Cal OSHA on BART Track Worker Death

Published Friday, April 3, 2009, by Bay City News

BART Fined For Safety Violations In Fatal October Accident

The state Division of Occupational Safety and Health this week issued $28,685 in penalties against BART for alleged safety violations related to the death of an employee who was killed on the tracks in October.

BART is appealing the Cal/OSHA citations on the grounds that some of the laws BART allegedly violated may not apply to the transit agency.

James Strickland, 44, was struck and killed by a Pittsburg/Bay Point-bound BART train as he walked along the tracks parallel to David Avenue in Concord the morning of Oct. 14.

Trains were single-tracking through the area that morning to make way for routine maintenance, and the train that struck Strickland was traveling north on the southbound tracks.

On the day of the accident, Strickland and another BART employee, both structures inspectors, were assigned to perform an inspection between Oak Grove and Bancroft roads, according to an accident report completed by BART safety investigators last month.

To do this, they needed "simple approval," which involves notifying BART's operations control center of their plan to work in the area. Strickland did this and obtained the approval.

Employees working under "simple approval" are responsible for their own safety and BART protocol does not require them to be told about reverse-running trains. Strickland and his partner were not told that single-tracking was scheduled to begin in the area at 9 a.m. that day, according to the report.

They headed out in a district truck, arriving at the job site sometime after 8 a.m.

Strickland's partner dropped him off at an access gate on Bancroft Road, then drove north to another access gate on Oak Grove Road, about a mile away.

The plan was for Strickland to walk north along the tracks and the other inspector to walk south. They were to meet in the middle, exchange keys to the truck, and then Strickland would continue to Oak Grove Road and drive back to pick up his partner, according to the report.

However, while performing the inspection, Strickland's partner noticed a maintenance vehicle pass him heading south on the northbound tracks.

A few minutes later, around 9:30 a.m., he saw a northbound train stopped on the southbound tracks. The train's operator was standing in front of the train, inspecting damage to the left side of its front car.

He called Strickland's cell phone to inform him of the situation, but the call went straight to voice mail.

Concerned about his coworker, he continued walking south past the stopped train and saw two BART workers standing along the tracks, where Strickland's body had been found, according to the report.

The operator of the train that hit Strickland later told investigators he had heard a loud noise and initially thought he had hit a tree limb.

It does not appear the operator sounded the train's horn prior to the collision, and he told investigators he had not seen Strickland despite having kept his eyes on the tracks.

The train was traveling at about 67 mph when the collision happened. The 59 passengers on board were held on the train for nearly an hour before being transferred to another train on the opposite tracks.

BART's report concluded that the "most probable cause" of the accident was a failure by Strickland to look in both directions while he was on the tracks.

The report recommended that BART employees working under "simple approval" be informed about reverse-running trains and that train operators be told when those employees are working near tracks.

It also noted that vegetation in the area was overgrown, forcing employees walking in the area to walk on the tracks in some spots, and recommended that BART survey paths along tracks to identify areas with overgrown vegetation and remove it.

In addition, Strickland was wearing a bright safety vest but not his BART-issued vest, which would have made him slightly more visible, according to BART. The report instructed BART to ensure that employees wear the proper vest.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson this afternoon did not immediately know whether any of those recommendations had been implemented.

Cal/OSHA found in its citation notification, issued Tuesday, that BART's "simple approval" protocol fails to adequately safeguard employees because inspectors like Strickland are allowed to work near tracks without being told when trains are entering the area, and train operators are not informed of the workers' presence.

The agency also cited BART for unsafe conditions created by the overgrown vegetation and for allegedly allowing Strickland to work near energized equipment without providing adequate protection.

Cal/OSHA spokeswoman Erica Monterroza declined to discuss the specifics of the case but said all of the violations for which BART was cited are classified as "serious."

"As a serious violation, it has a very high hazard exposure to employees," she said. "It has a very high probability that it will result in serious injury or fatality to employees."

BART spokesman Linton Johnson said BART is appealing the citations and will work with Cal/OSHA to determine whether the laws BART allegedly violated apply to the transit agency.

"They're using rules that may not necessarily be relevant to BART," Johnson said.

"If there is room for improvement we're right there to make those improvements, but ... we don't want to spend taxpayer dollars paying for something that doesn't apply to us," he said.

An excerpt from BART's operations control center employee manual contained in the accident report helps explain why Strickland was not told of the reverse-running trains that day.

"OCC personnel shall not provide information concerning train movement to personnel on a Simple Approval as this tends to give the person in the field a false sense of security.

