BART chief outlines rules for avoiding Saturday's fatalities UPDATED

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The BART train that fatally struck two workers Saturday.

UPDATED 5:30 PM: Guardian News Editor Rebecca Bowe filed a report from the latest NTSB press conference on the BART accident that claimed the lives of two workers in the midst of the BART strike, which can be read here.

For more on the concerns around safety training and certification for track inspection workers, read the following piece, which was published this morning but has not been altered to reflect new information. 

After two BART workers were struck and killed by a northbound train in Walnut Creek on Saturday, there are many questions to be answered: Why was the train moving in a district shut down by a labor strike? Were normal safety procedures being followed? And, most importantly, what could have prevented this tragedy?

Those of the some of the many questions that are now being investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, which it said could take as long as a year to answer publicly. 

That’s a year without answers. “This is going to take a long time to investigate,” Grace Crunican, BART’s general manager, said at a press conference after the accident.

The investigation won’t be conducted entirely in the dark, an investigator said. For the first few weeks the investigation will focus solely on fact gathering and be reported to the public without opinion. Jim Southworth, an NTSB investigator, hammered that home at a press conference on Sunday.

“I will not speculate,” he said, with the site of the accident just nearby. 

What we do know is this: Christopher Sheppard, a BART manager and member of the AFSCME union, and Larry Daniels, a contractor, were inspecting a “dip in the rail” before they were hit by an oncoming train Saturday afternoon. There was a camera inside the train facing the cabin, but no camera facing out towards the track. The two workers were required to go through what’s called a Simple Approval process to get permission to work on the track, and the NTSB will be looking at how that and other safety rules were adhered to. 

Longtime BART safety trainer Saul Almanza arrived at the scene shortly after the public was notified of the accident. He described the site of the crash as gruesome, in an interview with the Guardian. He had Sheppard and Daniels in his safety classes. He knew them. He stared downward as he recalled seeing the forms of his fellow workers under yellow sheets. Four workers have died on the job at BART before this, he said.

Drawing on his many years teaching safety to BART workers, Almanza explained what safety rules should have been adhered to when workers were out on a track.

Automated message error

BART has a brochure for workers outlining trackside safety procedures, called The Wayside Safety Program. This February 2013 manual lays out how workers signal to train operators that they’re about to work on the tracks.

Simple Approval is a process workers use to keep the Operations Control Center “aware of the presence of personnel in a specified location in the trackway,” according to the manual. When workers are preparing to work on a track, they must recite the simple approval to the Operations Control Center, also known as central control. It works like signing a waiver, saying that you understand the rules of safety, and more importantly, that you can work on the track without diverting trains. 

Cars of steel can whip by at any moment, so it’s important for workers to use simple approval to signal to central control that they are prepared. 

But it’s also a warning system. Once simple approval is given, train operators are supposed to be notified that someone is working on the tracks. 

When central control enters that information into the computer, an automated message is relayed to all of the BART system, including trains, warning which tracks have workers in harm’s way. Alarmingly, audio from BART dispatch, obtained by journalist Matthew Keys, revealed that the automated message from central relayed that there were no workers on the tracks. 

It was wrong. 

Radio dispatch reveals an erroneous automated message. Audio by freelance journalist and blogger Matthew Keys.

“A message from BART operation: there are no personnel wayside,” the automated message said in a female tone (wayside means on the tracks). 

Afterward, a voice piped up on dispatch to correct the automated message.  “Disregard, attention all personnel, we have personnel wayside,” said the next message, this time by a human worker. 

But the erroneous message could have confused the train operator, Almanza said, and possibly led to a fatal error.  

A more experienced operator, like the ones BART uses every day, may have caught the subtleties in the communication, he said, but someone who was refreshing their skills might not have caught the second message. Catching shifting commands quickly is “one of the nuances” of train operations, Almanza said.

Even if the train operator wasn’t expecting the workers to be on the tracks, there were still measures in place to ensure their safety. One of these is the 15-second-rule, and there’s a chance this process could have saved their lives if it had been observed.

