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Blue Line rail car derails during maintenance check, CATS says

The transit system said the Blue Line car wasn't in service at the time, and the operator was not injured.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) confirmed a Blue Line rail car was derailed while in a railyard on Wednesday.

CATS said it happened around 11:35 a.m. that day at the south rail yard. The LYNX Blue Line car, which the agency said was not in service at the time, was traveling around 5 mph when it left its natural position on the track. The rail car was being checked as part of routine maintenance.

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Only a CATS operator was onboard at the time and was not hurt during the derailment according to the agency. CATS also said all regulatory and board notifications were made, though CATS also said it's too early to know the cause of the derailment.

The rail division of the North Carolina Department of Transportation confirmed with WCNC Charlotte it had been notified of the derailment, and that both CATS maintenance staff and NCDOT rail officials were investigating.

Charlotte City Councilman and Transportation, Planning and Development Committee, Chairman, Ed Driggs said something like this is normal. He also said if NCDOT, CATS or city leaders thought there was a risk to passengers they would not allow the rail line to operate.

“What happened Wednesday is something that occurs normally maybe a couple of times a year. There were two others like the one that just happened…. in the yard, at low speed, no passengers on board,” Driggs said. “Those things happen from time to time in rail traffic. One of the wheels assemblies lost its position on the track, at low speed in the yard and they put it back on the track.”

Still, some riders are concerned.

“That is making me nervous,” Angela Davis, a rider, said. "I have not experienced that yet and I hope that I don’t. I hope they fix the issues."

“It is a big concern because you never know if someone can get injured,” Kelvin Fitzgerald, another rider, said. 

A Federal Railroad Administration spokesperson said train derailments are the most common type of train accidents. While mostly minor, they can happen for a variety of reasons like mechanical failures.

In the meantime, Driggs is asking riders not to lose confidence in the rail line.

“NCDOT has authorized the trains to remain in operation subject to our plan for remediation of some of the issues. It is not a safety problem. I would put my daughter on that train,” Driggs said. “It is mainly operational issues.”

Wednesday's derailment is notably different than a 2022 incident that happened with passengers onboard. CATS leaders faced criticism for not escalating earlier derailment to city leadership and informing the public sooner, although interim CEO Brent Cagle more recently has promised to shift the culture of the agency to be more open and transparent. 

“The main thing we established is that it was not a bearing failure,” Driggs said. “The question was… was this an example of what happened last year that caused the passenger train to derail. It wasn’t so now you are back in the realm of general maintenance issues that can cause a failure.”

He said the city and CATS are working aggressively to get the maintenance and repairs on the trains up-to-date – to prevent future derailments.

“We have set up a schedule with Siemens, the maker of these trains to on an expedited basis to do the services on all the cars, to make sure all of the bearings are good to make sure we do not have an incident like last year," Driggs said.

In a statement, CATS said safety continues to be its top priority and it is following the guidance of NCDOT’s State Safety Oversight Program as it operates the rail system.

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Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles has also expressed optimism about the direction CATS is taking on WCNC Charlotte's Flashpoint, saying recent investments into the transit agency are bringing results.

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