BART Probe: Investigators Re-Enact Fatal Accident

The BART train involved in an accident Saturday that killed two workers inspecting the tracks. (Alex Emslie/KQED).
The BART train involved in an accident Saturday that killed two workers inspecting the tracks. (Alex Emslie/KQED).

Update, 1 p.m. Wednesday: BART has closed tracks between its Lafayette and Pleasant Hill station so federal investigators can re-enact the weekend accident that killed two workers in Walnut Creek. BART is running a bus bridge between the two stations from noon through 3:30 p.m.

The National Transportation Safety Board is doing the re-enactment, including a “sight/distance” test, to gather more information on the Saturday afternoon incident. Christopher Sheppard, a BART employee, and contractor Laurence Daniels were killed when a four-car train with an operator trainee at the controls hit them while traveling 60 to 70 mph.

The NTSB announced yesterday that it has determined there were two trainees and a supervisor in the cab at the time of the accident. BART was apparently conducting the training in case it decided to try to run limited train service during the strike that had begun on Friday.

The NTSB said Daniels and Sheppard had obtained “simple approval” to enter the BART right-of-way. A BART procedures manual from 2001 describes simple approval as permission to enter a restricted area “with the understanding that personnel shall not interfere with the normal operation of trains or equipment and are not provided any protection from trains or equipment.” The manual also says “personnel accessing trackways … under Simple Approval are individually responsible for providing their own protection.” In the past, contractors have been informed that simple approvals are not permitted in areas where trains are moving in excess of 50 mph. As Demian Bulwa reports in the San Francisco Chronicle today, “simple approval” has come up in previous BART accident inquiries:

The simple-approval procedure was central to the investigation into the death of James Strickland, a BART inspector who was struck from behind by a train Oct. 14, 2008, as he walked east on the westbound track between the Pleasant Hill and Concord stations.

BART operations managers had granted Strickland simple approval. But they did not tell him that BART had shut down the eastbound track and begun single-tracking trains in the area, state investigators said. Nor were train operators in the area told of Strickland’s presence.

Investigators concluded shrubbery may have obscured the train operator’s view of Strickland.

The state’s workplace safety regulator, Cal/OSHA, issued four citations to BART and levied total fines of $28,685 for serious violations in connection with Strickland’s death, including one alleging that the simple-approval system had contributed to the accident.

The agency’s appeals board wrote a year after the accident that simple approval “deprives employees of (information about train travel) intentionally. The proffered reason for depriving workers of this information is so that workers stay alert at all times and expect a train at any time.”

BART countered at the time that simple approval had worked well for more than 30 years, with no accidents. But the appeals board said an employer “cannot leave it up to the employee to safeguard himself.”

Under state law, agencies must fix problems cited by Cal/OSHA after a case is over. But BART is still fighting the state’s findings in the Strickland matter.

Update, 4:45 p.m., Monday: The NTSB held a press conference about the incident on Saturday when two workers were killed by a BART train. NTSB investigator Jim Southworth said the operator of the train was in training, and that the train was moving at 60-70 miles per hour. He said the operator, who has held other positions with BART, had the train in automatic mode. Six employees were on board at the time. The NTSB said the train recorders are on their way to the NTSB lab in Washington, D.C.

Southworth also said the operator knew that there were people ahead on the tracks. From the Los Angeles Times:

He said the trainee operator, whom the NTSB interviewed Monday, had sounded the air horn before the accident. The train was moving at 60 mph to 70 mph when it made an emergency stop, Southworth said. He said the operator had heard a radio report warning of workers on the track.

“He was aware of people on the tracks,” Southworth said.

The agency conducted employee interviews today and will interview management tomorrow. It will also schedule a reenactment of the incident.

Update, 3 p.m., Monday: The Contra Costa County coroner has released the names of two people who were killed on Saturday after being struck by a BART train: Laurence Daniels, 66, from Fair Oaks, and Christopher Sheppard, 58, from Hayward. Bay City News reports that Daniels was a contractor working with BART and that Sheppard was a member of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993. That union is not striking, and BCN says it represents about 210 BART employees, mostly middle managers.

Update, 9:45 p.m.: BART union members held candlelight vigils in Walnut Creek and Oakland this evening to remember two workers who died Saturday when they were struck by a train while working trackside. Alex Emslie covered the Walnut Creek gathering and talked to some of the BART workers in attendance: Fannie Pettis said she knew one of the workers who died Saturday and says BART managers should have ensured the safety of her friend. “I am very angry because I just feel like we should have rules in place to protect our employees at all times regardless of who they are, what they’re doing, and obviously something went wrong,” Pettis said Richard Stingily said Saturday’s accident shows why unions have tried to highlight safety issues in their contract negotiations. “The safety rules, and the work rules, are very important” Stingily said. “That is one of the most important things here. And situations like this is what we were talking about.” Saturday, BART General Manager Grace Crunican and Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier extended their condolences to the families of the victims. When asked whether the accident highlighted the safety issues unions have raised, Oversier said “I’m not going to go there right now.” He said sorting out how the accident happened and helping the victims’ families was foremost in his mind. “We’re dealing with a situation here where the labor issues, the negotiations, are not in the forefront of our mind. We’ve just lost two members of the BART family.” The two people who died Saturday were the seventh and eighth workers to die on the job in BART’s 41-year history and the first since 2008.

