Mass transit preps for Ebola

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Two DART trains pass at Ledbetter Station in south Dallas in October 2012.
Michael T. Burkhart
DALLAS – As three confirmed cases of Ebola hemorrhagic fever drew attention to air travel, public transit agencies couldn't escape playing a role in the national scare.

For the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system, it was a bus driver who had flown on the same Frontier Airlines flight as a nurse later diagnosed with the disease. Then on Saturday a woman claiming to be on the virus watch list took ill, shutting down a DART station.

In Los Angeles it was a masked passenger on a Line 33 bus rolling along Venice Boulevard who stood up and yelled, "Don't mess with me. I have Ebola." He threw his mask on the floor and fled in the ensuing chaos.

The Los Angeles incident was determined to be a hoax and is being investigated as a possible terrorist threat, according to the Los Angeles Times. The driver was taken to a hospital for observation and the bus taken out of service.

And the woman at the DART station neither had the virus nor faced any unusual risk of catching it.

"We continue to reinforce our message that the risk of exposure to employees and customers is very low given the way the virus is spread," says Morgan Lyons, DART's assistant vice president for communication. "We have reminded employees and customers that it's easier to catch a cold or get the flu, so it's important to practice good hygiene (cover your coughs, stay home if you have a fever, etc.)."

DART did, however, send the bus driver and a second employee home, pull the bus out of service for cleaning, and was attempting to contact the passengers who rode it that day. The driver learned from media reports he was on the flight with a nurse later confirmed to have the disease, and he contacted the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But that all happened after he worked his shift, according to DART.

Lyons tells Trains News Wire that neither scare appears to have affected overall DART ridership. The system of buses and light-rail trains serves Dallas and 12 surrounding counties handling about 220,000 passengers each weekday. It works in concert with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority's heavy-rail Trinity Rail Express to reach Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

DART is among transit systems nationwide reinforcing protocols for cleaning buses, trains and subways and dealing with ill travelers. In New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has designated eight hospitals to take any Ebola patients and has tasked the Department of Health, Port Authority and Metropolitan Transportation Authority with multiple efforts related to the disease

"The MTA has developed a protocol to keep its employees and customers safe during this time of heightened awareness," a statement from Cuomo's office reads. "This protocol includes ensuring that at-risk employees have appropriate personal protective equipment to guard against infection and are trained in its use, as well as following best practices and recommended standards when cleaning MTA facilities. The MTA will outline this Ebola virus protocol to customers through messaging throughout the MTA system in the coming days."

The MTA is the largest transit system in the country covering 12 counties in southeastern New York and carrying about 11 million passengers on an average weekday on subways, buses and trains. That includes the Staten Island Railway, Metro-North Railroad, and Long Island Rail Road.

Chicago's Metra system, operating more than 700 weekday trains linking downtown and 241 stations, also is taking precautions but otherwise is operating normally.

"That includes providing a clean and safe environment for our passengers," Metra Executive Director and CEO Don Orseno tells Trains News Wire. "We are not aware of any incidents that may cause concern."

Amtrak also was drawn into the national scare reiterating passenger safety as its top priority and saying its management teams keeps in contact with regional officials to maintain awareness of the latest information on the situation.

"We have reviewed and updated our protocols for proper handling of passenger and employee medical issues to reflect latest guidance from public health authorities," an Amtrak statement says. "We are keeping our employees informed so they are prepared to address customer concerns.

"While Amtrak performs regular cleaning of our passenger railcars, we have contingency plans to take railcars out of service to decontaminate should the need arise," the passenger carrier adds.

To date only three cases of Ebola have been confirmed in the U.S. One involved a man who flew from Liberia to Dallas, and the other two are nurses who treated him. The man has since died, friends and relatives in contact with him have been released from quarantine, and the nurses are recovering.

It was one of the nurses who was on the same Cleveland-Texas flight as the DART bus driver. The nurse had a low-grade fever at the time, and the CDC continues to say the disease can only be transmitted by direct contact with the bodily fluids of a person who is in the active stages of the disease. The CDC also says cleaning protocols using hospital-grade disinfectants, which includes household bleach, are sufficient to kill the virus.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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