"If an inquiry is made in regards to train movement, the proper response will be: 'Expect train movement on all tracks at all times in any direction,'" the excerpt reads.

Tom Tetrault, a friend of Strickland's and a BART employee himself, finds fault with that approach.

"It might give them a false sense of security but it might give them the information they need," he said.

Tetrault called Strickland, a motorcycle enthusiast who loved riding his Harley Davidson, "the nicest guy I've ever met" and said he was always doing things to help others.

He used to frequently visit Strickland's home, two blocks from his own house, to have a beer after work.

Strickland left behind his wife Linda and 19-year-old son J.T., Tetrault said.

Meanwhile, a BART attorney called Strickland's death a "horrible, terrible accident" and suggested that Strickland had provoked the train.

Provoked the train? no but he did not provide his own protection, and did interfere with mainline operations, and he did not watch for trains on any track in any direction at any time.

all of which he knew and recited verbatim to whoever gave him the simple approval.

Similar to telling your kids to look both ways before crossing the street or railroad tracks, and even have them repeat it back to you, then they don't. The train would be where it is supposed to be, the child would not.

A tragic accident..

boopiejones's picture

and as i posted before when this accident originally happened, i am STILL struggling with the fact that he didn't hear the train coming. i don't care if it is coming from around a curve, behind a bush, etc. you can hear a bart train coming. if i was on the tracks and heard a train coming, my initial reaction would be to pop my head up and figure out what direction it is coming from. it doesn't matter what direction of track i THINK i am on.

for example, if i am crossing a one way street and suddenly hear a siren or car engine, i still look back to see if someone is headed in the wrong direction.

This unfortunately is not true. Trains that are not underground and that are in open space are very quiet, and you CANNOT hear them coming. Maybe in an environment that is totally silent, but that does not exist. I myself have been suprised by a train that snuck up behind me on mainline, and I didn't hear it until it was basically on top of me. So I know from experience that trains are extremely hard to hear in open space.

That's why we are told and trained to expect train movement in any direction at any time, and to locate trains by looking for the LED lights that are on the top of the lead units.

boopiejones's picture

if i ran bart i would just pay the $28,000, cut the offending bushes and keep my mouth shut. isn't average weekday ridership about 300,000? that means $28,000 works out to about $0.10 per trip for ONE DAY...chump change. they got off easy.

I believe it is more than that.. There is reputation, BART likes to be listed as safe and would not want to be at fault for anything. There also would have to be some work rules changed when it comes to trackwork that bart believes is exempt from.

Plus cost to train everyone and impliment those changes. I am sure there is more.. It's never as simple as news makes it to be.

while "expect a train at any time from any direction" was drummed into my head a half century ago as a railfan on excursions, I am still saddened by the unnecessary death. As I posted back when the incident was fresh, REAL rail operations have better procedures. Time for BART to be a little more thorough. The T/O's AND those dispatching the route should have been in radio contact w/ the track personnel. I as a commuter am quite happy to be briefly delayed while a trackworker is warned out of harm's way.

what about low power transmitters on the trains.

if track worker have a radio on them and they hear a signal the *know* there but be a moving train near by.

fine, I am not wedded to a particular technology, The key issues in this instance are: the trackworher was not explicitly informed about single tracking, and central did not tell T/Os about the trackworker. Requiring POSITIVE communication between T/Os and trackworkers can be implemented by rewriting procedures. No further hardware need be acquired. Cheap and much closer to fail safe.


That whole area is filled with bushes that grow rapidly. The bushes reach the width of the train, and each passing train trims the leaves, so that you can see the profile of the train, including the handrail, in the bushes. Often, trains are given a hold at a particular milepost, which cannot be seen in the bushes. So, a common custom is to stop at the earlier milepost (a tenth of a mile different), which is on the opposite side, and more likely to be visible, since viewing is at a steeper angle. There are a few areas on BART's 104 miles of track with bushes, but this is the largest area. Cutting the bushes has been an ongoing problem for years. Reporting a possible safety problem is not an easy process at BART. It requires a multiple step of report submissions, to a couple of different addresses. There are numerous safety situations that, individually, are handled by a fall-back procedure, but, cumulatively, lead to complacency.

Simple approval is not allowed in areas where there is no side clearance. Usually that's because of a structure (tunnel or building), but any obstruction can be grounds for denying a simple. Generally, the rule of thumb is to walk outside the mileposts, signal poles, etc., since you know the train won't hit them.

