The biggest earthquake in 25 years struck San Francisco earlier this week, measuring 6.0 on the Richter Scale causing at least 200 injuries, power outages and an estimated $1 billion worth of property damage, though thankfully no fatalities. The earthquake happened overnight Sunday at a time with no passenger service on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the rapid transit system serving the San Francisco Bay Area but the transit agency had already received advanced warning prior to it striking. (Pic right: A Train thrown down by the San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906. - U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library)
BART had a 10 second warning of the earthquake, which may not seem long but had the earthquake happened when trains were running the warning would have enabled the control centre to automatically stop all trains travelling at 30MPH or less and trains moving faster to slow. This safety system comes from the 12 earthquake sensors BART has installed as part of the ‘ShakeAlert’ system developed by University of California-Berkeley Seismology Laboratory, United States Geological Survey and other partners. BART are on 150 users of the service across California but BART are the first transit users in the USA to use the service.
"Safety is our first priority and the Earthquake Safety Program has significantly strengthened much of the BART system to ensure the safety of passengers and employees in the event of a major earthquake," BART Board Director James Fang said following this week’s quake.
The alert following this weeks’ quake and BART's success in maintaining continuous service directly after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake reconfirmed the system's importance as a transportation "lifeline”. And in addition to the ‘ShakeAlert’ sytem in addition BART's are also developing an Earthquake Safety Program, established in 2000 and fully funded in 2004 thanks to voters approving a general obligation bond. Construction began in 2007 and is expected to be completed in 2022.
This program will upgrade vulnerable portions of the original BART system to ensure safety for the public and BART employees. Portions of the original system with the highest traffic will be upgraded not only for life safety but also to ensure that they can return to operation shortly after a major earthquake. The upgrades will be accomplished by using the latest seismic standards to improve the structural integrity of BART facilities.Editor’s comment: With seismologists believing San Francisco is long overdue for an earthquake on the scale of the 1906 quake in which about 3,000 people died and over 80% of the city was destroyed, and unlike Loma Prieta, which was centered more than 50 miles south of San Francisco, future earthquakes could be close to or directly under the BART system the security and robustness of the transit network in the city is absolutely crucial.