By Maura Dolan

After the deaths of two workers on BART tracks, the commuter rail system's directors Thursday permanently ended the practice of making employees on the tracks solely responsible for their own safety.

The directors of Bay Area Rapid Transit approved a policy that will require train operators or drivers to slow to 25 mph and be prepared to stop when approaching workers on or near the tracks.

The change, expected to cause delays in passenger service, is being made after the deaths Saturday of two workers inspecting tracks when a train hit them at 60 to 70 mph. They were working under a procedure called "simple approval" that gave them no warning of approaching trains and required one of them to act as a lookout.

The fatalities occurred on the second day of a strike, and the train was being operated by a trainee with an experienced trainer standing behind him. BART was preparing managers to run trains in the event of a long strike. It ended Monday.

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Saul Almanza, a BART employee and union official who instructs track workers in safety procedures, trained Laurence Daniels, 66, and Christopher Sheppard, 58, the men who died Saturday.

"It is sad," said Almanza, who rushed to the scene when the accident was reported. "You do everything you have to as a trainer to make sure everybody understands the rules, and this happens."

He said the change probably would disrupt train schedules but would improve worker safety. Under the system in place until Saturday, it was up to the workers to be prepared for a train coming in either direction at any time and to find a place to jump to safety.

The lookout had to constantly "swivel" his head to watch for trains, said Almanza, who worked on the tracks before becoming a trainer. Drivers are told when workers are on the tracks but are not required to slow down. Almanza said BART tries to schedule track repairs during off hours, but some must be performed while the trains are in service.

He said he was told that putting the safety responsibility on workers was "a way to keep them vigilant."

An investigator for the National Safety Transportation Board said Tuesday that it would review the procedure BART had in place.

Almanza said his safety training for workers requires them to go to the side of a track and signal when they hear an approaching train.

Most don't hear the train until it is 50 feet away, "which could be too late," he said. Many BART lines are along freeways.

Before Saturday, four workers had been killed on BART tracks since 1972, he said.

Jim Allison, a BART spokesman, said the procedures put in place Thursday were previously in effect only for intensive work projects that involved equipment and several workers.

(c)2013 Los Angeles Times