© 2024 WFAE

Mailing Address:
8801 J.M. Keynes Dr. Ste. 91
Charlotte NC 28262
Tax ID: 56-1803808
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
A Lynx Blue Line train derailed in May 2022 because of a broken axle bearing. A subsequent investigation that found the same problem could exist in all 43 light-rail vehicles. CATS interim CEO Brent Cagle only learned about the accident and investigation nearly a year after the incident, when he received a letter from the NC DOT regarding the incident.

State to CATS: Add staff or light rail will be shut down

Steve Harrison
The N.C. Department of Transportation said it will shut down the Lynx Blue Line or the Gold Line streetcar if CATS doesn't have enough staff in the Rail Operations Control Center.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation told the Charlotte Area Transit System Saturday that it may have to stop all service on the Lynx Blue Line or the Gold Line streetcar if CATS can’t ensure there will be at least two people working in the rail operations control center every shift.

The order came after the DOT made a surprise inspection of the center on Friday. The state found that for part of the night, there was only one person in the rail operations control center (referred to as "the rock"), in charge of all Lynx light rail and streetcar trains.

As part of an ongoing safety investigation into the center, the DOT said it has obtained information that CATS “routinely” does this. Regulators said that creates “undue stress and nearly overwhelming levels of responsibility among controllers.”

The state also said that rail controllers have told DOT staff that staffing decisions in CATS are “budget-driven.”

Interim CATS Chief Executive Brent Cagle told City Council members about the surprise inspection Monday.

“CATS was operating 'the rock' with one rail controller on duty at a time,” he said. “This is not an ideal situation.”

He said CATS will pay overtime and ensure there are enough people staffing the control center.

But Cagle didn’t tell council members the DOT said in a letter that it would order CATS to shut down either the Blue Line or the Gold Line if it doesn’t have a controller dedicated to each line. And regulators said they can suspend rail service if there’s an “imminent threat to public safety.”

That directive from the DOT was effective immediately.

The DOT’s letter about staffing comes after city staff and elected officials have said repeatedly that the Lynx is safe, despite numerous concerns about a train derailment, missed maintenance, skipped bridge inspections and an aging, unreliable bus fleet.

But as recently as Friday night, the DOT reported CATS was operating the Blue Line and Gold Line with not enough staff in the control room.

Since February, the DOT has criticized CATS over its response to a May 2022 Lynx derailment, calling the transit system’s response "unclear, insufficient, and not acceptable.”

And Cagle said he’s discovered more problems, like missed inspections of bridges on the light rail line and the need to replace the city’s aging bus fleet.

During Monday's City Council transportation meeting, committee chair Ed Driggs said the city will ask the Federal Transit Administration to conduct a review of CATS.

The Metropolitan Transit Commission had voted two weeks ago for an outside investigation of the May 2022 derailment. It's unclear if the city's plans to use the FTA will satisfy MTC members.

Sign up for our weekly politics newsletter

Select Your Email Format

Steve Harrison is WFAE's politics and government reporter. Prior to joining WFAE, Steve worked at the Charlotte Observer, where he started on the business desk, then covered politics extensively as the Observer’s lead city government reporter. Steve also spent 10 years with the Miami Herald. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, the Sporting News and Sports Illustrated.