WALNUT CREEK, CA (BCN) - Two BART workers were struck and killed by a BART train on the tracks between Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill Saturday afternoon, according to BART police.
The two people were struck and killed by the out-of-service BART train shortly before 2 p.m. Saturday as they conducted track inspections between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations, BART officials said in a statement.
The employees, one a BART employee and reported union member and one a contractor, were inspecting the tracks around one mile north of the Walnut Creek station in response to a report of a dip on the tracks. One employee was inspecting the track while the other acted as a lookout, BART officials said in a statement.
Both employees were highly experienced, both in transit rail and in freight rail, BART officials said.
"They understand the railroad, they understand how to work around moving trains," Paul Oversier, BART's assistant general manager, said of the two employees. "They were doing today what they have probably done 100 if not 1000 other times in their career."
Trains are not running due to a strike that started Friday, but BART officials have said they are conducting routine maintenance runs.
Some doubt remains about who was at the controls of the train. Oversier said there were six employees on the train at the time of the collision, which occurred shortly before 2 p.m. around one mile north of the Walnut Creek station.
BART officials previous issued a statement saying that an experienced operator was at the controls of the train but that it was operating under computer control.
However, Oversier said this afternoon that only BART police officers had spoken to those employees and he would not "engage in speculation" about who was operating the train, who was in the cab and who was in the passenger compartment until officials learned the results of the police investigation.
BART trains are not carrying passengers during the strike, but BART officials have said some managers have been trained to operate the trains for maintenance purposes in the event of a strike. It is not clear, however, whether the train's operator in Saturday's incident was a manager.
Patricia Schuchardt, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said today that the training for train operators takes around 16 weeks.
BART General Manager Grace Crunican today said this was "a tragic day in BART's history."
"The entire BART family is grieving," Crunican said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of our deceased co-workers."
The National Transportation Safety Board said it will be investigating the deaths of two BART employees. Two investigators are on their way to the Bay Area, the agency said on its Twitter account this evening.
The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 said on its official Twitter account in response to the deaths that it will not picket tomorrow "out of respect for the families involved."
ATU 1555 and SEIU 1021 officials issued a joint statement saying that they were unaware of the details of what had happened.
"We express our deepest sympathies for the families of the individuals who died in this tragic accident," the statement said.
The deaths cast a pall over any efforts to renew stalled contract talks. Both sides today refused to discuss negotiations or the strike, however, saying their focus for now is on the workers.
Antonette Bryant, president of ATU Local 1555, said "We're not here to talk about work."
"Two men are dead, this is an extremely tragic situation," Bryant said. "I think we need to keep our eyes focused."
Oversier said labor issues and negotiations "are not at the forefront of our minds."
"We just lost two people in the BART family and that's what our focus is on, getting through this evening."
Bay City News Service