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Train kills 2 track workers amid SF Bay strike

By Tracie Cone

Associated Press

Published: Saturday, Oct. 19 2013 8:50 p.m. MDT

A BART police officer looks along the BART tracks along Jones Road in Walnut Creek, where a moving BART train struck and killed two people in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013.

The Mercury News, Dan Rosenstrauch, Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. — A commuter train that is part of a San Francisco Bay Area system whose employees are on strike hit and killed two maintenance workers Saturday afternoon, officials said.

The accident that killed one system employee and one contractor in the East Bay city of Walnut Creek occurred shortly before 2 p.m. as the train was on a routine maintenance run operated by a manager, Bay Area Rapid Transit officials said.

BART officials said in a statement that the manager was an "experienced operator" and the train was being run in automatic mode under computer control at the time of the accident.

Officials from the two unions representing BART workers, who have been on strike since Thursday, have warned of the danger that could come with allowing managers to operate trains.

At least one of the unions, 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."

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 in response to a reported dip in the track, BART said.

"Both people had extensive experience working around moving trains in both the freight train and the rapid transit industry," BART said.

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, but they did not immediately say whether that procedure was being followed.

Two tarps that appeared to be covering the two dead were laid across the tracks, the Contra Costa Times reported.

The victim's names and ages were not immediately released.

The manager was shuttling a pair of cars between yards to have graffiti cleaned off them, BART Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier told the Contra Costa Times.

Before the accident, union leaders spent the day attempting to convince the riders who make 400,000 daily trips on the system that workers' demands are not unreasonable amid increasing hostility in social media and other outlets.

The ATU agreed with BART management on the economic parts of the contract, including a 12 percent pay raise that when increased pension and health insurance costs becomes nearly a 1 percent salary loss for workers, Bryant said. The two sides came to an impasse over work rules, including the length of the work day and when overtime pay kicks in, the union said.

BART spokesman Rick Rice said that the two sides remain in communication though they were not expected back at the bargaining table.

Messages left for negotiators from the Service Employees International Union, which also represents workers, were not immediately returned.

However, SEIU president Roxanne Sanchez said they were willing to sign off on pay, health care and pension issues, and send the remaining snarl — work rules — to an arbitrator, a proposal BART has previously refused. But BART officials later said they would be willing to send the entire contract to arbitration but not the work rules alone.

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