California Commuter Transit Agency Fined $220,000 in Workers’ Deaths

By PAUL ELIAS | October 9, 2017

A Northern California judge fined the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency $220,000 on Friday for the deaths of two workers accidentally hit by a commuter train.

Laurence Daniels, 66, and Christopher Sheppard, 58, were killed in 2013 while inspecting a track east of San Francisco. They were inspecting the track as the agency was scrambling to restore limited service with managers serving as drivers amid a workers strike.

The train that struck the two workers was operated by a trainee with no direct supervision in the cab, the judge found. The driver slammed on the emergency brake and tried to hit the button to sound the train’s horns but instead pressed a button that controls the doors.

The transit agency was using a safety procedure called “simple approval,” in which track inspectors were responsible for their own safety and determined they could clear the track within 15 seconds of an approaching train.

BART has since eliminated that policy. BART trains are now required to stop if a worker is within six feet of the track. BART has also said it has improved communications between drivers, track inspectors and the control center.

The two workers had their backs to the train when struck in violation of agency safety rules. One member of inspection crews is always supposed to be watching for trains.

The California Public Utilities Commission sought the fine and three years of probation after determining the transit agency’s safety rules and procedure were inadequate. BART will have to pay an additional $440,000 if it violates terms of its probation, which include tightening its safety rules and submitting more detailed safety reports.

“These are serious and egregious violations, particularly in view of the fact that they were violations committed by BART’s top level veteran managers, reflecting BART’s organizational and management culture and attitudes,” the administrative law judge’s decision reads.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said the transit agency is still deciding whether to appeal. “We put into place safeguards to minimize human error and brought on additional safety-related positions,” Trost said.

BART has paid the family of Daniels $300,000 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit. It’s unknown if Sheppard’s family has filed a lawsuit.

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