15 second rule

BART’s safety policies outline that if an inspector working on the track obtains simple approval, they must adhere to the 15-second-rule. Basically, a worker can’t work somewhere on the track from which they can’t see a train coming 15 seconds away — like around a curve, elevation, or track shrouded by vegetation. If they need to work in a section of track with less visibility, they have to follow a different set of procedures by obtaining a work order. 

But under Simple Approval, they just notify central dispatch and set out to work. A worker also needs to set a predetermined, safe, and clear location to move to once he or she sees a train coming.

Almanza said a lingering question is whether the section of the track Daniels and Sheppard worked on fell under the standards of the 15-second rule. 

He said the track near the accident “crested the hill a little bit.” Having a sight line is important, he said, because you can’t use your ears to hear a train coming.

“It’s like a jet flying over you, you don’t hear it until it’s past you,” he explained. “I always teach in my class: ‘You don’t listen for trains, you look for trains.’”

It’s not clear at this point if the workers tried to get out of the way of the train or were caught completely by surprise. But when the workers follow the letter of the 15-second-rule to a tee, he said, they see a train coming and retreat to safety. 

BART helmet

A helmet at the scene of the crash, which a source says is posisblyfrom one of the workers fatally struck.

Relearning 

Another rule explicitly outlines that for every five or fewer workers present on the tracks, at least one must be a “watchperson.” It was created only after another unfortunate accident, in which a train fatally struck a BART worker.

“This was a new rule that came out in 2009 after James Strickland was killed,” Almanza said, darkly. 

The rule is explicit: BART workers can get simple approval to work on a track without a watchperson only when “a person is moving from one location to another and the person’s full attention is focused on watching out for trains or other on-rail vehicles.”

It is not yet known if the workers inspecting the rail were inspecting the rail while moving, or if they were stationary. 

Audio from the dispatch when the fatally struck workers were discovered, obtained by freelance journalist Matthew Keys.

Even more perplexing, though, is why their watchperson missed the oncoming train, Almanza said, because these workers had years of experience. Paul Oversier, BART’s head of operations, also confirmed the men in the accident were experienced professionals.

“These are two long-term railroad track specialists, I cannot overemphasize how long they’ve been in the business,” Oversier said at a press conference just after the accident. “They understand the railroads and understand moving trains, they were doing today something they’ve done a thousand times.”

But even experienced workers need to be recertified in safety protocol, Almanza said. 

BART employees are required to test for safety certification once every three years, and contractors must test for safety annually. That leads to a lingering question: were all of the workers involved in the accident certified in safety? There were three sections of workers involved, Almanza said. The train operators, central control, and the workers on the tracks themselves. With most of the experienced transit workers on strike, BART has not yet revealed if the replacements were all up to date on safety protocol.

In fact, when a reporter asked Oversier at a press conference if he knew who the driver was, he replied, “no, we don’t,” adding, “we believe the train was under (Automatic Train Operation).”

A computer was in control of the car, essentially. 

While the BART community continues asking questions, it also prays for those it lost. A vigil was held for Sheppard and Daniels yesterday, and flowers can be found on the fence near the accident. For a short time, the bitterly divided BART union and management have an unfortunate common ground. 

They’re both grieving the loss of their own as they look for answers. 

Comments

reinforces the unions' demands, particularly in respect of safety.

But this accident only happened because of the strike, and is another argument to make strikes illegal for any CA transit authority, if not federally.

Hopefully the unions will now do the decent thing and go back to work on the offered, improved contract that seems very reasonable to most neutral observers.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 11:19 am

if the managers and Board of BART had been truly keeping together a safe and excellent transit system, those deaths would not have happened

as the article properly speculates

the training of those workers was likely allowed to slack

Posted by racer x on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 11:52 am

you of course have no such sense of restraints, dignity and respect.

If the workers had stayed at work, those two would be alive today. Their blood is on the union.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 11:55 am

explain yourself with an actual argument

Posted by racer x on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 12:10 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 12:21 pm

i didn't ask you to say what everyone thinks

i asked you to *prove* what *you* think

so

prove it

answer the question

how, specifically, did the strike cause the accident?

