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CPUC fines BART $1.3 million for worker deaths during 2013 strike

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(Ekevara Kitpowsong/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

California regulators preliminarily fined BART $1.3 million Thursday for “safety failures” that led to a train striking and killing two BART workers in 2013.

Those deaths came amid a heated BART strike that brought the transit agency to a grinding halt, as workers picketed for better wages and increased safety procedures.

SEE RELATED: Bay Area crawls to work Monday as BART strike causes commute mess

Christopher Sheppard and Laurence Daniels were killed on October 19, 2013, when BART management attempted to train replacement workers in running BART vehicles. The train that struck the two BART workers was piloted by a trainee operator.

The California Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved the fine at its Thursday meeting, which they said was the largest the CPUC has ever levied against a public agency for safety violations.

“We believe the actions of the BART trainer showed a total disregard for safety,” said commissioner Liane Randolph, the author of the decision, at Thursday’s meeting, adding CPUC found “numerous and egregious safety violations by BART.”

Half of the amount will be “stayed” if BART is in compliance with safety rules after a three-year probation period.

That investigation found BART’s “culture and attitudes” led to multiple regulation violations, including failure of the trainer to directly supervise the trainee, failure to sound the train’s horn prior to the crash, failure to comply with a safety clearance rule, BART’s own failure to provide a “timely and adequate” investigative report that was 262 days late, and the “repeated use of a cell phone” by the BART trainer who was supposed to be monitoring the trainee at the time of the crash.

SEE RELATED: Report: Bad blood, bad decisions precipitated BART strike

In CPUC’s written investigation, video and audio surveillance aboard the BART car that killed the two workers revealed the trainer was “traversing back and forth” between the operator and passenger cabs, carrying an “ongoing conversation” about baseball scores while also using his cell phone, which CPUC described as “clear reflection” of poor safety culture at BART.

That trainer “was more concerned about baseball scores” than ensuring workers lived, Randolph said at the meeting.

BART did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

During the three year probationary period, BART will be required to track and submit all violations of safety rules, practices, policies or procedures to CPUC, including details of corrective actions. The agency must also develop and implement annual safety rules and culture refresher courses for all its managers and senior employees, and provide a management representative to appear before CPUC to report on BART’s safety practices.

Finally, BART most “post at least one sign at each of its station” stating CPUC fined BART $1.3 million for safety violations.

This isn’t the first time BART has been fined for the deaths of two workers during the BART strike.

At Thursday’s meeting, CPUC commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said the fine would hopefully save lives.

“It is a very steep fine,” he said, but “hopefully this is a wakeup call for BART.”

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