NTSB holds briefing on deadly BART accident

Wednesday afternoon the NTSB will reenact the accident where two BART employees were struck and killed on the tracks.
October 22, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
At a press conference held Tuesday at 5 p.m. the NTSB said they have been in the fact finding phase of their investigation into the deaths of two BART employees who were hit by a train over the weekend.

The NTSB investigators said they completed their investigation of the scene and signal system on Tuesday. They plan to conduct a reenactment of the accident on Wednesday afternoon.

They have requested 30 days of maintenance records for the BART cars. BART is helping to compile that information for the NTSB. Investigators said the lights, horn, and brakes were working. The employees that were killed were allowed to be on the tracks and were granted simple approval from the control center and were responsible for their own safety.

There were two individuals training to operate trains on the day of the accident. NTSB lead investigator Jim Southworth said, "Each trainee spent time in the operator seat for such training, under the direct supervision of an experienced trainer, positioned behind the trainee. At the time of the accident the trainee's time in the operator's seat was part of the trainee's certification to operate trains in revenue service. We have been told that the other employees onboard were riding in the passenger portion of the car."

BART released a statement about the closure of the BART tracks on Wednesday so that the NTSB can conduct a reenactment. The statement said, "In cooperation with the ongoing NTSB investigation, on Wednesday, October 23, 2013 from 12 noon to 3:30 pm, BART will need to operate a bus bridge between Lafayette Station and Pleasant Hill/Contra Costa Centre Station. This means there will be no BART train service between Lafayette, Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations during that 3.5 hour period, customers will need to use the bus bridge instead."

Workers killed on BART tracks considered responsible for own safety

The two BART workers who were struck and killed by a train while inspecting the tracks during the second day of a BART strike over the weekend were working under a practice in which they were considered responsible for their own safety, a National Transportation Safety Board official said.

Track engineers Laurence Daniels, 66, and Christopher Sheppard, 58, were checking on a report of a dip in a stretch of trackway between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill BART stations a short time before 2 p.m. Saturday when they were fatally hit by a BART train.

An operator in training was driving the train, which was running without passengers, according to the NTSB.

The pair was also working under a standard BART procedure known as "simple approval," which requires workers to notify BART's operations control center when they plan to work on or near the tracks.

Under that protocol, NTSB lead investigator Jim Southworth said Tuesday, "the responsibility of their safety is on themselves" and workers are told to expect a train coming in either direction at any time.

Following simple approval, either Sheppard or Daniels was expected to designate themselves as a lookout for the other worker to keep an eye on the tracks, Southworth said.

On the day of the accident, two people were in training to operate trains, working under the direct supervision of an experienced trainer. The person in the operator's chair at the time of the collision was working to complete a certification to operate passenger trains, he said.

Four other BART employees aboard the train were in the train's passenger compartment, he said.

NTSB investigators gathered that and other details about the circumstances surrounding Saturday's fatal crash during an on-scene investigation on Monday and Tuesday and plan to conduct a reenactment of the accident on Wednesday.

BART officials said in a statement on Tuesday that the BART tracks will be closed and a bus bridge will be set up to replace train service between the Lafayette, Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek stations from noon to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday during the reenactment.

Meanwhile, the NTSB has also requested 30 days' worth of maintenance records for the BART cars involved in the crash, Southworth said.

He said investigators will then review those records, along with audio and visual recordings taken by equipment in the train operator's compartment and transcripts of interviews with BART employees.

A preliminary report based on the NTSB's investigation could take six months to a year to complete, and possibly longer, depending on the information collected, Southworth said.

As part of their investigation, the NTSB will also review the employee procedures used at the time of the collision, including simple approval, Southworth said.

The practice was also used by the last BART worker who perished on the job, 44-year-old James Strickland, who was struck and killed by a BART train on Oct. 14, 2008, while conducting an inspection on the tracks in Concord. On the day of the accident, Strickland and his colleague were unaware that trains would be single-tracking through the area, according to a report completed by BART safety inspectors.

Southworth said he is familiar with practices used by other transit agencies similar to "simple approval," but did not elaborate.

Bay City News contributed to this report.


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