The Federal Transit Administration on Tuesday directed all rail agencies nationwide to review safety practices of track workers and report back in coming months, with the goal of eliminating those that rely exclusively on workers to steer clear of trains.
The move comes in the wake of an Oct. 19 Bay Area Rapid Transit accident that killed two workers. BART, which was training managers to drive trains during a strike, was relying on a practice called "simple approval," under which workers were responsible for looking out for trains while on the tracks, with no other protection.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the BART accident and recently issued "urgent recommendations" to the FTA that sought a directive requiring "redundant" safety measures, such as warning systems for all rail workers. The NTSB also asked the FTA to demand that all rail agencies conduct mandatory reviews of their safety practices.
Tuesday's action does the latter. Agencies must report back by Feb. 28 and submit a "formal hazard analysis" by May 16. The goal, a spokesman said, is to ensure that each agency implements appropriate and adequate safety practices.
A letter from FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff alerting transit agencies to the requirements notes that 28 rail transit workers have lost their lives since 2002 "while working to maintain the nation's rail transit infrastructure."
"We at the FTA and the U.S. Department of Transportation appreciate the urgency of the NTSB's findings, and the critical safety challenge in front of us," Rogoff wrote. "We look forward to working with you to ensure that every transit worker goes home safely at the end of his or her shift."
Killed on the tracks in Walnut Creek, Calif., during a mid-October regional commuter rail strike were Laurence Daniels, 66, who worked for a private contractor, and Christopher Sheppard, 58, a BART employee.
BART eliminated the practice of "simple approval" within days of the Oct. 19 deaths, replacing it with a policy that requires train operators or drivers to slow to 25 mph and be prepared to stop when approaching workers on or near the tracks.
The other deaths since 2002 occurred in New York, Washington, D.C., Boston, Chicago, Miami, Houston and Sacramento.
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