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CATS: Streetcar Crash Likely Driver’s Error

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CATS

The driver of a streetcar that crashed Saturday morning was at fault say Charlotte Area Transit officials. They believe he made a series of mistakes that sent the streetcar rolling down Elizabeth Avenue and into an SUV a few days after the line opened with much fanfare.   

“Preliminary findings suggest that rail vehicle mechanical operations, including the braking system, were intact indicating possible operator error,” says CATS Interim CEO John Muth.

He walked reporters through a four minute video of that morning’s ride. It begins with the streetcar stopped at the end of the line at Hawthorne Lane. There are control panels on either end of the streetcar. The video shows the driver walking from the driver’s seat at one end of the streetcar to the other. 

“The operator approaches Cab A, but does not reach up and switch the control from Cab B to Cab A,” explains Muth.

He says that was the crucial mistake, since it means the control panel where the driver was seated was never activated.

The driver then accidentally dislodges the main brake. Since the streetcar is on a slight slope, it begins rolling. The driver tries to hit an emergency brake on the panel, but since the panel was never activated the streetcar just continues to pick up speed.

“At this point the operator contacts our rail operations control center. The rail operations control center tells him to apply the handbrake, which he does not do,” says Muth.  

Shortly after that the streetcar reaches a speed of 25 mph and crashes into an SUV waiting for a stoplight at the intersection of Elizabeth and Kings. The streetcar continues up a slight incline for another 500 feet, rolls back slightly, and finally comes to a rest. 

This was the driver’s second day operating the streetcar. CATS says like all other streetcar drivers, he had received 200 hours of training with 32 of those actually on the streetcar. Before that, he had driven the Lynx blue line since 2007. He’s now on paid administrative leave.  

Muth says CATS will provide additional training for operators on all three braking systems and supervisors will accompany drivers on many trips. He says the official investigation will likely take several weeks to complete.