By Veronica Irwin
Examiner employee author
The death of Amy Adams, who lives in San Francisco last Monday, serves as a reminder: BART doors have no motion sensors to prevent them from closing if something is in the way.
Adams, 41, had boarded a Dublin / Pleasanton city train with her dog at Powell Street Station on Monday just after 3pm at Powell Street Station before getting off “at the last second,” according to a BART press release. The doors closed with her dog on the train, the leash slung around Adams’s waist. When the BART train left, Adams was dragged onto the tracks and into his death.
It is a terrible tragedy that raises many questions. Do BART doors have no motion sensors that could have detected the presence of a line trapped between them? Shouldn’t there be a button that passengers can use to reopen doors in an emergency?
However, according to BART spokesman Jim Allison, there are no motion sensors because the potential for abuse outweighs the cost, however dire it may be. “You can only imagine running the fifth largest rail system in the US, trying to keep to the schedule while the doors keep closing and reopening,” he says.
Details of what happened in Adams’ specific case are still being investigated by BART and the National Transit Safety Board, so Allison was unable to speak on the specific incident. But similar injuries have occurred. It wasn’t until February of this year that a man suffered head and leg injuries after getting stuck in BART doors, including at Powell Station.
But Allison says people jamming the doors with their bodies are a far more common problem. BART has been trying to address the problem for years, posting notices on their website and in podcasts. The investigator asked BART for context regarding door incidents. The latest available figures show that 116 BART vehicles were delayed due to jammed doors in June 2018 alone. In fiscal 2017-2018, so-called “door vandalism” delayed 816 trains and disrupted shuttles for thousands of Bay Area residents. Trains often have to stop completely while mechanics work to get the doors back on the tracks.
It’s rare for train doors around the world to have motion sensors. The exception is Singapore, where citizens quickly began to abuse the sensors by blocking them with chewing gum. This is one of the main reasons the sticky substance was publicly banned in the country in 1992. “Sticking chewing gum to our subway doors so they don’t open is not what I call creativity,” he said. “That’s what I call mischief.”
BART’s solution is to have physical triggers programmed into the doors that can detect when objects up to ¾ ”are in the way. This, Allison says, is technically different from the motion sensors used on elevator doors. It is an electrical and mechanical trigger and not a separate motion sensor. Instead of detecting an obstruction before the doors close, these physical triggers detect if the doors are already closed and not completely sealed. If there is an obstacle in the way, an alarm notifies the driver in the control station.
Aside from possibly clearer signage warning passengers that the doors will close if people are in the way, BART has few other tools available to increase safety on the trains. Allison says the fact that their train operators are alerted when something as small as ¾ ”is in the door is more conservative than most transportation experts would expect.
Of course, a dog leash is often thinner than 3/4 ”, and these sensors didn’t save Adam’s life. According to a BART press release, this is purely “tragic”.