placement.

See remainder of timeline and more photos, here.

Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.

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