BART is permanently dropping a controversial safety protocol known as "simple approval" after two workers were killed on the tracks over the weekend, a BART manager announced at the transit agency's board meeting in Oakland today.
"Upon reflection, we've decided to make this a permanent change," Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier told BART directors. "Given an opportunity to think about it, it's time to put an end to it and we've done that," Oversier said.
The protocol, under which employees doing maintenance work along the tracks are responsible for their own safety, was in effect when BART engineer Christopher Sheppard, 58, and contractor Laurence Daniels, 66, were hit and killed by a train on Saturday afternoon.
The agency had temporarily suspended use of the procedure on Sunday. Under the new rules, instead of allowing maintenance workers to walk along tracks while trains are still running, BART will now have to slow down, stop or divert trains when workers are in the area.
He noted that walking along the tracks is sometimes the only way workers can reach some problem spots. Oversier told directors that the change will be a "real challenge" to implement because the "simple approval" protocol had been used hundreds of times each month.
"This may require extra staff or disrupt service," Oversier said. He said it may be necessary do more maintenance work at night when the system is shut down. But the change "addresses the number-one issue after the incident," Oversier told the directors. At the time of the accident, Sheppard and Daniels were checking on a report of a dip in a stretch of trackway between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill BART stations. Under the "simple approval" policy, workers doing maintenance along the tracks were individually responsible for their own safety and were not guaranteed they would be warned of approaching trains.
BART had made several modifications to the policy after another worker, James Strickland, 44, was struck and killed by a train while inspecting track in Concord on Oct. 14, 2008.
Two of the changes were that train operators had to be alerted in a radio announcement about any workers along the tracks, and that employees were required to work in groups of at least two, with one person acting as a lookout for oncoming trains.
Workers were still told, however, that they were "individually responsible for providing their own protection" and that "No protection is given or implied with a Simple Approval," according to a BART manual.
They were told they must be able to detect oncoming trains and clear the track within 15 seconds. Outside of the BART meeting today, Oversier said the agency had used the practice for 42 years, but said, "We came to the conclusion that we can't live with it."