Multiple CATS light rail trains derailed in 2022

WBTV found three derailments that happened last year within the CATS light rail system.
One was a mainline derailment and the other two were yard derailments.
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 6:47 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Charlotte city leaders just learned Monday about a Blue Line train derailment that happened nearly 10 months ago.

WBTV is digging deeper into the derailment after the interim CEO of the Charlotte Area Transit System brought the news to the Charlotte City Council after reportedly finding out two weeks ago.

WBTV found three derailments that happened last year within the CATS light rail system. One was a mainline derailment and the other two were yard derailments.

The biggest issue here is none were reported to elected leaders or the public.

“It’s a little unsettling,” Wayne Greenslit, a CATS Light Rail passenger, said.

Information from CATS and the U.S. Department of Transportation shows the first incident happen on May 21, 2022. A LYNX Blue Line train was traveling north between the Scaleybark and Woodlawn stations when the derailment happened just south of the grade crossing of Old Pineville Road, near South Boulevard.

A statement from CATS on Tuesday says, “a wheel on the middle truck of Light Rail Vehicle 201 derailed and traveled 1,206 feet down the alignment before coming to a stop safely. The middle truck wheel came off of the tracks.”

WBTV learned there were 24 people on the light rail, and no one was injured in the derailment.

“I wish they had came out when it first happened instead of waiting until this year,” Sheryl Timmons, a CATS light rail passenger, said.

“It seems like the general public should have known about this as soon as it happened,” fellow passenger Darin Madison said.

Those honest thoughts from CATS passengers after a derailment on the blue line.

“The root cause has been identified as a faulty bearing, main axel bearing. That bearing is present on all of the fleet,” Brent Cagle, interim CATS CEO, said.

Cagle added all 44 trains in the CATS fleet will need repairs.

For safety reasons, trains are operating at a max speed of 35 miles per hour instead of the max speed of 55 miles per hour, along with other mitigation methods to prevent another derailment.

“The corrective action plan outlines the speed restriction to ensure the operator has more opportunity to safely stop the vehicle if indications of mechanical issues are detected,” a CATS statement to WBTV said.

“It will take some time to work through the maintenance, but that’s why we have the mitigating measures,” said Cagle.

After digging through the U.S. Department of Transportation site, WBTV found there were two other derailments in CATS light rail train yards.

The second happened on Sept. 21, 2022, when a train derailed at the CATS North train yard at 1911 North Brevard St. on Track 11. Parts of the incident report are redacted on the U.S. Department of Transportation site but said “{Redacted} was operated by a maintenance of way ( {Redacted} ) employee, who had properly set {Redacted} {Redacted} for a straight move remaining on Track 11 prior to the derailment. The probable cause of the derailment of {Redacted} was {Redacted} {Redacted} being damaged from being trailed previously by an unknown vehicle. The investigation continues.”

The third derailment was on Oct. 17, 2022, at the CATS South rail yard at 3305 Pelton Street on Track 17.

The incident report states: “Upon review of the video surrounding the incident, it was determined that the operator of LRV 316 previously approached South Yard {Redacted} {Redacted} while traveling northbound from Track 17. The operator was seen on video exiting the LRV and aligning the switch against the intended path of travel. LRV 316 then continued northbound, trailing {Redacted} {Redacted}. The subsequent southbound traversal of the damaged {Redacted} {Redacted} caused the second axle on the B - truck to derail.”

Despite the two additional derailments, members of the city council were shocked the first derailment wasn’t reported to city leaders.

“I think I can speak for council that we didn’t know about this, so that’s concerning,” said Charlotte City Councilmember Renee Johnson.

Riders on the light rail want more accountability from CATS.

“Transparency, I want to know why it happened,” said Greenslit.

“They should have let someone know immediately because they’re putting thousands of lives in danger,” Madison added.

“First, we want you all to know that the LYNX Blue Line is safe, and we would not operate it if it were not,” said CATS in a statement to WBTV.

Next, CATS will ask the city council to amend the current contract with Siemens so all 44 trains can be repaired. The current contract is $12 million for 20 trains, so repairing all 44 trains will easily double the cost to at least $24 million.

CATS Timeline of events and steps taken with the NCDOT State Safety Oversight (SSO)

  • May 21, 2022- LYNX Blue Line train derailment on track traveling north
  • May 24, 2022 – Preliminary Incident Report submitted to NCDOT SSO
  • Jan. 25, 2023 – Initial Final Incident Report submitted to NCDOT SSO
  • Feb. 6, 2023 – After providing NCDOT SSO additional information they requested, NCDOT SSO notified CATS that there needed to be a corrective action plan submitted. NCDOT also asked CATS to consider implementing a systemwide light rail vehicle speed restriction on the LYNX Blue Line
  • Feb. 17, 2023- CATS took immediate action before approval of the NCDOT SSO corrective action plan and implemented a speed restriction programmed systemwide for the LYNX Blue Line of 35 miles per hour. Over the next few days, CATS and NCDOT SSO worked together to create the corrective action plan
  • Feb. 21, 2023 – Revised Final Incident Report submitted to NCDOT SSO
  • March 1, 2023 – NCDOT SSO accepts CATS Final Incident Report
  • March 2, 2023 – NCDOT SSO approved the corrective action plan submitted by CATS. CATS worked internally to ensure all measures are in place to meet the reporting of the NCDOT SSO corrective action plan
  • March 13, 2023 - Interim CEO Brent Cagle gave a 90-day status update to City Council on his time at CATS