NTSB Reacts To BART Deaths With “Urgent” Safety Recommendations

The National Transportation Safety Board today issued “urgent” safety recommendations to protect rail workers in the wake of the on-the-job deaths of two BART track workers in Contra Costa County two months ago.

The recommendations arose from the NTSB’s ongoing investigation into the deaths of 58-year-old Hayward man Christopher Sheppard and 66-year-old Laurence Daniels of Fair Oaks, who were struck and killed by a BART train on Oct. 19 while inspecting a dip in the tracks between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill BART stations.

At the time of their deaths, BART was using a controversial safety procedure known as “simple approval,” in which track employees were responsible for their own safety and required workers to clear the track in 15 seconds if a train approached.
BART has since eliminated the practice.

Following that revelation, the NTSB is urging “redundant” safety measures for rail workers, such as implementing a safety monitoring system known as positive train control, secondary warning devices or the use of a shunt that workers attach to rails to send a stop signal to approaching trains, according to a statement from the safety board.

The NTSB today also urged Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff to require transit agencies to review safety procedures and eliminate practices that rely solely on the track worker to protect themselves from an oncoming train.

“Having redundant protection measures in place for track workers is not only a best practice but common sense,” NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman said. “A positive safety culture is not a solo act—everyone needs to look out for each other.”

The letter to Rogoff also cites other track worker deaths investigated by the NTSB in recent years, including fatal incidents in the Washington, D.C., New York and Boston areas.

The investigation into the deaths of Daniels and Sheppard is ongoing and the NTSB has not yet determined the accident’s probable cause.

Laura Dixon, Bay City News

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