OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A San Francisco Bay Area commuter train returning from routine maintenance struck and killed two workers who were inspecting the tracks Saturday afternoon — an accident that comes amid a strike that has shut the Bay Area Rapid Transit system down to riders for the past few days.
The four-car train was being run in automatic mode under computer control at the time of the accident, BART's Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier said at a news conference.
There were several people aboard the train, Oversier said, but he would not say who had been the operator. In an earlier statement, BART said only that the person was an experienced operator.
One system employee and one contractor were killed in the accident in the East Bay city of Walnut Creek shortly before 2 p.m. The train had been at a yard where workers had been cleaning off graffiti, BART officials said.
"This is a tragic day in BART's history," the system's general manager, Grace Crunican, said. "The entire BART family is grieving."
Officials from the unions representing BART's train operators and some of the system's other workers have warned of the danger that could come with allowing managers to operate trains as BART had planned to do in case of a strike. The unions have been on strike since Friday.
One of the unions on strike, Amalgamated Transit Union 1555, announced that its 900 workers would not be picketing on Sunday out of respect for the victims and their families.
Also Saturday, ATU local president Antonette Bryant said she was taking a final contract offer from BART before members for a vote, but expects it will be rejected.
"It's our hope we can get it to members this week," Bryant told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. She said she expects the vote to be "a resounding no."
Bryant later issued a statement, saying Saturday's accident was a "terrible human tragedy."
The two workers killed were performing track inspections about a mile from the Walnut Creek station in an area some 25 miles northeast of San Francisco, BART said.
They were responding to a reported dip in the track and both had extensive experience.
"They understand the railroad, they understand how to work around moving trains," Oversier said. "They were doing today what they have done 100 if not 1000 other times in their career."
The procedures for such maintenance require one employee to inspect the track and the other to serve as a lookout for oncoming traffic, BART officials said. They did not immediately say whether that procedure had been followed.
Police placed yellow tarps over the two dead who were about 100 yards apart on the tracks.
The victim's names and ages were not immediately released.
Oversier said that the BART worker who was killed is a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
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