The train controllers in BART's Control Center move hundreds of thousands of people a day and 60 trains during peak commute, with more than 1,200 passengers per train at speeds of more than 70 mph. Train controllers work tirelessly to ensure the safety and movement of high-speed trains, with an average 95 percent on-time rate.
They work hard to prevent collisions and derailments, like the ones we recently saw in Spain and Washington, D.C. BART's safety record isn't based on luck, but the experience and skill of its workforce.
We are deeply concerned for passenger and public safety as BART management personnel are believed to be preparing to perform job duties of experienced train controllers in the event of a strike. This is not in the best interest of the public.
BART managers appear to have been expediting their recertification as train controllers with the intention of running the system. There's a difference between recertification and actual console time.
Recertification is an academic exercise using books, quizzes and tours, whereas console time is actual time on the job. It's nearly equivalent to asking a doctor who's been retired for 15 years to immediately begin preforming heart surgery after a few hours of studying.
The average train controller needs two to three years' experience to be proficient, and logs thousands of hours of console time per calendar year. Since managers are tasked with other administrative duties, they spend zero hours at the console and are not logging the hours required to effectively perform in this position.
Allowing management to step in and attempt to do the job of train controllers jeopardizes the safety of all BART passengers and equipment.
We are asking the California Public Utilities Commission to explain what their policy would be should BART, in the event of another strike, attempt to run limited service using managers who, in our opinion, are not currently qualified to perform the many tasks required by the job.
This includes having a thorough working knowledge of emergency (ventilation, electrification and security) procedures; being able to facilitate an effective, immediate response to properly initiating emergency removal of electrification during emergencies; administering proper computer-driven input instructions and managing any train-related emergency that may occur during train operations; and implementing approved safety procedures as prescribed by the BART safety department.
We agree that BART's aging infrastructure needs to be upgraded; however, management is exaggerating the immediate cost of doing so to avoid negotiating a fair contract with its highly-skilled workforce.
Rather than putting the public and our infrastructure at risk, BART negotiators should refocus on the values of public service and public safety and come back to the bargaining table to reach an agreement with BART workers.
With an agreement, passengers, workers, employers and Bay Area businesses alike will be released from the stress of the possibility of a strike, with managers who are not qualified to be train controllers attempting to run the system.
Contact the BART board of directors today and let them know that an agreement needs to be reached now to ensure the safety of all BART passengers.
Patricia Schuchardt, a Pleasanton resident, is president of AFSCME Local 3993, which represents around 200 professional and supervisorial employees at BART, including the train controller supervisors in BART's control center.