In that area, to walk outside the mileposts, would require pushing the bushes back about two or three feet. At that point, you are moving limbs, not just leaves, while you are walking on uneven ballast. I am not sure if Simple Approval is even legal in that area.

Why can't they spray Roundup on the bushes every spring?

boopiejones's picture

my guess is because it isn't as simple as going to costco, buying 10 gallons of roundup, and dousing the bushes.

it would probably endanger some nearly extinct species of insect that nests in those bushes. or there is a preschool within 300 miles, or something like that. i'll bet it is cheaper to just pay $28,000 every time someone gets killed rather than spend the hundreds of thousands on focus groups and environmental studies only to get shot down by the lobbying efforts of people for the ethical treatment of insects.

Ah yes, liberals in California... I can't even begin to describe what a pain it is to conduct business in Ca vs the rest of the states and world.

Because they would probably have to do an Environmental Impact Study, then pay to relocate some swamp frog or cricket nest, then make sure the firm spraying the roundup had the correct ratio of employees from various racial and ethnic groups, which would involve hiring a consultant for a feasibility study which would require a Board hearing, etc.

boopiejones's picture

And then at the board hearing, some crazy, tofu eating, newspaper snapping, peta member would try to splash dorothy duger with red paint. Again. And that is ultimately what we are all trying to avoid here.

Yep i watched the video in HD, that officer made an impressive tackle over the desks.

Wish I would see that more often when I'm on bart.

As for the idiot, he must enjoy police contact. I heard he previously was in a fight with police, when will they learn "yes officer" works. Running means guilty.

Officer Jo-Jo's picture

I agree the tackle was impressive. The one officer (name withheld) on the opposite side of the G.M. almost intercepted the guy. That was a pretty good reaction time when you are being forced to stand around for hours. This is not the first time that guy acted out at a board meeting. He likes to yell F- the police during the meetings! I'm sorry I had to work the range yesterday. :(

I always stand at the edge of the platform at Concord and you can't always hear the train coming. It depends on the train, wind, etc. I took notice after the accident happened and was surprised. BART should have already been doing exactly what OSHA says it should do, i.e., let the T.O. know and that there are workers in the area and you DEFINITELY let the workers working on the tracks know single tracking is going on! "Simple approval," WTF? Dumbest thing I ever heard of.

Also that shrubbery has been overgrown for years and BART never does anything about it except let the branches hit the trains and fall all over the tracks yet causing more delays.

Linton Johnson is full of shit and he isn't going to win this one. BART got off easy. I hope Strickland's family finally got what's coming to them from BART.

Linton Johnson should be fined just for being Linton Johnson.

I hope the family sues the pants off BART. This family deserves to be compenstated UNLIKE Oscar Grant's.

This thread contains information I was not previously aware of in the following quote:

"Strickland's partner noticed a maintenance vehicle pass him heading south on the northbound tracks."

That maintenance vehicle would have been a highrail pickup truck which is equipped with hydraulically operated flanged wheels to allow temporary operation on rails.

For this maintenance vehicle to have been on the track would have required its operator to have obtained "work orders" from Central in order to gain control of that section of track, in this case the C1 track. "Work orders" granted for a particular area, or in this case, a length of single track between two interlockings (crossovers between adjacent tracks), would have precluded all trains from entering that single piece of track from either end. Trains would continue to operate in both directions on the adjacent track one at a time in each direction (single tracking).

Granting of "work orders" is the type of BART procedure which is intended to guarantee employees’ safety from being run over by a train on that section of rail.

Conversely, "simple approval" is only permission to enter an in-service trackway with the burden of not being run over by a train or electrocuted by the third rail being placed entirely on the employee.

There is also a procedure for establishing an "electrical safe clearance" when it is necessary to work on the third rail or related equipment. This involves locking and tagging of circuit breakers and physically grounding the third rail to the running rail on both sides of the work area.

I'm providing this additional information so that people can understand that there is indeed a BART procedure, the granting of "work orders" for working on the trackway that goes above and beyond placing the burden of personnel safety entirely on the workers themselves. I'm not trying to perform my own investigation.

In my 24 years at BART, I witnessed and/or investigated any number of "unusual occurrences" where multiple, sequential, and seemingly unrelated anomalies resulted in something that otherwise would not have occurred and there wasn't a flawed procedure or person to blame. It's almost as if there exists some sort of Rube Goldberg's curse which occasionally rears its ugly head. No official investigation ever concludes with "shit happens" but in reality, it does.

It is always convenient to attempt to blame the deceased in a case like this. Personally, I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt to someone who will never be able to tell their version of the events in their own defense. Sometimes you have to be content that you may never know exactly what happened.

