BART receives a $5 million grant to improve trackside safety

'We have high hopes for this project,' BART Board President Blalock says

BART has received a $5 million grant that will go towards a project aimed at improving employee safety along the system's tracks.

Transit agency officials said 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.

In the event that 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 UC Berkeley's Institute of Transportation Studies.

BART plans to have the technology ready for demonstrations a year from now. Tests would begin the year after and the agency would work to

obtain certification from the CPUC.

"We have high hopes for this project," BART Board President Tom Blalock said in a statement.

"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," he said.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) agreed.

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

Jamey Padojino, Bay City News

— Bay City News Service

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