Image: Passengers board a train in San Francisco
Justin Sullivan  /  Getty Images file
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) customers board a train at the Embarcadero station Friday.
updated 8/16/2009 11:43:20 PM ET 2009-08-17T03:43:20

A potentially crippling commuter rail strike in the San Francisco Bay Area was averted Sunday as management and unionists reached an agreement hours before a strike deadline, officials said.

Officials from Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555 and Bay Area Rapid Transit negotiated through the weekend in a last-ditch effort to avoid a walkout affecting some 330,000 riders who use the nation's fifth-largest rail system on weekdays. The pact still must be ratified by BART's 900 operators and ticket agents.

"We've worked to an agreement that we believe is equitable," union president Jesse Hunt said. "We're pleased to announce with this tentative agreement, our members will be working tomorrow. Trains will run."

Hunt would not discuss contract terms but said he was confident his members would ratify the deal in a vote next week.

While both sides reported progress in talks throughout the weekend, first word of the settlement came from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and BART vice president James Fang — several hours before the strike was to start at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

"It puts us in a position where people are able to get to work tomorrow," said Newsom.

Transportation agencies in the region were preparing to increase service in the event a BART strike would overwhelm the area's freeways and public transit services.

"I'm happy it's resolved, but we had a contingency plans in place, just in case," said Randell Iwasaki, director of the California Department of Transportation.

The union had announced that its members would strike after BART's board of directors imposed work terms that the union says amount to a 7 percent pay cut.

A strike could have put another 60,000 vehicles on the road and created hours-long delays on roadways, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission said.

As concerns of a strike mounted, area and state transportation officials encouraged commuters to leave an hour or two early and to use possible alternatives such as car pools, arriving and leaving work later and working from home.

Had there been a strike, BART said it had been prepared to provide limited bus service between stations in the East Bay and downtown San Francisco. Ferry service from Oakland and Alameda County to San Francisco would have been expanded and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said it would have add more buses and streetcars to accommodate passengers.

Prior to the agreement, BART wanted the operators and station agents to accept a four-year contract, as two other BART unions have. The union had been seeking a shorter contract.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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