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April 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, April 02, 2004

Gas leak slows commuters Gas leak slows commuters (April 02, 2004)

Trains and light rail halted at downtown station

By Grace Rauh

A thirty-foot tall gray cloud shot into the sky Tuesday morning, but it had nothing to do with the weather.

A gas leak near Evelyn Avenue and Ferry Morse Way triggered the plume that shut down local rail transit for several hours and delayed commuters heading to work.

"I could smell the gas," said Gary Marquardt, who drives a light rail car for the Valley Transportation Authority and saw the cloud. "I don't like gas. I don't mess with gas at all."

Northbound Caltrain service stopped in Sunnyvale, and southbound trains were not allowed past Mountain View. A stream of confused commuters boarded VTA buses to travel between the two stations.

Light rail service was also halted in the area, and passengers boarded buses to ride between the Whisman and Mountain View stations. Train service resumed around noon.

"This was very unique," said Caltrain spokesperson Jayme Maltbie Kunz. "Even (after) a fatality, we tend to get running more quickly than something like this."

She estimated that commuters traveling from San Francisco to San Jose faced a 30-minute delay. The last time Caltrain service shut down due to a gas leak occurred 18 months ago in San Mateo County, Kunz said.

Passengers traveling south on Caltrain debarked in Mountain View and crowds from the Sunnyvale station boarded on the southbound tracks. The train headed north and switched back to its proper tracks further up the line, Kunz said.

Mountain View Fire Department spokesperson Lynn Brown told the Voice: "If you have a train going by with a bunch of people on it and something happens -- we don't want to be responsible for that."

Pacific Gas & Electric crews removed a four-by-four-foot chunk of Evelyn Avenue and dug down several feet to search for the gas leak. The road was repaved last month and the contractor had planned to paint fresh traffic lines that day, Brown said.

At press time, the origin of the leak was still a mystery.

"There isn't an obvious cause," Brown said. "No one was digging any holes."

A defective pipe or construction errors can create a gas leak, but new pipeline had recently been introduced under Evelyn Avenue, according to Brown.

The Evelyn Avenue and Ferry Morse Way intersection was shut down, in addition to streets in the surrounding neighborhood. Buildings on Pioneer Way were evacuated and 40 businesses had their gas shut off, according to Brown.

"The gas is pretty flammable," he said. "Fortunately for us, nobody was injured."

E-mail Grace Rauh at [email protected] Bay City News contributed to this report.

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