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Hundreds of commuters evacuated from San Francisco area train

By Laila Kearney

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Hundreds of passengers on a San Francisco Bay Area commuter train were evacuated on Wednesday after a parking brake suddenly deployed in a tunnel and passengers complained of smoke inhalation, authorities said.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority said 600 to 700 riders were evacuated from the train at a station in Oakland, which was temporarily closed so firefighters could provide medical care for those who felt ill.

As many as 15 passengers complained of smoke inhalation, the Oakland Fire Department said on its Twitter feed. Nine were taken to area hospitals, the transit agency said in a recorded message.

"This is primarily due to being confined on the train in the tunnel, and there was smoke or brake dust that resulted from the train trying to move while the brake was engaged," BART spokesman Jim Allison said in a recorded message.

There was no immediate word on what caused the parking brake to deploy, nor whether passengers felt ill from breathing smoke, fumes or brake dust. Allison, who had earlier said passengers may have mistaken brake dust for smoke, said that the agency will be investigating the incident to find out more.

"There was no fire, contrary to some earlier reports," Allison said.

He said the incident began at about 8:30 a.m. PST on Wednesday when the parking brakes of the train suddenly deployed in a tunnel in the hills around Berkeley.

An hour later, the train had been repaired and was moving on its own power into the Rockridge station in nearby Oakland, the transit agency said. At that point, passengers were evacuated from the train, it said.

The brake problem and evacuation caused delays of up to 30 minutes on a line connecting San Francisco with some of its eastern suburbs, the agency said.

(Additional reporting by Cynthia Johnston in Las Vegas, Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Scott Malone, Maureen Bavdek and Gunna Dickson)

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