Light-rail service on Sound Transit’s 1 Line was briefly delayed Sunday night because someone was smoking fentanyl in the lead railcar.
The operator of a southbound train headed toward SeaTac reported smoke entering the control cab near Tukwila International Boulevard Station around 8:10 p.m., said transit spokesperson John Gallagher. The operator continued to Angle Lake Station at the end of the route, then traveled by ambulance to a medical center, Gallagher said.
The train was removed from service, which meant passengers going north into Seattle had to wait 10 minutes longer, until the next train arrived.
Like many U.S. cities, Seattle is undergoing an epidemic of fentanyl use. At least 61 people have died of overdoses involving fentanyl so far this year in King County, as of Friday. Nearly 700 such deaths were reported countywide last year.
Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 have reported a massive rise in drug incidents, including 20 incidents in 2021 when transit operators said they were irritated by fumes from drugs used aboard their buses or trains, sometimes badly enough to halt work.
The union currently hears about drug incidents on trains about once per week, including an operator Thursday night who had to leave his shift after fentanyl exposure, said Local 587 President Kenneth Price. The trains are operated and maintained by King County Metro Transit.
The odor of fentanyl smoke resembles a mixture of burnt motor oil and peanut butter. Users typically heat the drug on a piece of aluminum foil and suck the fumes through a straw.
The upper seats in the railcars, which are near the cabs, are the preferred spots to smoke, said Local 587 Vice President Ron Anderson. “By the time they get to the end of the line, they’ve passed out.”
Price recommends transit agencies be more consistent about requiring people to leave at the Northgate and Angle Lake terminus stations, and add more transit police.
Sound Transit is preparing to sign contracts with four security firms to greatly increase guard presence in the wake of understaffed patrols in 2020-22, as passenger surveys rate safety and cleanliness as the top two needs.
Drug incidents “are infrequent,” Gallagher said, and “tend to happen at times of low ridership late at night, and early in the morning.”
Agency officials believe state law prevents law enforcement officers from removing passengers for drug possession or personal use, Gallagher said. Transit agencies historically have been allowed to set their own code-of-conduct rules.
“We’re in the process of determining how we would be able to remove people from the trains who are violating rider conduct policies, and we hope to have some determination of that in the coming months,” Gallagher said.
Passengers can contact Sound Transit security by text at 206-398-5268.
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