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Accident Report Detail

Bay Area Rapid Transit Fire on Train No. 117 and Evacuation of Passengers While in the Transbay Tube

Executive Summary

About 6:06 p.m., on January 17, 1979, the fifth and sixth cars of the seven-car westbound train No. 117 of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) caught fire while moving through the tunnel under the San Francisco Bay between Oakland and San Francisco, California. Forty passengers and two BART employees were evacuated from the burning train through emergency doors into a gallery walkway located between the two single track tunnels and then into a waiting train in the adjacent tunnel. One fireman died when the gallery suddenly filled with heavy black toxic smoke. Twenty-four firemen, seventeen passengers, three emergency personnel, and twelve BART employees were treated for smoke inhalation. Property damage was estimated to be $2,450,000.

Probable Cause

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the breaking of collector shoe assemblies on Train No. 117, when it struck a line switchbox cover, which had fallen from an earlier train, resulting in a short circuit and fire. Contributing to the severity of the damage was the failure of BART to quickly and properly coordinate the Oakland and San Francisco fire departments' rescue and firefighting efforts, which did not conform with the emergency plan. The cause of the fatality and injuries was inhalation of smoke and toxic fumes emitted from burning plastic materials used in construction of the transit cars.

Accident Location: San Francisco , CA    
Accident Date: 1/17/1979
Accident ID: 80017

Date Adopted: 7/19/1979
NTSB Number: RAR-79-05
NTIS Number: PB-298905/AS