Posted by racer x on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 12:48 pm

could man the trains, which would not have been necessary but for the unjustified walkout.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

and as steven rightly points out, if BART management would not have been trying to break the strike by running trains when it was unsafe to do so

nobody would have died

Posted by racer x on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 1:11 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

how is running BART trains during a strike "necessary"?

there are *many* other ways to get to work

it was the management who decided to defy safety precautions and run the trains, when other options would have done the job

Posted by racer x on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

the US and commuters, for sure, are happy about that.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

proof is necessary

Posted by blkdjflo on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

for blaming deaths on the workers

Posted by blksd on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:08 pm

insisting on actual arguments brings sunlight to turn trolls to stone

Posted by blksdo on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:07 pm
Posted by blksdoj on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:06 pm

the results are clear

Posted by blksdojf on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:05 pm

for getting at the heart of the matter (an not avoiding BART's culpability)

Posted by blksdojfl on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 9:03 pm

if the managers and Board of BART had been truly keeping together a safe and excellent transit system, those deaths would not have happened

as the article properly speculates

the training of those workers was likely allowed to slack

Posted by racer x on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 11:32 am

So there was not enough left to complete the training that the workers should have had. It's called, workers shooting themselves in the foot.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

you create the patently false dichotomy that worker pay and benefits somehow automatically take away from worker training as if it is a zero sum game, when we should instead, of course, be providing more of all *three* to the workers

i'm certain that there are enough billionaires and millionaires in the Bay Area to pay for this

Posted by racer x on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

If the unions hadn't gone on strike, those two people probably would not have been killed.

Posted by The Commish on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 11:56 am

All three unions warned the district that it would be unsafe for managers to operate the trains without the experienced drivers, and they were clearly correct. And if it turns out BART was training managers to run the trains themselves when this tragedy occurred, then BART managers and board members will have a lot to answer for. It takes an incredible leap of logic to blame these deaths on the unions who were unwilling to accept the district's "final offer" ultimatum. 

Posted by steven on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 12:22 pm

It is the greed of the workers that caused the strike that caused these deaths. It is disingenuous of you to play politics with a tragedy. Shame on you.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

Wait, it's "playing politics" to implicate BART management, but it's not "playing politics" if you blame the "greed of the workers?"

You're saying "shame on you" while doing the exact same thing you're shaming the other poster for... pot, meet kettle.

Posted by MWlurker on Oct. 22, 2013 @ 10:23 am

That's a fairly clear distinction in the mind of anyone who isn't a hopelessly baised union apologist.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 22, 2013 @ 10:37 am

Blaming the unions for this is just as "political" as blaming management.

That's just basic logic and has nothing to do with whether someone is pro-union or not.

Posted by MWlurker on Oct. 22, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

So strikes are never instigated by management. They made an offer and if the union doesn't like it and walk out, it's on their heads. They could have taken the deal they got a week ago.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 22, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

My point was, and still is, that you should stop accusing others of "playing politics with a tragedy." You're doing the exact same thing they are doing, you're just picking a different side of the argument by blaming the unions for what happened in the accident.

If you're really being paid to post here, I hope your bosses think they are getting their money's worth, because your arguments are not very compelling.

Posted by MWlurker on Oct. 22, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

The workers shouldn't be on strike in the first place. And they shouldn't have been permitted to go on strike. Why New York, San Francisco and other towns bar transit strikes while California can't do the same for BART is a joke. If the strike wasn't happening, these guys might not have died.

And the "work rules" about which the unions are striking are a joke. Some examples: birthdays are paid holidays; the union gets veto power over technological upgrades; etc.

Posted by The Commish on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

trains when they *knew* it was dangerous

in a court of law, the management would

(and possibly actually will)

be held responsible for those deaths

if i were practicing firing a gun into bullet proof glass, and the glass was taken down for repair

and i decided capriciously that i would keep firing, and then accidentally shot someone

*I* would be held responsible, not the workers who took the glass down

Posted by racer x on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

from a tragedy is inexcusable. Everyone i have spoken to sees this as the fault of the union.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 1:33 pm

are likely speaking with

can you say corporatist elite echo chamber?

nobody i know (and i know a *lot* of people)

would believe that workers are at fault for a dangerous decision made by management

the vast working class are much smarter than to blame their downtrodden lives on themselves, when their bosses are the ones running the shop

Posted by racer x on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

That would be a logical inference, since I have a better job than you do.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

do you believe that you have a "better" job

and that this means you know "smarter" people?

if higher pay is in fact what you are absurdly referring to, it seems that the higher paid managers of BART considered themselves smarter than their workers

and we now see the deadly result of such arrogance

i'm sure that French elites also thought within their Baroque conservatory echo chambers that they were the most brilliant people who ever lived

before their stupid world came crashing down

Posted by racer x on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

You've also admitted that you rent.