Likewise, it is easy to point the finger at the big, bad, faceless BART bureaucracy. Rest assured if there was a collective disregard for employee safety at BART, this sort of thing would happen entirely more often.

In defense of the late Mr. Strickland and BART, sometimes things happen for which there is ultimately nobody to blame. One of the things I learned in my career at BART was that it was more productive to direct effort into attempting to prevent something from happening again rather than trying to figure out who to blame.

Thanks for the explanation. It probably would have been nice to have some sort of drive cam system installed (as they do on many bus agencies, UP, BNSF, and currently installing on Metrolink) to replay the incident. It could give a much better perspective on the accident. I've seen TO's dozing off, reading a book, and just not looking at the tracks ahead for 10 seconds at a time, enough time to be too late to take any action should there be an obstruction. There's many scenarios I see playing out from this situation, but my main concern would be the TO not paying attention to the tracks. The TO claims to have had eyes on the tracks, but I don't see how you can miss a bright safety vest on a straightaway track and not blow the horn. Only a video would have shown whether he/she really was paying attention or not. I think there is a false sense of security that nothing can obstruct the tracks because it is a "closed" system. But there are always scenarios such as these, that pan out.

krujus's picture

It's probably not even worth mentioning anything new here, as most everyone seems to have made up their mind about who's wrong and who messed up, despite the fact that almost no one knows all the facts. A few facts that i doubt many of you happen to know:

1. Although Mr. Strickland was actually wearing a safety vest (one not authorized by BART, but his own personal one), he also was wearing a backpack over the vest, virtually negating any benefit of actually wearing a vest in the first place.

2. For 30 years, BART's simple approval and work order procedures have not only been effective, they have worked to make the system one of the safest in the country. If you care to not believe this, do a search for any accidents related to BART. There are plenty, and we do kill a number of people every year, however they are for the most part patrons, not employees, who get hurt.

3. Mr. Strickland and his partner were given the simple approval as a party of 2, not 2 seperate simple approvals. This is because 1 of the workers is to do the actual work, while the other is supposed to be the lookout, or eyes, and is there to advise the other of approaching trains and vehicles. The fact that they were so far apart and obviously alone indicates they were taking short-cuts, and we all know the outcome of that.

4. Mr. Stricklands partner should have answered the radio when Central tried to contact them to find out their status, ater thr TO indicated he had struck something. He did not, because his radio was turned off, another violation, and he had to find out about his partner from the track crew who eventually found the body.

5. Why did Central have to find out that the train struck something from a passenger? I find it difficult to believe the TO never heard anything. I have seen the damage... I have driven trains... I have struck small birds while travelling at speed, and it makes an impressive noise in the cab. Why he did not stop until the train was well over a mile away I will never understand.

I know who messed up, and I know who is at fault, and I also know that these people will never be blamed or indicted for anything. I also know that OSHA will make BART pay just to make themselves look like they are doing something to protect the people. But if you ask me, it seems like an awful lot of monday morning quarterbacking which will result in a ton of new rules and procedures, none of which will make anyone any safer.

I feel for Mr. Stricklands family, and believe me, no one wishes it hadn't happened more than those of us in Central, but I am so very tired of everything being our fault. People make mistakes, and sometimes people die because of it. I just wish one time, we could actually put the blame where it belongs, and not punish everyone who works for BART and all of our riders.

>5. Why did Central have to find out that the train struck something from a passenger? I find it difficult to believe the TO never heard anything. I have seen the damage... I have driven trains... I have struck small birds while travelling at speed, and it makes an impressive noise in the cab. Why he did not stop until the train was well over a mile away I will never understand.

I agree. A week or two before this incident I reported a TO falling asleep at the console to BART Police and two supervisors did a welfare check on him. Could this TO that hit Strickland been asleep at the console as well? The track where he was hit was straight, correct? I still don't see how an aware TO would not see him (I know about the improper usage of the wrong safety vest mentioned in 1.).

But this is BARTRage, I don't even work for BART but you can clearly see about 80% of the folks here are anti-employee, union, labor.

Management has it covered here.. Do a search and it's like 10-1 negative about the workers and just from what I read 90% end up being assumptions about them without knowing what happend or the policy.. But some here have no problem blasting that "bleeping (worker type) for . . . Or they make X amount of dollars, or lazy, or murderers, or damn them for doing their job.. I bet about 10% of the people here are current or past employes. I know my friend posts here.

BARTRage is my on the way to work entertainment. Sometimes asking questions on topics here as I exit.