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Thursday, January 2, 2014

BART Deaths: In Wake of Track Fatalities, Feds Decry BART Policy

Posted By on Thu, Jan 2, 2014 at 11:59 AM

Blood on the tracks...
  • Blood on the tracks...

Toward the tail end of the Second Great BART Strike of 2013 -- and, quite possibly, hastening its conclusion -- a pair of track workers were struck and killed by a train whistling between Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill at speeds exceeding 60 mph.

Just who was at fault for the chaotic and gruesome events of Oct. 19 became a heated matter in the midst of a labor battle. The National Transportation Safety Board has yet to mete out its judgment. But, on Dec. 31, federal authorities sounded off, tabbing safety procedures essentially leaving track workers on their own -- procedures BART officials long fought to maintain prior to Oct. 19 -- dangerous and ineffective.

This announcement came via a New Year's Eve release -- perhaps you missed it -- carrying the scintillating title " Safety Advisory 14-1: Right-of-Way Worker Protection."

It all seems obvious in the wake of people dying horribly, and the Federal Transportation Administration's 38-page report isn't exactly a down-from-the-mountain excoriation. But, in essence, it makes the case that BART's long-held track safety policy fell woefully short in providing much in the way of safety.

Prior to being struck, slain track workers Christopher Sheppard and Laurence Daniels, per the FTA document, "accessed the rail right-of-way under a standard procedure known as 'simple approval,' which requires workers to notify BART's operations control center when they plan to work on or near the tracks. There were no other protections in place to safeguard the workers..."

BART, for years, claimed that this practice was the only expedient way for it to handle mounting track repairs. It dropped that stance after Sheppard and Daniels were killed; an earlier NTSB communique blasted the policy as well.

Some key points from the FTA:

  • While small groups of track workers are mandated to designate a lookout, "in reality, both inspectors may consult or confer on a specific element of the inspection, or all three technicians may be engaged in the signal test or repair. ... The designated lookout may be in such close proximity to the workers that the watch may not be effective at identifying trains in time to safely clear";

  • "Under [their] own protection, track workers may not be aware of the presence of trains";

  • In a scenario prescient to BART, "Many rail transit agencies are coming to recognize that unusual train movements unexpectedly introduced into routinized work patterns can lead to accidents. Therefore, the scheduling and management of routine work during special events, major weekend shutdowns, or other uncommon events is being evaluated carefully."

And on it goes for 38 glorious pages, essentially stating that trains shouldn't run at 60 mph through work zones, operators might see fit to honk their horns a bit more, and track workers shouldn't be left to fend for themselves without a raft of redundancies ensuring their safety.

BART passengers may grumble about reduced speeds and longer commutes. But, in the end, that may guarantee the next BART strike is merely a labor situation -- and not something far more visceral and tragic.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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