BART Train Operator in Fatal Accident Was Trainee

By Associated Press and NBC Bay Area Staff
|  Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013  |  Updated 8:11 AM PDT
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National Transportation Safety Board investigators say the Bay Area Rapid Transit employee who was operating a train during an accident that killed two track workers was a trainee. Monte Francis reports.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators say the Bay Area Rapid Transit employee who was operating a train during an accident that killed two track workers was a trainee. Monte Francis reports.

Photos and Videos

RAW VIDEO: BART Train Kills Two Maintenance Workers

BART said the two employees who were killed by a train Saturday afternoon were performing track inspections in response to a report of a dip in the track at the time of the accident.

BART Workers Killed by Train in Walnut Creek

An unexpected and tragic turn of events in the BART strike Saturday. Monte Francis reports on the death of two workers.
More Photos and Videos

National Transportation Safety Board investigators say the Bay Area Rapid Transit employee who was operating a train during an accident that killed two track workers was a trainee and did not have his safety certification.

James Southworth, the NTSB's lead investigator, said the trainee had held other positions with BART, but he would not say whether the operator was a manager learning to operate the train to provide service during the strike.

The train was carrying six BART employees who were on maintenance and training duties and was going 60 to 70 mph during Saturday's accident, he said.

Investigators said the person operating the train was aware of an announcement that there were workers on the tracks, and that he tried to stop the train, but it was too late.

MORE: BART Commuters Struggle as Strike Continues

Just after the accident, BART officials said the person behind the controls was an experienced train operator. Multiple union officials and BART employees told NBC Bay Area the BART manager hadn’t operated a train in more than a decade.

The Contra Costa County coroner's office identified the victims as Laurence Daniels, 66, of  Oakland, and Christopher Sheppard, 58, of Hayward.

Sheppard and Daniels were inspecting the track after reports of a "dip" in the rail, BART Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier said over the weekend.

The four-car train was not carrying any passengers due to the strike. BART has said it had dropped off some vandalized cars to be cleaned and was returning to a train yard under computer control Saturday when it hit the two men. They are the sixth and seventh BART workers to die on the job in the system's 41-year history.

It could take several weeks to determine if the work stoppage or the way BART management deployed non-striking workers played a role in the fatalities, Southworth said earlier.

Union employees walked off the job Friday, shutting down the nation's fifth largest commuter rail system and creating a transit headache for BART's estimated 200,000 daily riders. BART workers also walked off the job in July for four days.

PHOTOS: BART Unions Strike

The ongoing investigation at the collision site could delay the resumption of service there if the strike's end is imminent, Southworth said.

Federal investigators plan to interview BART managers on Tuesday to learn about safety procedures.

There was no outside-facing video footage from the train, but the inside footage of the cab has been sent to Washington, DC, to be analyzed by the NTSB.

The NTSB has said it would take between four and 10 days to complete its investigation.

Oklahoma State University transportation engineering professor Samir Ahmed, who has studied rail transit safety, said he would be surprised if the strike did not somehow factor into the accident.

"When you have a strike like what is happening at BART now, communications are poor in general,'' he said. "The strike environment causes confusion.''

That the two inspectors were hit by a train shows that critical information was not relayed either to the workers on the track or the people operating the train, Ahmed said.

RAW VIDEO: BART Train Kills Two Maintenance Workers

"There should have been someone at the controls there talking to the workers and talking to the train engineer,'' he said. "Something did not did not go right, and if it is their policy to have this kind of maintenance during a strike they should have communicated that to the engineers.''

Family members said they are planning a memorial service at Daniels’ home in the Oakland Hills, possibly for later this week, but the coroner has not yet released his body.

Sheppard’s family said they would fly his body back to his hometown in New Jersey, where he has family, and plan to have funeral services there.

Sheppard belonged to a union that was not on strike, but some of its members, including Karen Goetz, have joined the picket lines.

"I knew them as human beings and I cared for both of them… and their death is a terrific loss," Goetz said. "Larry had a great sense of humor and was a fun guy. And Chris was a lovely man. I cared about both of them.”

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