Not looking smart on either count.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

By what criterion does a Google programmer have a "better" job than a hamburger flipper?

Who are you to make such odious judgements?

By what criteria are the people do you know "smarter"?

Why, they probably don't do valuable work, like erecting troll barriers all day!

Posted by Lilli Racer X on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 2:24 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

The first rule of being a paid troller is not to admit you are a paid troller.

Methinks you might not be as smart as you think you are.

Posted by MWlurker on Oct. 22, 2013 @ 10:39 am
Posted by Guest on Oct. 22, 2013 @ 10:46 am

No, not really, you look like a fool.

Posted by MWlurker on Oct. 22, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

And you don't even get it when it's explained to you.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 22, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

Nietzsche had you pegged.

Whom do I hate most heartily among the rabbles of today? The rabble of Socialists, the apostles to the Chandala, who undermine the workingman’s instincts, his pleasure, his feeling of contentment with his petty existence—who make him envious and teach him revenge… . Wrong never lies in unequal rights; it lies in the assertion of “equal” rights… . What is bad? But I have already answered: all that proceeds from weakness, from envy, from revenge. The anarchist and the Christian have the same ancestry

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 2:15 pm
Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

Early anarchists were vehement opponents of the Christian church and this persists in many of today's anarchists being full-on atheists.

For example search for 'church' at:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarchism_in_Spain

Posted by Eric Brooks on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 2:51 pm

Anarchists hate Christians like Pepsi hates Coke.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 6:36 pm

Socialism is the visionary younger brother of an almost decrepit despotism, whose heir it wants to be. Thus its efforts are reactionary in the deepest sense. For it desires a wealth of executive power, as only despotism had it; indeed, it outdoes everything in the past by striving for the downright destruction of the individual, which it sees as an unjustified luxury of nature, and which it intends to improve into an expedient organ of the community. Socialism crops up in the vicinity of all excessive displays of power because of its relation to it, like the typical old socialist Plato, at the court of the Sicilian tyrant;11 it desires (and in certain circumstances, furthers) the Caesarean power state of this century, because, as we said, it would like to be its heir. But even this inheritance would not suffice for its purposes; it needs the most submissive subjugation of all citizens to the absolute state, the like of which has never existed. And since it cannot even count any longer on the old religious piety towards the state, having rather always to work automatically to eliminate piety (because it works on the elimination of all existing states), it can only hope to exist here and there for short periods of time by means of the most extreme terrorism. Therefore, it secretly prepares for reigns of terror, and drives the word “justice” like a nail into the heads of the semi-educated masses, to rob them completely of their reason (after this reason has already suffered a great deal from its semieducation), and to give them a good conscience for the evil game that they are supposed to play. Socialism can serve as a rather brutal and forceful way to teach the danger of all accumulations of state power, and to that extent instill one with distrust of the state itself. When its rough voice chimes in with the battle cry “As much state as possible,” it will at first make the cry noisier than ever; but soon the opposite cry will be heard with strength the greater: ‘As little state as possible.’

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

It was painted by people like Nietzsche who witnessed the ideals of socialism being hijacked by elites to cynically advance their own selfish interests.

Raising such a Nietzscheian criticism of socialism is no more accurate than claiming that the Soviet Union was a failed socialist or communist model, when the Soviet Union was neither socialist nor communist, and was essentially hierarchical State Capitalism.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

Every socialist says "I'm not like the others" and every socialist that gains power is just like the others.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 6:37 pm

I actually find aspects of Nietzsche appealing in that the victimhood left ignores the will to power at its own peril. People see themselves as persevering over adversity more so than as victims confined by oppression.

Posted by marcos on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 7:12 pm

Oversier, Crunican and Radulovich should be held accountable for the deaths. It was their decision to run the train(s). If there is no accountability at the top then it is just open season on killing people.

Posted by Guest on Oct. 21, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

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