Wednesday BART services were disrupted for the second time around in two weeks when a bomb threat on a San Francisco-bound train at the 12th Street Oakland station resulted in services to all East Bay stations being cancelled for over an hour.
According to Lt. William Schultz, in charge of the Patrol Bureau for Zones 1 and 3, which includes all the Berkeley BART stations, one of the BART patrons overheard two men on a San Francisco-bound train talking about a bomb on the train at the 12th Street station in Oakland around 8 a.m.
The first suspect was later identified as a 35-year-old Hispanic male weighing 155 pounds with slicked back hair, wearing a navy blue parka and carrying a backpack, while the second suspect was identified as a 35-year-old black male, weighing 160 pounds with short black hair and wearing a putty green parka.
The patron was said to have followed the two suspects up to the street level after which he reported the incident to the BART agent at the station booth. Although people were taken into custody after the report was filed, the patron was unable to identify anyone at a suspect line-up.
William (Travis) Gibson, BART patrol commander, told the Planet yesterday that the investigation is ongoing and the police are continuing to look into the video tapes from the incident.
Lt. William Schultz told the Planet that right after the incident was reported, bomb dogs were brought inside the train but no explosives were found. He added that the SWAT team had not been brought in as they were usually in charge of hostage situations and not experts at bomb deactivation. Had explosives been found hidden on the train or strapped on a person, the bomb squad from UC Berkeley or Alameda County Sheriff’s Department would have been brought in to deactivate it.
Lt. Schultz also commented that the incident was different from other threats, which usually involved suspicious packages or phone calls. “It is important to realize the seriousness of this particular incident. It’s not a bunch of intoxicated college kids joking about a bomb on the train; it’s two normal people who are completely in their senses. Situations like this need to be controlled immediately,” he said.
Wednesday’s service disruption however caused a lot of problems for early morning commuters on their way to work or school. Casey and Adam, who were visiting the Bay Area from Manhattan, were stuck at the Trans Bay Terminal in San Francisco for almost half an hour waiting for the F Bus to take them to Berkeley. “I am attending a conference at UC Berkeley today and I’ll probably miss the first half hour,” Adam told the Planet.
The couple however acknowledged the fact that the alternate transportation being provided to commuters by BART was a big plus. “Had a situation like this occurred on the MTA subway system in New York, we would have had to fend for ourselves,” the couple added.
However, they also said that it would have been more helpful if the Embarcadero station agents had been more specific about information on the location of the Trans Bay Terminal: “They were very vague and only said it was a couple of blocks down.”
“As usual I was disappointed,” said Kathleen Meazed, an employee in UC Berkeley’s Sproul Hall. “BART didn’t make clear announcements about what was going on. Passengers need clear timely information about what is happening. I have started to carry a flashlight and water as last time the trains stopped working, the lights went out,” she said.
Jim Allison, BART Public Information Officer told the Planet that “in the case of an emergency, the number one priority is the safety of our passengers. When we hear that there are explosives on a train, we don’t know how long the delay is going to be. In a perfect world, we could have predicted the future and told our passengers that the trains would start working in an hour again. But it doesn’t work that way.”
Allison also said that the delays that occurred while arranging alternate transportation for BART’s passengers resulted from having to contact the bus services in San Francisco to provide shuttle services. “BART doesn’t have its own shuttle service. We have to depend on external sources.”
Emily, an architect who works on Dwight St. in Berkeley, said that “it was good that BART refunded our fares from this morning; however, they could have had put up signs directing people to the refunds booth. Most were clueless about it.” she said.