Bart receives $5 million to improve employee safety

BART received a $5 million grant that will go towards a project aimed at improving employee safety along the system’s tracks, transit agency officials announced Tuesday.

The Federal Transit Administration awarded the grant to be used for a two-year project in which BART plans to develop technology that would connect a trackside worker’s warning device with the trains and BART Operations Control Center, agency officials said.

In the event when a worker does not act on an active warning from the device, the technology would automatically stop a train before it approaches the worker’s safety zone, according to agency officials.

BART applied for the grant in November 2013, a month after the deaths of two employees inspecting a dip in the trackway between the Pleasant Hill and Walnut Creek stations where they were struck and killed by a train, BART spokesman Jim Allison said.

Days after the fatal collision, BART eliminated a safety procedure that was known as “simple approval,” in which trackside employees were responsible for their own safety and given 15 seconds to remove themselves from the tracks to make way for an oncoming train.

Currently, a three-way system is in place in which the system’s Operation Control Center maintains radio communication with the train operator and trackside worker, according to Allison.

The California Public Utilities Commission has since required BART operators to run trains on manual mode at 24 mph in areas where trackside workers are present, Allison said.

The goal with the new technology is to have the trains run at normal speeds while keeping workers safe and removing the chance of human error, he said.

The project will be done in partnership with the University of California at Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies, Allison said.

BART plans to have the technology ready for demonstrations a year from now, Allison said.

Tests would begin the year after and the agency would work to obtain certification from the CPUC, according to Allison.

BART Board President Tom Blalock said in a statement:

“We have high hopes for this project. Not only could it save lives here at BART, but we believe it can also protect track workers at any rail system nationwide once we have successfully demonstrated this technology.”

U.S. Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin and Mike Honda, D-San Jose, supported the grant.

Lee said in a statement:

“I am pleased that BART has been selected to receive this important safety funding. These funds will provide BART workers with needed security as they fulfill their duties to ensure safe, reliable and environmentally friendly transit.”