NCDOT confirms another Charlotte light rail car derailment

The derailment happened on Wednesday at a Charlotte railyard, this is the fourth incident since May of 2022
The derailment happened on Wednesday at a Charlotte railyard, this is the fourth incident since May of 2022
Published: May. 11, 2023 at 12:55 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A CATS light rail vehicle derailed in a Charlotte railyard Wednesday, an NCDOT spokesperson confirmed to WBTV. There were no injuries and NCDOT has not yet determined the cause of the derailment.

A spokesperson for CATS claimed the train was out of service for routine maintenance and the incident occurred “during routine testing following the maintenance.”

This is the fourth derailment of a CATS light rail vehicle since the beginning of 2022 according to US Department of Transportation data. Three of the derailments took place in the railyard while a derailment on the mainline in May 2022 grabbed headlines and forced major changes within the city’s public transit when it was disclosed more than a year after it happened.

Related >>> CATS light rail maintenance “overhaul” delayed for years before derailment

CATS and NCDOT both acknowledge the main line derailment was caused by delayed maintenance that is now being expedited for some of the train cars. A report analyzing the May 2022 derailment found the specific car that derailed was due for an axle overhaul at 10 years, but it has been operating for 12 years without the overhaul being completed.

Because of the wheel bearing issue, NCDOT has required several corrective actions from CATS such as limiting all trains to no more than 35 mph. An NCDOT spokesperson had no comment when asked if CATS was following all the corrective action plans at the time of the derailment Wednesday but also said NCDOT has not completed a review or report of the situation yet.

In an email from CATS to the Metropolitan Transit Commission, CATS reemphasized the cause of the incident is unknown at this point, but said they are confident this was not caused by a wheel bearing.

“Good afternoon MTC, We wanted to follow up with more information for you all as the local media is reporting on the incident from yesterday. The train was out of service for routine maintenance unrelated to the bearing.

This was normal protocol to ensure the train could be released to service. It is too early to know the cause or speculate on the cause of this incident, but we have some preliminary information from the CATS Rail Car Maintenance Division.

When crews inspected the vehicle, they noted that the rail vehicle wheels were spinning/moving and not frozen, indicating that the wheel bearing did not freeze. This leads us to believe that the primary cause of this incident is unrelated to the bearing, which was the primary cause of the May 2022 incident.

We wanted to send you all an update as a local news outlet is reporting that a bearing freezing caused this incident. We will continue to keep safety first for our employees and the community as we work closely with NCDOT SSO. As more information becomes available, we will share it with you all,” the letter read.

WBTV analyzed USDOT nationwide data on light rail system derailments to determine if CATS was experiencing more safety derailment issues than other transit agencies.

Between January 2021 and December 2022, USODT records show 69 total derailments on the mainline and railyard. During that time, CATS reported two rail yard derailments and one mainline derailment. The data does not include 2023 yet.

New Jersey Transit Corporation reported ten derailments during that same time frame and Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority reported nine.

Transit AgencyRevenue MilesDerailments reported in 2022Vehicles operating at peak service
Transportation District Commission of Hampton Roads, dba: Hampton Roads Transit379,22806
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority468,73715
New Jersey Transit Corporation505,977515
City and County of San Francisco, dba: San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency818,2593112
Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority981,361123
Port Authority of Allegheny County1,472,075024
City of Charlotte North Carolina, dba: Charlotte Area Transit System1,668,123328
New Jersey Transit Corporation2,112,863042
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas2,606,610350
Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority2,831,553146
Valley Metro Rail, Inc.2,976,448040
Maryland Transit Administration3,166,87717
Sacramento Regional Transit District, dba: Sacramento RT3,542,376335
Metro Transit4,680,138075
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority5,157,9647155
Bi-State Development Agency of the Missouri-Illinois Metropolitan District, dba: (St. Louis) Metro5,561,777042
Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority, dba: Sound Transit5,921,192172
Utah Transit Authority6,334,698381
Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon8,172,9151102
Dallas Area Rapid Transit8,906,185289
Denver Regional Transportation District9,585,5822111
San Diego Metropolitan Transit System10,077,479296
Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority , dba: Metro12,421,3190110

According to the narrative provided in the USDOT data, CATS two 2022 yard derailments were not caused by the wheel bearing defect that was at fault for the May 2022 Blue Line derailment. On October 17, 2022, CATS reported to USDOT claims the yard derailment happened after an operator made an error in aligning switches. A yard derailment on September 21, 2022, was suspected to be the result of damage caused by an unknown vehicle trailing the light rail car.

In an email to WBTV, CATS spokesperson Brandon Hunter wrote that CATS continues to prioritize safety.

CATS STATEMENT: At approximately 11:35 a.m. Wednesday, May 10,2023 a LYNX Blue Line train not in service was traveling in the CATS south rail yard when one of the trucks on the train left its natural position on the track.

There were no passengers on board, the train was traveling at approximately 5 mph in the rail yard and the operator was not injured. The train was out of service for routine maintenance. The incident occurred during routine testing following the maintenance.

All regulatory and board notifications were made aware of the incident. It is too early to know the cause or speculate on the cause. Once we have the results of the investigation, we will share that information.

CATS will work closely with and follow the guidance of NCDOT SSO as we operate rail services. Safety continues to be our top priority and CATS is working with our state and federal partners to ensure safe operations.

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