New BART rail worker safety rules approved in wake of fatal accident 

click to enlarge BART
  • Ben Margot/AP file photo
  • BART and other state transit agencies are abandoning a former protocol that holds workers responsible for their own safety.
In the wake of the deaths of two BART workers who were struck by a train last month, on Thursday the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco adopted a series of new safety regulations to protect trackside workers.

Among other rules, transit agencies in California must immediately create a procedure for three-way communication among train operators, central controllers and workers doing maintenance on the tracks.

The movement of trains into work zones must be controlled with flags or signals limiting speed, or locking switches that physically prevent train cars from moving on tracks where work is being done.

The approval makes California the first state in the nation to adopt such comprehensive transit safety rules, according to the CPUC.

Some of the rules were previously proposed as part of a rule-making process initiated by the commission in 2009. The regulations come after years of discussion, debate and collaboration among the state’s rail transit industry experts and stakeholders, the CPUC says.

Other requirements, such as the three-way communication mandate, were developed as immediate interim provisions because of a “public necessity” following the most recent BART accident, the commission said.

BART engineer Christopher Sheppard, 58, and contractor Laurence Daniels, 66, were checking on a report of a dip in a stretch of trackway between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill BART stations when they were hit by a train Oct. 19.

“Safety is our priority and we are mindful of the need to examine and improve our rules and regulations in order to better ensure safety,” CPUC President Michael Peevey said.

At the time, the employees were working under a now-abandoned BART safety procedure known as “simple approval,” in which workers were responsible for their own safety, were not guaranteed warnings of approaching trains, and were required to be able to spot approaching trains and clear the track within 15 seconds.

Last week, BART announced a permanent moratorium on the simple approval procedure and said trains in the vicinity of workers will be slowed, stopped or diverted.

But BART has not yet announced details of the new procedure.

The interim rules adopted by the commission, including the three-way communication requirement, will go into effect immediately.

— Staff, wire report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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