REPORT: Charlotte LYNX manager “directed controllers to violate safety rules” at last job

Second transit leader found running department with major red flags from previous job.
It’s the second public transportation executive WBTV has identified whose recent work history raised red flags but was hired to manage a major aspect of CATS
Published: Nov. 15, 2022 at 5:38 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A top leader for Charlotte Area Transit System LYNX is carrying a trail of safety concerns and troubling findings from his last job. Records uncovered by WBTV show CATS’ General Manager of Rail Operations and Facilities Division was facing intense scrutiny for safety decisions and protocols before arriving in Charlotte.

Deltrin Harris’s LinkedIn profile shows he started his new CATS position in December 2020 after leaving the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Harris served as Director of the Rail Operations Control Center but an investigation released by the Washington Metrorail Safety Commission found Harris and other ROCC leaders “continue to direct controllers to violate safety rules or procedures.”

It’s the second public transportation executive WBTV has identified whose recent work history raised red flags but was hired to manage a major aspect of CATS services anyway.

WBTV previously revealed the former Bus Operations General Manager for contractor RATP Dev came to Charlotte having just resigned from his previous job after an investigation into the misuse of taxpayer dollars.

The safety report released in the lead-up to Harris’s departure from Washington, D.C. found a “series of major ongoing issues” at the ROCC that “pose unacceptable risks for Metrorail customers, employees, and contractors.”

WBTV showed the report to Charlotte at-large councilmember Lawana Mayfield.

“It is very concerning,” Mayfield said. “Our residents deserve better than that, and the Council deserves better than that.”

The report detailed specific allegations against managers and leaders at the ROCC, including Harris.

- The ROCC Director instructed a controller to direct a train operator to operate past a red signal at a pocket track without first ensuring that the associated switches were clamped. The rule exists to prevent derailments.

- A controller described an event in which the ROCC Director ordered them to instruct a train operator to move a disabled train without verifying that all doors were closed, and no customers were on the tracks.

- In one incident, power was restored to train services at the direction of the ROCC Director while emergency personnel were still on the roadway.

A common theme in the report was Harris and other ROCC managers stepping into situations and ordering employees what to do instead of implementing a standard operating procedure for emergency situations.

In response to the allegations in the report, “The ROCC Director (Harris) reiterated management’s warning that if supervisors step back to allow controllers to do their jobs according to policy there could be additional risks.” While the safety commission directed ROCC to start using checklists and procedures for all situations, Harris said “management was still considering whether to allow the use of checklists.”

Unlike the city’s bus system, the light rail is operated directly by CATS, not a contractor.

In an email to WBTV, a spokesperson for CATS wrote CATS Chief Operating Officer, Allen Smith, was responsible for hiring Harris.

WBTV emailed CATS about Harris’s hiring on October 5th. On October 7th, WBTV confirmed that COO Smith was retiring from the city. One week later, CEO John Lewis announced he was resigning to take a private sector job. His last day with the city is November 30th.

Assistant City Manager Brent Cagle will serve as the interim CATS CEO while a nationwide search is conducted to identify CATS’ next leader.

While council members have a say on the new CEO, Mayfield points out the problems and concerns happening in middle management rarely make it to council chambers.

That’s why she says City Manager Marcus Jones should be focusing his attention on fixing these issues.

“We are responsible to make sure that the city manager is held accountable and that he is then holding his staff accountable,” Mayfield said.

CATS defended Harris’ hiring in a written statement.

“Mr. Harris was hired based of his extensive experience in Transit, as well as his record of safety, leadership and knowledge of rail. Mr. Harris went through a competitive hiring process that included contact with past employers for verification,” CATS spokesperson Brandon Hunter wrote.

CATS also provided WBTV with a copy of a follow-up report conducted by a labor law firm and commissioned by WMATA. The WMATA-commissioned report claims the Safety Commission review was unsubstantiated but it contains virtually no details about the safety accusations and instead focuses on ROCC employee claims of harassment and a toxic work environment.