WALNUT CREEK -- Two BART employees were struck and killed by one of the transit agency's trains between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations Saturday afternoon -- while most of the system sat idle on the second day of a strike that has forced hundreds of thousands of commuters to seek alternate means of travel.
The accident happened about 1:53 p.m. on the Pittsburg/Bay Point line, between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations, near the intersection of Jones Road and Chandon Court.
A statement from BART management said that the employees -- one BART employee and one contractor -- were performing track inspections at the time of the accident. Both had "extensive" experience working around moving trains, according the statement, which said that procedures called for one worker to inspect the track and the other to act as a lookout, watching for any oncoming traffic.
"Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the two workers killed on the BART track," said BART general manager Grace Crunican, who showed up to the scene Saturday afternoon.
Officials from Amalgamated Transit Local 1555, one of the two unions on strike, ended a rally at the Pittsburg/Bay Point station once they received word of the accident and offered their own statement: "Our hearts go out to any BART comrades involved in today's incident. In the midst of this (strike), no one deserves to die." The union announced that it was canceling all labor rallies planned for Sunday.
A similar sentiment was echoed by Service Employees International Local 1021 in its own statement: "We express our deepest sympathies for the families of the individuals who died in this tragic accident."
BART officials said the train was being run by an "experienced" operator, and was in automatic mode and under computer control at the time of the accident. The manager was operating the train to shuttle a "couple cars in the Concord yard that were (tagged with graffiti)" to Richmond for a cleanup, said assistant general manager Paul Oversier. The manager was on his way back to Concord at the time of the accident.
A review of BART radio communications indicate a male train operator, who sources say was an operator supervisor who regularly drove trains some two decades ago, reported a "BART emergency" to central operations, noting that the train had just struck "some individuals" and advising that they "may be BART employees."
A technician on the train is asked to check for bodies and he reports the first one on the trackway. A "second victim" is then reported 50 yards away on Track C-1.
The male train operator reports that "both are deceased and definitely BART employees."
On another recording, a woman can be heard announcing that "There are no personnel wayside (adjacent to the tracks)."
Within five seconds, a second voice can be heard contradicting that report: "Attention all personnel: We do have personnel wayside between C-40 and C-50 on the C1 and C2 tracks."
Central BART communication officers are among the workers currently on strike. It was unclear who was operating the dispatch center while trains were moving.
One BART worker, who asked not to be named, said the accident should not have happened.
"These people are not trained to do these jobs," said the anonymous BART worker, referring to managers, some former train operators, who have been moving trains during the work stoppage.
BART trains have been idle for commuters since Friday due to a labor strike, but some managers have moved trains for other purposes. BART union representatives have repeatedly warned that allowing managers to operate the trains would be dangerous.
A BART police officer looks out of a BART car that struck and killed two people along Jones Road in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)
When asked about those warnings, BART Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier said "we're not going there."
"We're dealing with a tragedy. The labor issues are not in the forefront of our mind," Oversier said. "This is a tragedy of the greatest proportion for the BART family.
"What they were doing today was something they had done hundreds, if not thousands of times in their careers."
The last BART worker killed while on duty was James Strickland, 44, who was killed on Oct. 14, 2008 as he was inspecting track on the same line near Oak Grove Road in Concord. In 2001, a worker was struck and killed in an underground section of track between 16th Street-Mission and 24th Street-Mission stations in San Francisco.
Four other BART workers have died on the job in the agency's 41 years of operation.
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Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.