Engineering: The Bay Area Rapid Transit Case Study

2100 words - 8 pages

Engineers design, build or maintain applications and systems to solve various societal problems. Their behaviors thus have a non-negligible impact on human development. Oftentimes, however, engineers are faced with the dilemma to choose between compromising their code of ethics and threatening their promising careers. It is important that engineers deem public welfare as a supreme concern and stand their ground so that they will report any observed situations that potentially can harm public safety to their superiors. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) case study is a good example of engineers being responsible with society in that they attempted multiple times to inform their supervisors in management about their concerns with the possible imminent system failure of BART. Even though their voices were ignored and they were fired by the company in the end, they made the passengers realize the probable dangers underneath this regional rail service. Consequently, on October 2nd, 1972, as a result of Automatic Train Control (ATC) failure, a BART train overshot the station at Fremont and wounded several people. In order to prevent these tragic accidents from happening, the BART case needs to be further examined for deeper understanding of the problem. This paper will use deontological ethical framework to address the cause of BART train system failure and recommend feasible plans to avert similar tragedies from occurring in the future to BART employees. Therefore, not only engineers, but also managers and board of directors should be educated about ethics and should be familiar with basic technical knowledge regarding their business.
BART is a fast modern rail transit system, with 34 stations and 75 miles of track, serving the counties of San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa. It is financed by public funds (Unger, 1973). The construction of BART initially began in 1963 and its partial revenue service started on September 11th, 1972 between Oakland and Fremont, which was 3 years behind schedule. The District’s General Engineering consultants, Parsons-Brinkerhoff-Tudor-Bechtel (PBTB) were in charge of managing and monitoring BART’s contractors, and Westinghouse Electric Corporation was the major engineering firm to design, implement, and operate the ATC system. In addition, BART itself has a team of engineering staff to oversee and maintain the system as well as to investigate general problematic situations (Unger, 1973). On October 2nd, 1972, a southbound BART train operating under the computer-controlled ATC overran the Fremont terminal and plunged the lead car onto a sand embankment (Friedlander, 1973). The BART train operator recalled that he “barely managed to override the ATC manually before impact (Friedlander, 1973).” Although there were no fatalities as the consequence of this incident, it sparked heated debate about technical and ethical lapses in this accident, as well as what roles engineers should act upon.
According to BART’s...

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