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Bart on fast track to fear

By Adrienne Sanders Of The Examiner Staff

If local commuters are nervous about riding BART since the military response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they shouldn't look to BART train operators for comfort.

Some operators are so scared of terrorists bombing the TransBay tunnel, they are calling in sick on days they are scheduled to drive through it.

"It's very nerve-wracking," said Debbie Smith, a 24-year BART train operator who says she hasn't called in sick but can understand why some colleagues have.

"Police presence on the platforms might be comforting, but they can't see inside the trains," she said. "So it really doesn't do any good."

BART has intensified security since the United States launched attacks on Afghanistan.

On Sunday, police officers began sweeping trains that pass through the TransBay tunnel -- walking along the outside of the train from end to end, eyeballing it for suspicious objects or people.

Armed officers now guard the stations 24 hours a day. Those measures back up the additional security steps BART initiated after last month's attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Steps include larger police posses patrolling platforms, corners and obscure entryways while looking for unattended packages and unauthorized people.

Still, some of BART's 390 conductors don't feel safe.

"If I had a large parcel full of dynamite under the seat, they wouldn't see it," said Debbie's husband, Robert Smith, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555. "I know people who've called in sick the day they got the assignment to run between Fremont and Embarcadero."

That assignment is nearly unavoidable for many operators because four of BART's five transit lines pass through the TransBay tube that connects the Embarcadero and West Oakland stations. Each trip under the Bay bedrock lasts six minutes.

Though it may be stressful, daily commuters are still making that trip. The number hasn't plummeted since the first terrorist attacks, said BART spokesman Mike Healy.

About 300,000 people ride the trains each day, down moderately from its high of 330,000 before Sept. 11. Healy says the trains are running on schedule.

"We haven't have any trains miss dispatches because of (operators' increased absences)," he said. "We always have some people who call in sick anyways. It's hard to ferret out the reasons."

Healy does concede that, though the company is taking many precautions, management can't deny the possibility that terrorists -- or those who emulate them -- could target mass transit.

"I'd be more concerned about copycats than actual terrorists," Healy said.

To counter that threat, BART is considering putting undercover officers on trains, said BART Police Cmdr. Clark Lynch.

"We have no credible threats from anyone," he said. "But we want to be the least attractive target possible."

BART board member Willie Brown said commuters, train operators and managers should take a collective deep breath.

"If we calm ourselves down and not panic at this point," she said, "I think it will serve everybody well."

-- Martin Thompson (, October 09, 2001


Published Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News

BART shutters restrooms, removes platform trash cans BY MATTHAI CHAKKO KURUVILA Mercury News The Bay Area Rapid Transit District tightened security at all stations Tuesday, shutting down restrooms, removing garbage cans from station platforms and restricting the use of some elevators.

No unusual incidents have been reported in BART stations since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Transit officials described Tuesday's steps as additional safety measures.

``The nation has heightened security, so we're just taking precautions like everyone else,'' said BART public-information officer Vicki Wills.

Wills said the restrooms were closed and the garbage cans removed because they are difficult to monitor. Garbage cans will still be located in the concourse areas of the stations.

Those who want to use elevators at underground stations will first have to hit a button outside the elevator to contact a station agent. Elevators at other stations will be operating normally.

``This way, we can monitor them better,'' Wills said, pointing out that most elevator users are disabled.

Even before the new security measures were announced Tuesday, the transit agency had already placed more police officers at the stations, canceling days off for many. Security is particularly high at the stations at either end of the Transbay Tube, and overall the police presence at the stations has increased 50 percent, according to BART.

-- Martin Thompson (, October 10, 2001.

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