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BART workers gather for vigil for those killed in train accident

Walnut Creek, Calif.--On Sunday evening, more than 100 Bay Area Rapid Transit employees gathered for a candlelight vigil to remember two workers who were struck and killed over the weekend by a commuter train while conducting a track inspection.  

Many of the workers were dressed in their work uniforms or purple and green union T-shirts. Most held candles, hugged each other and quietly talked among themselves. 

At one point, the group formed a circle and some came forward and spoke of their grief and sadness, calling the accident “senseless.” 

Holding a candle with tears running down his face, Nucion Avent, a BART worker and union member, said he knew both men who were killed. “All over the system we are hurting because we are family here,” he said.

He then called for a moment of silence for the two workers who were killed, Christopher Sheppard of Hayward and Larry Daniels, a contractor from Oakland. The Contra Costa County coroner's office has not officially confirmed the identities of the two men.

“It was a preventable accident,” said Richard Stingily, a former train operator and now a foreman who has worked for BART for 23 years. “This is senseless and ridiculous. Our hearts go out to the families.” 

National Transportation Safety Board investigators arrived here Sunday to begin their probe of the accident, which they said could take a year or more to complete.

The two maintenance workers were killed while investigating a dip in the track when a train on a routine maintenance run hit them, officials said.

The train was running in automatic mode with an "experienced operator" at the computer controls, BART officials said. Both of the workers who were killed had "extensive experience" with both freight and passenger trains.

BART officials would not say who was operating the controls at the time of the accident, but some trains were being moved by managers, according to an Associated Press report. The two unions representing BART workers had warned of safety risks if managers were allowed to operate the trains during the work stoppage.

Ric Horrocks, 40, a train operator for 17 years who attended Sunday's vigil, said he  was concerned that BART’s statement about the accident made it sound like no one was running the train but a computer. He said that even if a train was running on "automatic" there is still someone sitting in the cab, making sure the track is clear.

"There was definitely someone sitting in that seat,” he said. “In order for someone to get killed basically everybody had to make a mistake.” 

Although no talks between Bay Area Rapid Transit officials and union leaders have been scheduled, BART officials said Sunday that the deaths of the two workers  over the weekend should get everyone back to the table to end a three-day transit strike.  

“The tragedy has redoubled everyone's commitment to a quick resolution so we can move forward in a spirit of cooperation to provide service to the Bay Area,” BART officials said in a statement posted on its  website.

BART officials have been in communication with union leaders and a mediator, and the BART Board of Directors is scheduled to have a special meeting in closed session Monday to discuss negotiations, a statement from BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said.

“Given the fact there is still no agreement on wages and important work rule changes, BART is open to restarting mediated talks if the mediator determines it is appropriate to reconvene,” the statement said.

With no announced end to the strike, officials urged commuters to make alternate plans for Monday.

Operations were halted Friday after a week of marathon negotiations failed to produce a settlement. Though concessions were made by both sides on health benefits and pension contributions, talks broke down over the length of the work day and when overtime pay kicks in.

The strike, the second in four months, produced traffic jams and frustration Friday, but officials predicted the worst was yet to come. Transportation officials said they believed many workers telecommuted or took the day off but would be back to their desks Monday.

BART, the nation's fifth-largest transit system, normally carries 400,000 round-trip passengers each workday. Charter buses hired by the system can carry up to 6,000 passengers each day, according to BART's website, and ferries across the San Francisco Bay will have additional service.

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maura.dolan@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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