Update, 5:15 p.m. Sunday: National Transportation Safety Board investigators have taken over the investigation of the accident that killed two workers along BART tracks in Walnut Creek on Saturday afternoon. An NTSB team arrived on the scene of the incident, in which a four-car train operated by a BART manager struck the workers early Sunday afternoon. The victims, one BART employee and one contract worker, were inspecting tracks between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations. Jim Southworth, the NTSB’s chief railroad accident investigator, is leading the inquiry. He said during a press conference in Walnut Creek this afternoon that only a limited amount of data was available from the train involved in the accident — not as much, say, as would be available from a freight train. Southworth said the train was not equipped with a forward-facing camera that might have captured the scene on the tracks as the accident unfolded. He added that the lead car did have an inward-facing camera in the cab that could shed light on the operator’s actions. Southworth said his team could be in the East Bay from four to 10 days and that the investigation could take six to 12 months or more before it’s final. “We are at the very start of this investigation,” Southworth said. “These accidents occur in an instant but they take a great deal of time to investigate.” He declined to speculate on any aspect of the incident, including whether the strike played a role or whether the two workers killed were currently certified to work along the tracks. Southworth said BART, the California Public Utilities Commission, the Federal Transit Administration and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are all participating in the investigation. Update, 5:15 p.m. Saturday: One of the questions that will arise in the aftermath of today’s fatal accident: the credentials of the train operator. BART’s statement calls the as-yet-unnamed person driving the train “an experienced operator.” Contra Costa Times cites sourcesas saying the driver was “an operator supervisor who drove trains two decades ago.” The Times also notes that BART General Manager Grace Crunican visited the site of the accident: “Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the two workers killed on the BART track,” she said. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 tweeted in the aftermath of the deaths:

Update, 4:20 p.m. Saturday: BART just posted this statementon the accident:

BART officials are responding to the scene of a fatal accident involving two employees who were struck by an out-of-service BART train. The names of the deceased are not being released at this time.The accident occurred at approximately 1:53 pm between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations, approximately one mile north of the Walnut Creek Station. The employees were performing track inspections in response to a report of a dip in the track at the time of the accident. The deceased include one BART employee and a contractor. Both people had extensive experience working around moving trains in both the freight train and the rapid transit industry. The procedures involved in track maintenance require one employee to inspect the track and the other to act as a lookout and notify of any oncoming traffic. The train was on a routine maintenance run with an experienced operator at the controls. At the time of the accident the train was being run in automatic mode under computer control. No further details are available at the moment. Updates will be provided as they become available.

Update, 3:55 p.m. Saturday: Audio of BART radio traffic from the time of the incident has been posted online:

Update, 3:50 p.m. Saturday:BART has confirmed a train struck and killed two employees working along the system’s tracks between Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill. The Contra Costa Times reports:

Two BART employees were hit and killed by one of the transit agency’s trains between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations Saturday afternoon, a BART police deputy chief confirmed. Sources say the two dead workers were non-union engineers performing track inspections when a manager operating a four-car train hit them. … … A BART employee, who wished to remain anonymous due to the ongoing strike, said he was monitoring BART transmissions when he heard a manager who was operating a train report an emergency. He said the manager reported that two unrepresented engineers who were performing track maintenance were hit. BART trains have not been running for commuters since Friday due to a labor strike, however some managers have moved trains for other purposes.

The San Francisco Chronicle adds:

The two workers, whose names weren’t immediately released, died at the scene after they were hit by an eastbound train, sources close to the investigation said.

According to BART emergency radio traffic immediately after the incident, there were six people aboard the train. BART police told KTVU that it was not yet clear who was operating the train at the time of the accident. After July’s BART strike, the agency said it ran trains every day to ensure everything in the system worked correctly and to keep rust off the rail lines.

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  • patti livernash

    My Uncle Ryan got Mercedes S-Class S65 AMG by working part time online… my review here w­w­w.J­A­M­20.c­o­m

  • Anon

    I worked with Chris a few times on those very tracks and he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. He was always responsible and professional and I’m really sad to hear about this tragedy.

  • Pablo

    BART management folded like a house of cards in negotiations because half of them should be in handcuffs.

Author

Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at dbrekke@kqed.org.

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