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Preliminary report sheds light on CATS light rail derailment in Charlotte railyard



Editor’s Note: Video above is from initial report in May

CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — A newly released report is shedding light on a CATS light rail derailment that occurred in early May.

According to CATS’ preliminary report that was sent over to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the A-truck of LRV 306 derailed in the South Yard while traveling to Track 19. This incident happened at 11:38 a.m., May 10, 2023, near Clanton Road in the South End area.

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Authorities said Train 30, LRVs 318 and 306, operating out of 318-A cab, had just completed a test run from the South Yard to the Interstate-485 Station and back to the South Yard.

After entering the South Yard, Train 30 was moving to park on Track 19 at the time of the derailment. Authorities said Train 30 was traveling west on Track 7 and navigating a curve turning towards Yard Switch 5 when the A-Truck of the trailing vehicle, LRV 306, derailed.

Figure 1: LRV 306-A derailed at Yard Switch 7, Tracks 19,7, and 10 (NCDOT)
Figure 2: LRV 306-A truck axle 1 derailed (NCDOT)
Figure 3: LRV 306-A truck axle 2 derailed (NCDOT)

Based on an examination of the rail and track damage, CATS authorities said the derailed 306-A truck traveled approximately 351 feet before coming to rest near Yard Switch 7.

According to the preliminary report, the operator of the CATS light rail went through drug and alcohol testing at 12:21 p.m. within two hours following the derailment, per protocol.

The operator had been employed with CATS for six months, the report states. The operator’s responsibilities were to transport passengers along the alignment and pre-trip the train.

Prior to operating the light rail, the operator was a bus driver for CATS from 2014 to 2017. The operator reported to authorities that they typically work 50 to 55 hours per week, roughly 8 to 12 hours per day with “no set shift.”

The operator reported that they were working with foot pain since November 2022.

CATS officials said this incident remains under investigation and the probable cause is currently listed as ‘undetermined.’ Below is what the operator reported following the derailment:

“Pulled up to 8 signal, acknowledged my run, I acknowledged that I had a yellow over a flashing red. The train wouldn’t move, it would move then it would stop. RCM came into the cab, I tried to move it again. RCM instructed me to put it in yard mode. I stated control had not authorized yard mode, but he instructed me to put it in yard mode. We got to the Do Not Enter sign, it always drops speed there and that’s where we go into yard mode. It dropped speed again, we went into yard mode, he instructed me to let him off prior to the arch on Track 3. I proceed to Track 19.”

Below is a portion of the interview conducted with the operator following the derailment:

Safety Coordinator- Rail & Transit Operations Service Manager: Did you notice anything unusual during your move from Track 3 to Track 19?

“It started slipping like when it first starts raining, I thought maybe I had been on oil spot, I just wanted to get to Track 19, I slowed down and it was creeping. I heard a squeal, I looked in my side monitor and noticed that it was off the track, I stopped immediately and called the ROCC. Verified all switches, none required throwing as they were all set for proper movement.”

Safety Coordinator- Rail & Transit Operations Service Manager: When you noticed the train felt like it was slipping, like it was raining, why did you not stop the train?

“I thought it was an oil spot, it didn’t feel like something I had not have happened before. It felt like something that had previously happened and that it was nothing that really alerted me to something wrong.”

Safety Coordinator- Rail & Transit Operations Service Manager: When did the train start slipping?

“Close to 19.”

Safety Coordinator- Rail & Transit Operations Service Manager: Before that, you said it was creeping, did the train feel wobbly or shakey, or did it feel like it was having propulsion problems but was still riding smooth?

“It felt like it had propulsion problems but was still riding smooth. It felt like when the doors aren’t level and it restricts you to 25 MPH, that’s what it felt like to me. Something similar happened when I took a train into the shop, it failed at Parkwood, and I had to inch it into the North Yard. It was not something I hadn’t felt before.”

Safety Coordinator- Rail & Transit Operations Service Manager: Is there anything you feel could be done or put in place to prevent a similar incident from occurring again in the future?

“I think when we’re pulling into the yard, if Control could monitor us as we’re going through, like when we throw a switch, that would be helpful.”

On March 31, 2023, the NC Department of Transportation conducted an unannounced inspection of CATS’ Rail Operations Control Center (ROCC) and found staffing of the facility to be an issue, as well as an excessive level of job duties assigned to third-shift employees.

“The investigation is currently ongoing and the final incident report with the appropriate documentation will be submitted once it is completed,” Charlotte Area Transit General Manager David Moskowitz said in a released statement.

This is a developing story; check back for updates.

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