An electrical fire forced MARTA to evacuate its Peachtree Center station July 22. It was one of two fires that disrupted rail service last week.

MARTA is inspecting electrical equipment after two station fires

MARTA will spend $2 million over the next three months to assess its electrical systems following two fires that disrupted rail service last week.

The fires at the Peachtree Center and Lakewood stations were caused by aging electrical equipment that is scheduled to be replaced beginning next year, agency officials say. But MARTA now plans an emergency assessment of the equipment that powers its trains and stations to ensure last week’s disruptions don’t recur.

“This is just the signs of the age of MARTA,” David Springstead, the agency’s chief of rail operations, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “We’re going to start seeing some fatigue on the system.”

That fatigue apparently led to a fire in an electrical cable vault at the Peachtree Center station on July 22. Smoke billowed into the station, which was evacuated as a precaution. The fire was extinguished, and normal rail service resumed at the station the following morning.

Another report of smoke shut down service at the Lakewood station on the evening of July 24. The fire was traced to electrical equipment. Normal service at the station was restored later in the evening.

MARTA has redundant electrical systems, which allowed it to restore service once firefighters ensured the area was safe.

But the two electrical fires at separate stations within two days underscores the need to replace the systems that power MARTA trains and stations, Springstead said. A rail system that recently celebrated its 40th anniversary is still using its original electrical equipment.

MARTA plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to replace the electrical systems over the next decade. The first contracts are expected to be put out for bid in coming weeks.

But last week’s fires have prompted MARTA to spend $2 million to have electrical experts conduct a short-term assessment. They’ll spend the next few months inspecting equipment and prioritizing which components should be replaced first. Emergency repairs could result, Springstead said.

“This is an intermediate step to ensure the viability of the system,” he said.

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