BART managers will be on the hot seat Thursday answering questions during a special investigative hearing on the transit agency's workplace safety issues in light of the Oct. 19 accident in which two rail workers were hit and killed by a train.

Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, called for the Assembly Committee on Labor and Employment hearing months before the recent deaths of BART worker Christopher Sheppard, 58, and contractor Laurence Daniels, 66. The two were inspecting a reported "dip" in the tracks when they were hit by a train between the Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill stations; the train was operated by a trainee during the recent strike.

Ting said he had concerns of "unresolved" BART workplace safety issues in recent years, including the transit agency's continuing court challenges of a 2008 track inspector death also involving a controversial wayside safety practice called "simple approval."

The safety procedure, which places the responsibility of avoiding oncoming trains largely on the ground crews, was ended after the recent deaths. The California Public Utilities Commission, the state's rail transit regulator, added further regulations last week as part of its historic rail worker safety program.


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When BART announced the end to simple approval, it also warned that new safety procedures could increase delays for commuters. BART Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier said the agency used to operate under simple approval an average of 600 times a month during this time of year; from April through September, the practice was used an average of 25 times on weekdays and 20 times on weekends, he said.

Oversier added that the agency was still working on a wayside safety plan that complies with the new PUC rules but is confident it will happen soon.

The assistant general manager said BART was appealing only Cal/OSHA's characterization of the 2008 safety violations as "willful," but the transit agency is not disputing the facts of the incident.

BART will also begin looking at train-warning technology, as required by the PUC, which is used by other transit agencies.

"We last looked at the technology about five years ago, but we decided it wasn't quite ready yet," Oversier said. "But a lot can happen in five years in technology, and we will look at it again."

The Thursday hearing, open to the public, is scheduled to run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Milton Marks Auditorium in the State Building, 455 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco.

Contact Matthias Gafni at 925-952-5026. Follow him at Twitter.com/mgafni.