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California fines BART record $1.3 million for worker deaths

“It is the largest fine we have ever imposed on a public agency for safety violations”

A BART train pulling into a station on elevated tracks, photographed from the ground. Photo by Sheila Fitzgerald

The California Public Utilities Commission [CPUC] announced Thursday it was leveling a record fine on BART as a result of an October 2013 accident that killed two workers in the East Bay.

According to a CPUC statement, the commission fined the transit agency $1.3 million and “placed BART on probation for three years,” a penalty that the state regulator calls “the largest fine we have ever imposed on a public agency for safety violations.”

The penalty stems from the 2013 deaths of contractor Laurence Daniels and BART manager Christopher Sheppard. A train struck and killed Sheppard and Daniels as they worked on tracks near Walnut Creek.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported at the time:

The victims were “performing track inspections in response to a report of a dip in the track at the time of the accident,” BART officials said in a statement.

The train was on a routine maintenance run with a veteran operator at the controls, although at the time of the incident, the train was being run “in automatic mode under computer control.” [...] Typically, one employee inspects the track while the other acts as a lookout, watching for oncoming trains.

An aerial photo of a BART train at Antioch Station. Photo by Rich Lonardo/Shutterstock

CPUC’s Thursday statement faults BART for a series of errors that caused the “entirely preventable” fatalities:

After a lengthy investigation, the CPUC determined that BART, through its management, violated multiple safety rules and requirements and that some or all of the violations likely contributed in some manner to the incident.

These serious and egregious violations reflect BART’s organizational and management culture and attitudes, and violate CPUC regulations, including repeated use of a cell phone by the trainer, failure of the trainer to directly supervise the trainee, failure to sound the train’s horn prior to the incident, failure to comply with BART’s safe clearances rule, and BART’s failure to provide a timely and adequate investigative report resulting in a report that was 262 days late.

In a 2016 report, the CPUC found that the training supervisor was not present at the time of the accident. The trainee driver spotted the men on the tracks and put on the brakes while trying to sound the horn, but pushed the wrong button.

BART settled a wrongful death suit with Laurence’s family in 2016, agreeing to pay $300,000.

In an emailed statement, BART spokesperson Jim Allison said:

BART is currently evaluating the October 11th Decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding the tragic deaths of two workers along the BART tracks on October 19, 2013.

[...] BART responded swiftly to the accident by abolishing its prior wayside access procedures, working with an independent association to create and implement new wayside access procedures, and retraining all employees and contractors who might access BART’s wayside.

Allison also claims that BART has safety measures in place that are “compliant with CPUC General Order 175” standards on roadway worker safety.

CPUC says that BART will only have to pay half of the record fee “if BART is in compliance with safety rules during the probationary period.”