Union: Muni driver blacked out before crash


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The drive of the L train said he blacked out before crashing into the K train, that's according to a union representative. The union representative said even though investigators said it may look like the driver broke a rule, it was a rule that almost everyone ignores.

Federal investigators are now in charge of trying to figure out what caused a /*Muni*/ light rail train accident at the West Portal Station. And they have discovered a crucial decision the driver made just before the accident.

"Data has been captured to show the L line train switched from automatic to manual," said NTSB investigator Ted Turpin.

If the train had been in the automatic mode its emergency brakes would have kicked in when it detected there was another train parked at the platform. But it was in manual mode and after switching to manual, union representatives tell ABC7 News the driver blacked out -- so the train kept going and was moving at 20 miles per hour when it hit the other, parked train.

"We don't know if that's standard practice. We don't know if that's his practice. We don't know too much in that area yet; it is part of the interviews and part of the gathering -- it's why we're here," said Turpin.

Muni procedure is to wait until the train is at the platform before switching to manual mode for city street driving. But the driver's union president tells ABC7 it is an unofficial established practice to switch to manual if another train is at the platform - so drivers can ease the train up there and start unloading and loading passengers. He says this helps keeps the trains on time. The automatic mode would not allow two trains there at once.

"When it was in the tunnel on automatic, yes, it should prevent it from colliding with of the trains -- once it went to manual it was no longer protected," said Turpin.

The driver is still in the hospital. Witnesses say he was slumped over in his seat just before the crash.

"The driver's head was down, he looked like he was asleep, or passed out, I couldn't tell, but he was not looking up, he was not slowing down or braking," said Nancy Martin.

San Francisco Supervisor /*Bevan Dufty*/ says city officials will be watching this closely to see what if any policy changes need to be made.

"As a member of the Board of Supervisors I certainly intend to closely follow this and see what we can do to make sure never happens again," said Dufty.

Federal investigators have been able to conclude that the brakes on the train were working. They haven't released the name of the driver; they will only release that he has worked for Muni for 30 years, first as a bus driver and then in 2007 he switched over and became a light rail operator.

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