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Panel passes new rail worker safety rules
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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The California Public Utilities Commission on Thursday approved new safety regulations for transit agencies' rail workers that are believed to be the first of their kind in the nation.

The new rules came less than two weeks after two Bay Area Rapid Transit workers were killed while working on tracks during the agency's second worker strike since July.

The rules include mandatory three-way radio communication between wayside workers, train operators and central command. The parties also must confirm their locations, safety protections being used, and implementation of those measures, including wearing standardized protective clothing, before a train enters a work area.

Train speed restrictions and warning flags will also be required in work areas.

The CPUC ordered the emergency safety rules for all 12 transit agencies it regulates, including BART and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. The agencies have 90 days to implement most of the new rules.

"I believe this general order sends a solid foundation and framework to promote roadway worker safety in California," commission member Carla Peterman said.

California the first state in the nation to adopt such comprehensive transit safety rules, according to the CPUC.

The commission began discussing a safety rules overhaul following BART's last worker death in 2008. The original draft included several safety changes such as more training, a compliance testing program allowing for more feedback, and federal record keeping of near misses and unsafe acts.

But the recent BART deaths forced the commission to make even more revisions before Thursday's vote.

"Unfortunately, it too often takes a tragedy for us to realize where the gaps are," commission member Mike Florio said Thursday.

A BART train driven by a trainee struck and killed BART employee Christopher Sheppard, 58, and a rail consultant, 66-year-old Laurence Daniels, on Oct. 19 in Walnut Creek. The deaths likely led to talks ending BART workers' strike on Oct. 21.

Sheppard and Daniels were working under the controversial "simple approval" practice, in which employees are allowed to enter the right of way as trains continue at full speed, making ground workers largely responsible for their own safety. BART has since changed its stance and abandoned that protocol after the deaths.

"BART has been an active participant in the development of the rules and is fully supportive," BART spokeswoman Alicia Trost said Thursday. "Presently, as BART revamps its roadway worker protection rules and procedures to reflect the recent elimination of the 'simple approval' process for access to the mainline, we are doing so while incorporating the requirements and language from the new rules."

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident, and the CPUC is leaving open the option of adjusting the rules once the NTSB's investigation is complete.