Power outage leads SEPTA customers to self-evacuate

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SEPTA passengers self-evacuate: Katherine Scott reports during Action News at 12:30 p.m. on Sept. 28, 2017. (WPVI)

Power went out on a SEPTA train, and some confused and worried passengers took matters into their own hands.

They evacuated onto the tracks during the height of the evening rush Wednesday, a move which the transit agency says put them in further danger.

Action News spoke with passengers Thursday morning, as things were finally getting back to normal.

Amy Gimpel, of Bala Cynwyd, said her commute started after she boarded her Bryn Mawr local train from Jefferson and made a stop at Suburban Station.

Then between Suburban Station and 30th Street, things started going wrong.

"I just realized we stopped," she said. "The lights went out. We lost air conditioning, and it got really hot really fast."

According to SEPTA, shortly after 5:15 p.m. Wednesday an electrical breaker tripped on Paoli-Thorndale train number 2555, which was carrying roughly 500 passengers.

The train was at 20th Street, traveling south from Center City.

After a series of troubleshooting procedures the breaker tripped again a few minutes later and eventually stopped.

"A flood of people came running down the aisles," said Gimpeal. "I was in the last car, but people were coming up from the first two. At that point we started hearing rumors of fire."

Septa said there was no fire. Gimpeal added that while it was difficult to hear the announcements on the packed train, the conductors seemed calm, as did the passengers in her car.

Then a fellow commuter noticed something.

"Someone looked out the window and realized a bunch of people were on the track," said Gimpeal.

SEPTA says an unknown number of passengers opened the emergency windows and evacuated themselves.
With people on the tracks, they had to halt all trains between Suburban Station and 30th Street.

While SEPTA can't say why, officials note the breaker trips are loud and could have startled some people.

Still, it was rush hour, and SEPTA says there are dangers to evacuating yourself, a major one of course being the trains running nearby.

"Don't leave the train until you have instructions from the crew," said SEPTA spokesman Scott Sauer. "There are other means of egress. Even if you feel you're in immediate danger in that particular car, there were four other cars on the train."

Police, fire and SEPTA crews from two different trains were called in to help gather up people from the tracks.

Those passengers, and the ones who, like Gimpeal, remained on board, were evacuated onto other trains.

SEPTA says the entire incident remains under investigation.
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