BART’s Earthquake Early Warning System presented as model to Congress


BART’s Earthquake Early Warning System presented as model to Congress

A congressional oversight committee heard testimony today from BART Director John McPartland about the District’s implementation of an Earthquake Early Warning system which enables BART to slow and possibly stop trains before shaking begins, thereby reducing possible derailments and potential passenger injuries.  This system, which has been in place at BART since August 2012, was created with the help of University of California, Berkeley, seismologists, and is the first of its kind for a transit agency in the United States.

McPartland testified at the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources’ oversight hearing entitled “Whole Lotta Shakin’: An Examination of America’s Earthquake Early Warning System Development and Implementation.”  This hearing examined the benefits of earthquake early warning systems worldwide and the status of the United States’ earthquake early warning system’s rollout and implementation.  

McPartland explained to the subcommittee how the system works:  “The BART Earthquake Event Reaction System receives data from the more than 160 seismic stations of the California Integrated Seismic Network throughout Northern California. If the messages from the seismic network indicate ground motion above a certain threshold, the BART central computers, which supervise train performance, institute a normal service braking to slow trains down to 26 miles per hour. An automatic system-wide ‘hold’ is put in place so that no train will depart a station without manual intervention. With the automated braking in place, BART Train Controllers, reacting to the same alert, instruct Train Operators to maintain 26 miles per hour or brake to a stop depending on the specific operational situation for each train.”

The system software is running on a pair of redundant servers in BART’s central computer room, connected over the internet to a pair of redundant servers at the University of California, Berkeley Datacenter in Berkeley.

McPartland concluded, “BART believes this notification system represents the best available technology but would welcome additional federal investment in and attention to the development of next generation technology that would provide more robust and advance notification.  We are grateful for the Subcommittee’s interest in this critical infrastructure and safety issue.”

His complete testimony as prepared can be found here.