updated 7/6/2005 6:27:21 AM ET 2005-07-06T10:27:21

A Bay Area Rapid Transit walkout was averted early Wednesday when unionized workers reached a deal with management less than two hours before the trains that carry more than 300,000 riders each day were threatened to be shut down.

The agreement was announced by BART spokesman Linton Johnson just before 3 a.m., ending more than four days of round-the-clock negotiations that would have led to gridlocked freeways, overcrowded buses and ferries and a messy commute.

The 2,300 unionized BART workers were expected to be back at work when the trains were scheduled to resume running shortly after 4 a.m. Wednesday.

There were no immediate details on what was in the agreement.

The contracts between BART and its workers expired Friday but the unions delayed setting a strike date until the July 4 holiday. The deal came after union leaders twice extended their 12:01 a.m. Wednesday strike deadline.

Negotiators for BART, the Service Employees International Union, Local 790, and the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1555, met for about 26 hours over the weekend and were at the table almost continuously starting Monday morning.

BART management had said the major sticking point was finding a compromise that would help the agency deal with a projected $100 million, four-year deficit while not further burdening riders, who have already been hit with fare increases and parking charges.

The union in its last proposal called for annual raises of between 2 percent and 4 percent over three years, and offered to triple union contributions for health benefits to $75 a month.

San Francisco Bay area transportation officials had urged commuters on Tuesday to consider forming car pools, riding ferries, working from home and even taking vacations to keep the freeways moving if there was a strike.

The last BART strike was in 1997 and lasted six days.

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