WALNUT CREEK (CBS SF/AP) — BART commuters should find make alternate plans for Monday. With no scheduled talks, the strike will continue.
Sunday, a federal investigator said the out-of-service commuter train that struck and killed two San Francisco Bay area transit workers did not have a front-facing video recorder that would help reconstruct the moments leading up to the accident.
But National Transportation Safety Board investigator Jim Southworth told reporters Sunday that interviews, equipment inspections, audio recordings and a video showing part of the train’s cab should provide enough facts to determine what caused the mishap.
Saturday’s accident on Bay Area Rapid Transit tracks in the East Bay city of Walnut Creek took place against the backdrop of a contentious and disruptive labor strike that has kept BART trains from carrying passengers since Friday.
Southworth says that even if the strike ended immediately, the ongoing investigation means it would probably take a few days before trains could run on those tracks.
“These accidents occur in an instant, but they take very long to investigate,” he said.
The NTSB has been promoting improved safety measures for track maintenance crews since the May death of a foreman who was killed by a passenger train in West Haven, Conn., spokesman Eric Weiss said.
In June, the board urged the Metro-North Railroad to provide backup protection for crews that were relying on dispatchers to close tracks while they are being worked on and to light the appropriate signals.
The investigators now in California will be checking to see if BART uses “shunts” — a device that crews can attach to the rails in a work zone that gives approaching trains a stop signal — or any other of the backup measures the NTSB recommended for the Metro-North system, Weiss said.
“Obviously, we are very concerned anytime anyone dies in transportation accidents, but we’re very interested in the issue of track worker deaths right now,” he said.
A 2007 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that between 1993 and 2002 a total of 460 railroad workers died on the job, 132 of them were pedestrian workers struck by trains and other rail vehicles. Of all the accidents, 62 involved local passenger trains.
Although freight trains are required to have forward-facing cameras, there is no standard practice for subway trains, Weiss said.
The incident occurred about two days into a strike by BART’s two biggest unions, shortly before 2 p.m. around one mile north of the Walnut Creek station.
The two men — a BART employee and a contractor — were inspecting a reported dip in the tracks on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line, when they were struck by an out-of-service train that was being moved to Concord, according to BART assistant general manager Paul Oversier.
Christopher Sheppard of Hayward and Larry Daniels were declared dead at the scene.
BART officials issued a statement on Saturday saying that an experienced operator was at the controls of the train but that it was operating under computer control.
There were six people on board the train at the time of the accident, none of whom were injured.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican said it was “a tragic day in BART’s history.”
“The entire BART family is grieving,” Crunican said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of our deceased co-workers.”
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 said on its official Twitter account in response to the deaths that it will not picket Sunday “out of respect for the families involved.”
“This is a terrible human tragedy and we mourn the passing of these two individuals,” ATU Local 1555 president Antonette Bryant said in a statement. “We pray for the families of those who lost their lives.”
Union members held a somber memorial at Lake Merritt in Oakland Saturday night. Two more candlelight vigils were held for the victims Sunday evening, union officials said.
One was at the Walnut Creek BART Station, and the second at Lake Merritt Plaza in Oakland.
Meanwhile, with no indication that the striking BART workers would be back on the job Monday, the region was preparing for another day of gridlock on freeways and bridges clogged with commuters who would ordinarily be traveling by train. BART, the nation’s fifth-largest commuter rail system, has an average weekday ridership of 400,000.
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