Criminal Negligence Of BART Bosses Led To Murder Of Two Scabs During Strike
Criminal Negligence Of BART Bosses Led To Murder Of Two Scabs During Strike
BART could face additional fines for 2013 worker deaths
Courtesy BARTBART may still be on the hook for additional fines after a train struck and killed two workers in 2013.
By ERIN BALDASSARI | email@example.com
PUBLISHED: September 7, 2016 at 4:00 pm | UPDATED: September 7, 2016 at 6:11 pm
Nearly three years after a BART train struck and killed two workers inspecting a portion of the track in Walnut Creek, the transit agency could be forced to pay additional fines for lax safety protocols that led to the workers’ deaths.
The California Public Utilities Commission released its final investigative report earlier this year and issued an order in late June for the agency to prove why it shouldn’t be fined or face penalties for the Oct. 19, 2013, incident in which BART employee Christopher Sheppard, 58, of Hayward, and contractor Laurence Daniels, 66, of Fair Oaks, were killed.
The accident, already emotionally taxing to the workers’ families and co-workers, is also becoming increasingly costly for the agency. The CPUC could fine BART $500 to $50,000 per day for each offense deemed to be an ongoing violation. And BART is facing $210,000 in fines following an investigation by Cal-OSHA, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, though it has appealed the agency’s findings.
BART has also recently settled a civil suit brought by representatives of the Daniels family. A BART spokesperson said the final settlement agreement will be released once it has been filed with the Alameda County Superior Court, likely later this month. Members of the Daniels family and their lawyers did not return requests for comment.
The CPUC report contains new details about the incident — including evidence that the authorized train operator, who was overseeing a trainee at the time, had been using a cellphone throughout the day, a possible violation of both state regulations and BART’s own policies.
Since the accident, the transit agency has instituted a suite of new safety protocols to protect employees working on the tracks. But Chris Finn, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, which represents BART employees, said that more work needs to be done to ensure workers’ safety.
“There’s a concern that redundancy is really important,” Finn said. “But I don’t think the current system provides the redundancy that the various agencies would want to see.”
Both Cal-OSHA’s report and a 2015 investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board emphasized the inherent danger in a procedure called “simple approval,” which allowed workers to operate within a certain distance of the tracks and put the onus on the workers to ensure their own safety. Under the procedure, workers were supposed to designate a member of the team whose sole job is to watch for any passing trains. That didn’t happen on Oct. 19, 2013, as both workers were facing away from the train that struck them, according to the investigations.
BART suspended the simple approval procedure immediately following the workers’ deaths and later eliminated the procedure entirely. But unlike previous investigations, the CPUC report highlights other failures, including errors in judgement by the train controller, train operator and a trainee, who was driving the train at the time.
New details emerge:
The weather on the day of the accident was warm, sunny and clear, but nearly everything else was out of the ordinary. BART workers had gone on strike the previous day. Managers were performing essential track maintenance, and the agency was also preparing to offer limited service from the East Bay to San Francisco during the labor action.
Sheppard and Daniels were out inspecting a dip in the tracks between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations. They had called the train control center earlier that day to get approval for the work, which was granted.
But, according to the CPUC, that’s where the problems began. Instead of allowing the workers to designate their own watchman, the train controller could have required a “work area clearance” order, which prevents trains from entering areas where workers are present — an oversight that Alicia Trost, a spokesperson for BART, acknowledged.
“(The workers) were on simple approval, which meant they shouldn’t have been in the track zone,” Trost said. “To go in the track zone we required a lookout person and work orders. Work orders would have locked out the area (to passing trains).”
The CPUC cited this failure as one of three primary causes of the incident.
It also cited the inexperience of the trainee who was operating the train at the time as another primary cause. Earlier reports noted that the train operator, who was supposed to be overseeing the trainee, was not in the cabin with the trainee at the time of the accident. The CPUC report includes evidence that the supervisor had also sent or received 47 text messages and logged 11 calls between 6 a.m. and the time of the collision, 1:44 p.m., including one text message sent one minute before the men were struck by the train.
“Text messages … may have distracted the (supervisor) from his supervisory duties regarding the (trainee),” the CPUC report reads. “Further, the (supervisor’s) location away from the operator’s chair combined with the distractions of his cellular telephone … may have made proper observation and instruction very difficult.”
Moments before the collision, the trainee operating the train saw the two workers standing in the middle of the track. He applied the emergency brake and tried to sound the train’s horn, but he hit the door control button instead, according to the CPUC. The train hit the workers 4.7 seconds later.
In its formal response to the CPUC, BART officials maintain that the trainee was overseen by a qualified train operator, though the response does not directly address whether the supervisor violated BART’s policies or state regulations by using a cellphone while supervising the trainee and by failing to be present in the same train car. It puts the blame for the accident on the workers who died.
“If the workers had complied with the watchperson required by BART’s Simple Approval rules (before it was required by any CPUC regulation), then this accident would not have occurred,” the agency’s response reads. “The accident at issue was the result of human error, not the violation of any applicable rule or regulation by BART.”
BART has since put in place new safety protocols and created new positions specifically focused on safety. A designated “employee in charge” must give clearance to trains before they pass, a task that was previously handled by the train controller. Workers also must place flashing red or blue lights at both ends of the work area so train operators have advanced warning that people are in the track area, Trost said. And trains must travel at 27 mph or slower through work areas once clearance from the employee in charge is given. The agency is also investing $4 million in physical safety barriers to protect workers who need to access areas near, but not on, the tracks.
“These positions allowed for the creation of watchpersons and employee-in-charge positions,” Trost said. “The additional positions provide the backbone of our right-of-way safety program.”
BART also set up a Road Worker Protection Technology Committee to conduct research on early warning technologies available in the rail industry. That committee met three times following the workers’ deaths, Trost said. The agency’s system safety department reached out informally to Protran Technology to develop prototype testing of early warning system technology, but that solution was not being actively pursued, Trost said.
While there haven’t been any major developments in prototype testing, Trost said some small steps have been taken.
“Agencies have been comparing notes on their product evaluation and have invited each other to participate in others’ evaluation activities,” she said. “Also, we are constantly exploring other new products in the field to see if any of them fit BART’s needs.”