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A mysterious ‘rotting corpse’ smell is perplexing BART riders

BART passenger Alvin Wong pinches his nose on a train heading from 12th St. station towards West Oakland station.
BART passenger Alvin Wong pinches his nose on a train heading from 12th Street Station towards West Oakland station. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

A mysterious odor is annoying BART riders traveling into San Francisco from the East Bay, and no one seems to know precisely what it is.

Redditors started complaining about the stench in the BART and Oakland subreddits in late October. The smell seems to be primarily affecting riders leaving the Lake Merritt and 12th Street stations and heading into West Oakland.

The posts have compared the foul odor to the smell of burning rubber, chemicals and even a “rotting corpse.”

Al Padilla, who commutes on BART to San Francisco from Dixon, told The Standard he’s been smelling the odor for roughly a month.

“It’s like an oil, gas smell,” Padilla said, while riding the train through Oakland. “You can smell it every day.”

BART passengers ride a Blue line train heading from 12th Street station towards West Oakland station on Thursday.
BART passengers ride a Blue Line train heading from 12th Street Station toward West Oakland Station on Thursday. | Source: Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Another rider, who declined to give their name because they work for BART, said they smell the odor daily during their commute between Oakland and San Francisco.

“It’s like exhaust fumes,” the BART employee said. “It’s noticeable, mildly bothering.”

Reporters for The Standard smelled the scent while riding on BART’s San Francisco-bound trains at different times on Thursday. The stench reminded one reporter of burning rubber and another of rotting food.

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BART spokesperson Alicia Trost acknowledged the strange aroma that’s permeated the air in the transit agency’s tunnels and stations, but said it presents no danger to passengers. Safety crews have not noticed anything unusual in the area where the smell has been reported, she added.

A view of a streetscape  in an industrial area of Oakland.
An empty streetscape under the elevated BART tracks between the 12th Street and West Oakland stations on Friday. Passengers have mentioned a unpleasant smell along this stretch of their commute through Oakland. | Source: RJ Mickelson/The Standard

“Some staff have observed the smell, and some have not,” Trost said. “Our system safety department has been on-site and reported nothing that caused them concern.”

Another BART passenger, Alvin Wong, said he’s smelled the odor for around three months and thinks it has to do with more of the newer cars running across the system. In September, BART stopped running its decades-old legacy cars. Wong hypothesized that the new cars’ wheels may not be broken in, thereby causing more scraping.

“Maybe with the new schedule change, more of the trains aren’t used to the track,” Wong said. “It really smells strongest by the door.”

But Trost said the smell has nothing to do with the trains themselves. She suspected it’s related to a lubricant or grease BART puts on the tracks.

“[The smell] is a new thing,” Trost said.

Garrett Leahy can be reached at
Joel Umanzor can be reached at