Investigators urge more safety for rail workers

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Workers who maintain the nation's transit rail tracks urgently need more protections to help prevent accidents such as the one that killed two workers on the San Francisco Bay Area system last fall, federal officials said Thursday.

If implemented, the recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board would require transit agencies to install safety systems to help warn train drivers of workers on tracks ahead.

The safety board has long sought some of the measures but does not have the power to force transit agencies to comply. However, in the letter dated Thursday, the board asked the Federal Transit Administration to push for the changes.

In a written statement, the Federal Transit Administration said it would act soon, though it did not promise to adopt the recommendations.

"Before the end of this year, we will issue new safety related guidelines to all rail transit agencies," including the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, said Peter Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration.

A BART train struck two track workers on Oct. 19 as they were inspecting a dip in a track and using a safety protocol called simple approval that relied on one person watching for oncoming trains while the other checked the track.

Autopsies revealed that the men were struck in the back, suggesting they did not follow the protocol.

BART has since eliminated the simple approval system. It now requires three-way communications between drivers, controllers at its headquarters and workers on the track. Trains also must slow down or stop when they approach work zones.

The safety board's letter cited the deaths as having "re-energized concerns about the need for improved roadway worker protection in the rail transit industry." It also cited the deaths of workers near New York City, Boston and Washington as evidence that improvements are needed.

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