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National Transportation Safety Board Takes Over BART Tragedy Investigation

In the midst of a strike that's closed the Bay Area's transit system, federal investigators arrived to inspecting the railway where a train struck and killed two workers on Saturday.

By Rick Hurd and David Debolt

Federal investigators arrived in Walnut Creek on Sunday to begin inspecting the railway where a BART train struck and killed two workers on Saturday, the second day of a worker strike that has closed the transit agency to commuters.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board walked the tracks near Jones Road, requested video and signal data from BART, and took measurements at the start of what promises to be a lengthy investigation.

The names of the two workers were not released Sunday. They are the seventh and eighth BART workers to die on the job in the transit agency's 41-year history.

"We will be looking at everything, from the operations to the signals to the records that were kept," investigator Jim Southworth said, adding that he and the NTSB's Richard Hipskind are the two lead investigators into the transit workers' deaths. "This is going to be a thorough investigation, and it's going to take a long time."

Read more transportation stories.

NTSB was assembling a team of experts tasked with combing through piles of documents, performing mechanical inspections on BART equipment present during the accident and interviewing transit employees.

Video from a camera facing the cab of the train has also been requested for review, Southworth said. There was no camera facing outward from the front of the train that hit the workers, he said.

The four-car train was moved from the accident scene Sunday afternoon.

Southworth estimated that the investigation will take four to 10 days, with a final report and possible recommendations released in as early as six months. BART police and officials from the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health and the California Public Utilities Commission also were at the scene Sunday.

The workers were struck around 1:53 p.m. PDT Saturday, less than 48 hours after BART union workers went on strike and train service shut down. The two workers were on the tracks on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line, between the Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek stations.

The two were inspecting the track after reports of a "dip" in the rail, BART Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier said Saturday. Both workers had extensive experience working on the track, he said. A BART manager was returning a train to the Concord yard after delivering vandalized cars to Richmond for cleaning, Oversier said.

BART officials said Saturday that one of the workers was a BART employee, and officials at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3993 confirmed he was a member of the union.

BART union members went on strike less than 48 hours before the accident, but members of AFSCME are free to cross the picket line, AFSCME President Patricia Schuchardt said Saturday. Those workers were encouraged to "stand in solidarity" with others on the picket line.

The other worker was a contractor.

Whether the workers' deaths will have an impact on negotiations between BART management and its unions remain to be seen.

About 60 people, mostly BART employees, held candles in a circle during a vigil at the Walnut Creek BART station Sunday night. They offered condolences to the families of the two deceased workers, and repeatedly said the tragic accident was preventable.

Richard Stingily of Antioch, a 23-year BART employee, said, "Absolutely no one deserves to be killed in an accident like this. I can't imagine how the families are feeling. Make no mistake, safety issues and work rules are paramount."

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said in a statement issued Sunday afternoon that BART's board of directors will hold a special closed session meeting Monday, but that no talks between management and union leaders are scheduled.

The two sides have been in contact with one another, as well as with a mediator to determine what's next, Trost said.

(Matthias Gafni, Gary Peterson and Katie Nelson contributed to this story.)

(c)2013 Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.)

Daniel Luzer is GOVERNING's news editor.
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