Jorge Salinas woke up shortly after 2 am Thursday to what sounded like something exploding. He then looked outside and down Mandela Parkway from his house on 3rd Street, toward the West Oakland BART station where he saw a huge fire which he estimated to be at least four stories tall.
By 2:20, Salinas, his uncle, Roy, and friend Santos Hernandez and their frightened Chihuahua Lala were all standing in front of the site where a senior center had once been under construction, watching the building burn as flames jumped on to the BART tracks right next to the building. They immediately worried about the gas station on the other side of the tracks, wondering if that could be the next thing to catch fire. They said they were the only people on the street when fire crews began showing up before 3 am. Salinas shot the video seen in this story from his cell phone shortly after 2 am, he said.
“It was so bright,” Salinas said. “It looked like daylight.”
BART shut down service between the East Bay and San Francisco as a result of fire damage to the tracks, causing back ups and commute delays throughout the Bay Area. BART spokesman Jim Allison said BART track and electrical crews began working on the track’s electrical system at 7 am, after the fire was brought under control around 4 am and the track had cooled enough to be worked on.
The goal, he said, was to have “one of the two tracks” at West Oakland back in service this afternoon, and both tracks up by the evening commute at 5 pm, but “not at full speed” he said. As of 4:30 pm Thursday, BART service was up and running from the East Bay to San Francisco.
The effect of the BART outage on the Bay Area, Allison said, was essentially a “doubling the traffic on the Bay Bridge.” Allison said 370,000 people use BART on a regular weekday, including 50,000 people who use it for the morning commute, which he said is about the same number of people who drive across the Bay Bridge at that time. “It’s a big effect on the Bay Area. [It] effects the economy in addition to being a huge inconvenience for everybody,” he said.
Commuters from each side of the Bay faced long lines for bus service from AC Transit at BART stations today. Clarence Johnson, the spokesperson for AC Transit, said the bus system has “extra capacity” on some buses in the morning, so some buses were diverted to help shuttle people across to San Francisco.
Still, some waited for hours at BART stations, and long lines wrapped around blocks at both the MacArthur and 19th Street stations in Oakland. Others decided not to wait, and opted for either casual carpool or the ferry from Jack London Square to reach San Francisco.
Standing in a line of more than 50 people for the ferry at about 1 pm today, Jameel Naqui, an Oakland resident who usually catches BART from MacArthur to the Embarcadero station in San Francisco for an internship at a non-profit, said he opted to skip the long line and work from a coffee shop for a couple hours. When he saw the line for the bus was still enormous by the early afternoon, and heard that the trip over the bridge would be another two hours, he made his way to the ferry. “It’s supposed to be a pretty nice ride,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
At least eight AC Transit bus lines were diverted to take BART passengers to San Francisco from Oakland BART stations, including MacArthur, 19th Street and Fruitvale, according Johnson. AC Transit lines diverted include: the 57, 51, 72, 72R, 62, 40, 31, N, L, C and CB, Johnson said, and passengers throughout the system can expect delayed service today. “When something like this happens, everyone needs to share in the pain,” Johnson said. “It’s not an easy circumstance for anybody.”
People trying to cross over from San Francisco in the morning had similar difficulties to those in the East Bay. Jake Watters lives in the Bernal Heights neighborhood in San Francisco and usually takes BART to his job at the warehouse for Public Bikes, a bike store set to open soon in Jack London Square near the Amtrak station. Watters said that when he found out BART wasn’t running to the East Bay, he hopped on his bike and rode to the Ferry Building, where he caught a ferry to Oakland. Though the trip was more expensive and doubled his commute time, he said he enjoyed the trip. Plus, it got him closer to work than BART.
“It was a little more expensive, but I got to sit in the sun and read a book instead of trying to keep a bike upright and moving it around in a stuffy rail car,” Watters said.
Now, though, he has to figure out how to get home as well—which might mean another trip on the ferry, depending on how well BART is running. “They say it’s going to be up and running in the evening, and I’m sure it will be,” Watters said. “But if it’s running on a sort of truncated service and everybody else is taking it, I sort of want to stay away from that if I can.”
Video by Jorge Salinas.