The BART employees who were struck and killed by an out-of-service train on a maintenance run Saturday afternoon were experienced railroad track specialists who knew how to work around moving trains.
National Transportation Safety Board officials announced late Saturday night that they will take over investigation of the accident.
BART Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier talked to media at the accident scene in Walnut Creek but refused to answer questions as to whether this accident had anything to do with the safety issues that unions have been raising during recent contract negotiations.
"We just lost two people in the BART family," Oversier said. "I'm not going to go there now."
Fatalities of BART employees are rare. The deaths are the 6th and 7th in the transit agency's 40-year history.
The last employee death occurred around this time of year not far from Saturday's incident. James Strickland, a BART inspector, was struck from behind by a train traveling 70 mph on Oct. 14, 2008 while performing a routine inspection on the tracks between the Concord and Pleasant Hill stations. BART reportedly had assigned trains headed in opposite directions to a shared track for routine maintenance.
Posted earlierBART police said two BART employees were struck and killed by an out-of-service train Saturday afternoon on the tracks between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations.
The incident happened around 1:45 p.m. near Jones Road in Walnut Creek, about a mile north of the Walnut Creek station. (Click here to listen to an audio recording posted online of BART radio traffic detailing the incident from start through the emergency response.)
BART union reps and management were at the scene of the collision.
"We are like firefighters and police officers. When one of ours goes down, we all take it hard, even if we are having a disagreement," said Hassan Shaheed, an operations supervisor with one of BART's unions.
BART released a statement around 4 p.m. saying one of the deceased was a BART employee and the other was a contractor. Their names have not yet been released.
The employees were performing track inspections in response to a report of a dip in the track. Both people had extensive experience working around moving trains in both the freight train and the rapid transit industry. The procedures involved in track maintenance require one employee to inspect the track and the other to act as a lookout and notify of any oncoming traffic.
The train was on a routine maintenance run with an experienced operator at the controls. At the time of the accident the train was being run in automatic mode under computer control, BART said in a statement.
However, in the audio recording of the radio traffic between BART's central dispatch and Train 963, a woman can be heard specifically directing the train operator to "keep coming" and then to "slow down." She then says "stop," three times, the third time emphatically.Officials said Friday that trains need to be operated during a strike to make sure there's no rust on the tracks and that everything is in working order.
The Saturday afternoon incident happened as one BART union announced it will let its members vote on the latest contract offer from BART management.
Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 President Antonette Bryant told reporters at the Pittsburg/Bay Point BART station on Saturday afternoon that the union is preparing to put management's latest contract proposal, which includes an updated economic package and changes to work rules and workplace practices, to a vote.
"We are going to vote on that contract, but we know that our members are going to vote it down," she said, as dozens of union members stood behind her.
Representatives from the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 have not said yet if their members will vote on the proposal.
However, Bryant said there have been no new bargaining sessions scheduled between the unions and BART management since talks broke down and BART workers walked off the job on Friday morning.
BART workers are holding picket lines Saturday at the West Oakland BART station and at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station, ATU representatives said.
Patch Editors Kari Hulac and Alex Gronke and Bay City News Service contributed to this report.