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BART Explains Mishap Involving 'Fleet of the Future' Car

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The new BART car that ran off the end of a test track in Hayward on Friday, April 22.  (KTVU)

It was just 19 days ago that BART showed off the first car of its long-awaited "fleet of the future." It didn't take long for that shiny new vehicle to make the wrong kind of news for the transit agency.

On Friday, the vehicle plowed into a sand barrier at the end of a test track in Hayward. No one was hurt, and the only thing that was damaged, apparently, was BART's message of better times coming for its hundreds of thousands of daily riders.

Wednesday, the agency called reporters and camera crews to its downtown Oakland headquarters to explain what happened. Friday's failure was due to a mishap involving a piece of testing equipment, a wire, a cabinet door, an auxiliary power source and a short circuit that came together to foul up the $2 million car's braking system.

Tamar Allen, BART's chief maintenance and engineering officer, and John Garnham, who's overseeing the agency's fleet of the future program, said that train operators were on a training run on a 2-mile test track.

They'd gotten the car up to 15 mph and were slowing down as they neared the end of the track, Garnham said. The car's braking system seemed to be working the way it was supposed to, he said. But then, the operators were unable to engage the friction braking system designed to bring the car to a gradual stop.

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The problem?

A piece of testing equipment on the car had been connected to an auxiliary power system that runs the car's lights, air conditioning and brakes. A wire from the testing equipment had been damaged when a cabinet door was slammed on it. The damaged wire, in turn, shorted out the auxiliary power system. That cut off electricity to a pump that maintains the hydraulic pressure needed to operate the brakes.

None of that was apparent, Garnham said, until the operators tried to stop the car. The vehicle hit a sand berm at the end of the rails at about 5 mph.

Garnham and Allen both said that neither the operators nor the new train car could be faulted for the episode.

The operators "did their proper procedure," Garnham said. "They went through their training -- they're highly skilled people."

"There was no failure of the vehicle itself," Allen said. "The vehicle performed as it was designed."

She added that "the testing process is lengthy and deliberate. We expect to have unexpected things happen, and we see those as opportunities to make improvements."

As a result of the incident, Allen and Garnham said, BART plans so update operating procedures on the new cars and add additional training. The agency hopes to quickly resume testing on the new cars.

KQED's Sara Hossaini contributed to this post.

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