Two workers killed by BART train the district was using on a "training run," despite safety warnings from the striking unions
"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 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.
BART's 15-second-rule says 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.
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. 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.'"
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. Yet Almanza said the accident is perplexing because these workers had years of experience. Paul Oversier, BART's head of operations, also confirmed the men in the accident were experienced professionals.
"They understand the railroads and understand moving trains, they were doing today something they've done a thousand times," Oversier said at a press conference just after the accident.
But even experienced workers need to be recertified in safety protocol, Almanza said. With most of the experienced transit workers on strike, the BART train that struck the two workers was used for training. It's still unclear what role that played in the tragedy.
Tim Daw contributed to this report.
— NewsBreaker (@NewsBreaker) October 21, 2013
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