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BART changes procedure after worker deaths

  • Bay Area Rapid Transit passengers pass through a train Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

OAKLAND — Bay Area Rapid Transit trains will be required to slow down, stop or change course as they approach track maintenance workers following the deaths of two inspectors who were struck during a labor strike last weekend, the agency said Thursday.

BART Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier told the transit district's board of directors that the new rule will replace the previous practice of making workers solely responsible for their own safety as they walk or perform simpler tasks on the tracks of the commuter rail line.

The move "addresses the No. 1 issue surrounding this incident," Oversier said.

"Fortunately, the fatalities we have are few and far between," he said. "That said, obviously one is too many."

The two workers, both experienced transportation engineers, had received what BART calls "simple approval" on Saturday to inspect an above-ground section of track between two stations in the Easy Bay city of Walnut Creek where a dip in the rails had been reported.

Under that process, one worker is supposed to be designated as a lookout and to stand away from the tracks to warn the other of an oncoming train. Teams also are required to have a plan for getting out of harm's way in 15 seconds.

"It is the primary mechanism people use for traveling by foot along the railway," said Oversier, who estimated the procedure is used hundreds of times every month.

Requiring train operators and the control center to share responsibility for track worker safety is bound to cause service delays, but "we can't live with a continuation of this situation and what happened on Saturday," Oversier said during an interview with The Associated Press.

"The impact on the reliability of the service will be a negative one, but at this point we don't see any other alternative, and we think that's just the way it had to be and we have to bite that bullet," he said.

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