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US starts inquiry on transit deaths

2 workers hit by Bay Area train

A police officer looked along the outside of a San Francisco commuter train that struck and killed two workers who were inspecting tracks over the weekend in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Dan Rosenstrauch/The Mercury News via Associated Press

A police officer looked along the outside of a San Francisco commuter train that struck and killed two workers who were inspecting tracks over the weekend in Walnut Creek, Calif.

OAKLAND, Calif. — Federal accident investigators were in the San Francisco Bay Area on Sunday to examine the deaths of two transit workers who were struck by an out-of-service commuter train performing routine maintenance.

Saturday’s accident on Bay Area Rapid Transit tracks in the East Bay city of Walnut Creek took place against the backdrop of a contentious and disruptive labor strike.

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Two National Transportation Safety Board investigators were at the site of the accident on Sunday, agency spokesman Eric Weiss said.

The two-man team led by Jim Southworth, the board’s railroad accident investigator-in-charge, will be looking at everything leading up to the collision, from safety procedures and qualifications of personnel to the track’s condition.

‘‘We will be the lead agency in the safety investigation into how and why this happened,’’ Weiss said.

The four-car BART train with several people aboard was being run in automatic mode under computer control at the time of the accident, Assistant General Manager Paul Oversier said.

The system has been shut down since Friday because of a work stoppage by the system’s two largest unions.

The train was returning from a yard where workers cleaned graffiti from unused cars when it slammed into the two workers — one a BART employee and the other a contractor — who were inspecting an above-ground stretch of track between stations, Oversier said.

Neither BART nor the county coroner has released the names and ages of the victims.

With no indication that the striking BART workers would be back on the job Monday, the region was preparing for another day of gridlock on freeways and bridges clogged with commuters who would ordinarily be traveling by train.

BART, the nation’s fifth-largest commuter rail system, has an average weekday ridership of 400,000.

BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Sunday that transit officials and labor leaders have been in contact over the weekend, but the two sides did not have any plans to return to the bargaining table.

After the death in May of a train foreman who was killed by a passenger train in West Haven, Conn., the transportation safety board has been promoting improved safety measures for track maintenance crews nationwide.

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