BART fatalities come amid strike, raising new safety concerns

A BART police officer at the scene of a fatal incident Saturday in which a train struck and killed two workers.
(Dan Rosenstrauch / The Mercury News)

A BART commuter train that hit and killed two maintenance workers Saturday while they were conducting a routine track inspection came on the second day of a transit workers strike, raising new concerns about safety issues.

The accident occurred about 1:45 p.m. on the track between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations, BART officials said. The victims were not immediately identified.

At the time of the accident, the workers were performing inspections in response to a report of a dip in the track, officials said. The deceased were a BART employee and a contractor.

The train was on a routine maintenance run with an experienced operator at the controls, officials said. The train was being run in automatic mode under computer control.


But some trains were being moved by managers, according to an Associated Press report.

“It makes us nervous to know that managers are out there running the trains,” Des Patten, a spokesman for SEIU Local 1021, said in an interview.

“I do not have exact particulars, but we do know that BART has been running trains on their own,” Patten said. “We understand they are not taking passengers, just taking trains up and down the track to keep the tracks worn. That is because if they sit too long they get rusty, which causes problems with electrical contacts between the wheels and the tracks.”

The people operating the trains “are managers who may at one time have operated trains, but not recently,” Patten said.


However, he added, “BART did set up training in a warehouse and moved a few cars in there. They did that to train some managers in preparation for the strike.”

“We were afraid they would try and operate and take passengers,” he said. “We were worried about safety because of the amount of training required to be an operator, which is about 15 weeks. A lot of people don’t make it through training because they can’t handle the stress.”

He said union officials warned BART’s board about “our concerns because we were worried they were running passengers,” he said. “They assured us they were running trains to prevent rails from rusting.”

Transit workers went on strike Friday after a weak of marathon negotiations broke down over salaries and benefits. BART, the nation’s fifth-largest transit system, carries about 400,000 round-trip passengers each workday.


The breakdown between Bay Area Rapid Transit and its two main unions came after 33 hours of continuous talks and a week of stops and starts.


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