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Feds probe workers' deaths during San Francisco Bay area transit strike

| Sunday, Oct. 20, 2013, 9:15 p.m.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Federal accident investigators were in the San Francisco Bay area on Sunday to examine the deaths of two transit workers who were struck by an out-of-service commuter train while performing routine maintenance.

Saturday's accident on Bay Area Rapid Transit tracks in the East Bay city of Walnut Creek took place against the backdrop of a contentious and disruptive labor strike.

Two National Transportation Safety Board investigators were at the site of the accident on Sunday, NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss said.

The two-man team led by Jim Southworth, the board's railroad accident investigator-in-charge, will be looking at everything leading up to the collision, from safety procedures and qualifications of personnel to the track's condition.

“We will be the lead agency in the safety investigation into how and why this happened,” Weiss said.

The four-car BART train with several people aboard was being run in automatic mode under computer control at the time of the accident, Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier said. The system has been shut down since Friday because of a work stoppage by the system's two largest unions.

The train was returning from a yard where workers cleaned graffiti from unused cars when it slammed into the two workers — one a BART employee and the other a contractor — who were inspecting an above-ground stretch of track between stations, Oversier said.

Neither BART nor the county coroner has released the names and ages of the victims. They were the sixth and seventh workers to die on the job in the system's 41-year history.

Since the death in May of a foreman who was killed by a passenger train in West Haven, Conn., the NTSB has been promoting improved safety measures for track maintenance crews, Weiss said.

In June, the board urged the Metro-North Railroad to provide backup protection for crews that were relying on dispatchers to close tracks while they are being worked on and to light the appropriate signals.

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