WALNUT CREEK -- BART has indefinitely suspended its "simple approval" practice following the deaths of two workers, halting the controversial system that placed safety squarely on the shoulders of ground crews.
On Sunday, the day after the fatal crash, an interoffice memo went out to BART employees from Roy Aguilera, head of the Operations Control Center, with a subject line: "Simple Approvals prohibited until further notice."
"Effective immediately, simple approvals are not authorized. All access to right of way shall be accomplished with a work area that provides the crew protection from train movement," the memo read.
Under the order, trains must be kept below 27 mph in all work areas, halted or routed around.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, federal, state and local investigators reenacted the double-fatal BART accident on a stretch of Contra Costa County tracks Wednesday, as the national president for one of the transit agency's largest unions blamed the deaths on BART management.
Upset that a BART supervisor was training an employee to operate a train during a work stoppage, Lawrence Hanley, Amalgamated Transit Union international president, said the agency is responsible for the two deaths.
"What's missing from the hands of BART right now are handcuffs," said Hanley in a phone interview from Washington, D.C. "You don't train in a situation where you can kill people. It's like walking into a kindergarten class and handing out loaded pistols."
The labor chief called for a criminal investigation, though it's unclear what laws may have been broken.
The National Transportation Safety Board has said its investigation is not criminal. An NTSB official on scene Wednesday said he could not comment, and the national office did not return a call for comment.
Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson said his office has not been contacted about the BART accident, adding he would not expect a call until after the NTSB or other government agencies probes were completed. At that point, BART police could bring them a case, and his office would have the option to bring criminal or civil charges.
"The NTSB is leading the investigation into what happened and the cause," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said in an email. "It is unfortunate there are some who want to politicize the tragic death of our employees during a time we are all grieving. It is irresponsible to draw any conclusion of the cause until the independent investigation is complete and we have a clear picture of what happened."
NTSB investigators, along with BART and California Public Utilities Commission officials, conducted a re-enactment Wednesday afternoon along the same stretch of track where a BART train driven by a trainee struck and killed 58-year-old Christopher Sheppard, a BART employee, and 66-year-old Laurence Daniels, a rail consultant, who were inspecting a "dip" in the track.
The two men were operating under "simple approval" Saturday, a controversial policy that makes them responsible for their own safety. One was supposed to act as the lookout and remain outside the train's "envelope," at least 5 feet away from the tracks in a place where he can view an oncoming train 15 seconds away. However, both men were hit, which means both workers were inside the envelope.
On Wednesday, investigators placed two mannequins on the tracks at the spot where the men were hit, adjacent to Jones Road and Pimlico Drive in Walnut Creek. The dummies were both facing away from the train, which was traveling from the Walnut Creek to Pleasant Hill station, but it's unclear whether investigators believe the two men had their backs to the train, which was traveling at least 60 mph.
A 2008 BART worker death also involved simple approval, and the transit agency had made changes to protocol since then, but still fought state regulators on further changes.
The other option for performing track work are "work orders," usually reserved for large-scale construction projects where BART provides the protection for the workers by single-tracking around them, holding trains or limiting the work area.
During the re-enactment, a four-car train, the same length as Saturday's train, made a few passes on the section of track, appearing to brake at different speeds. Investigators marked the train's stopping point each time with red spraypaint, photographing and documenting evidence.
Most BART workers and local union representatives have shied away from placing blame for the two men's deaths. However, Hanley firmly blamed management, who had been warned by labor that running trains with replacement operators would endanger people.
"When you willingly put people behind the operation panel ... and they have no experience operating trains, you have put people intentionally in harm's way, and this time, two people died," Hanley said.
Investigators have said the train was in automatic mode Saturday while traveling 60 to 75 mph, which is standard for that section of the track, a BART worker said.
BART trains operate in four modes: off, yard manual (a maximum speed of 10 mph and only allowed in the yards), road manual (maximum of 25 mph on the commuter lines) and automatic.
Trains usually operate in automatic mode, with a computer adjusting speeds based on the "command speed," which varies from Level 2 (fastest and most common) down to the slowest, Level 6, BART sources said.
Trains entering the accident stretch under automatic power at Level 2 generally leave the Walnut Creek station at 36 mph, increase to 70 mph, then decrease to 50 mph, and to 36 mph before arriving at the Pleasant Hill station.
BART has said the two men were investigating a reported "dip" in the tracks. Dips are common, BART sources said, caused by settling ground underneath the tracks. They can create a noticeable bump for riders and, if left untreated, can cause damage to trains, they said.
The reported dip sits in between a trouble-plagued piece of BART equipment -- a faulty switchover.
In 2009, the BART board approved a $27.9 million project to install x-shaped "crossover" tracks allowing trains to cross from one track to another, reducing delays when trains break down. BART received $13 million from the federal economic stimulus bill and another $11.6 million from Bay Area bridge toll money aimed at reducing traffic.
The project was completed in 2010 but has not worked in the three years since, BART sources said.
"It's new technology that still doesn't work properly," one worker said. "They put in new train control technology, but it doesn't blend with the old."
Staff writer Malaika Fraley contributed to this report. Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.