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Colorado PUC orders RTD to file corrective action plan over January light rail derailment

Posted at 11:17 AM, Jun 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-19 17:15:42-04

DENVER – The Colorado Public Utilities Commission has opened investigation proceedings into the Regional Transportation District light rail derailment that happened in Aurora in late January and ordered RTD to file a Corrective Action Plan within 30 days.

In addition to the CAP, RTD will also have to file a hazard analysis within the next 30 days, after which the PUC will determine if the CAP will be approved or rejected.

Five people were injured in the R Line derailment at the Sable Blvd. and Exposition Ave. crossing, including one woman whose leg was partially amputated. The train was headed south and turning onto Exposition when it came off the tracks.

RTD said in the weeks after the derailment that speed was a “primary factor” in the derailment and that the operator was not following proper safety protocols.

The driver was fired after the derailment and later had preliminary charges filed against him, but prosecutors determined that though his actions and lack thereof caused the derailment, no criminal statutes directly addressed his actions. He was not formally charged.

Investigation by Aurora police and RTD showed the driver was speeding slightly before he applied the full brakes to the train, but when the train went around a 90-degree turn it was still traveling at 30 mph rather than the 10-mph speed limit.

One of the train cars struck a pole when it partially derailed but was pushed back onto center to avoid a full derailment. But the train hit the road, deforming the doors and forcing them open and the woman’s leg outside.

RTD said in April it would refresh and enhance its training for all of its operators. Part of the corrective plan includes enhanced training, more speed limit signage, operator bulletins, daily train safety information and more unannounced observations of train operations.

The PUC said in a news release Wednesday that further investigation by its rail safety staff and RTD safety staff found that other factors – initial training, inclement weather and retraining – could have contributed to the crash. The weather was icy and snowy at the time of the crash.

“As soon as this incident occurred, we began analyzing our processes and started taking action right away,” said RTD Chief Safety Officer Mike Meader in a statement Wednesday. “We will continue to partner with the PUC to address all of their concerns and respond as necessary as we work to enhance safety across our entire rail system.”

RTD said January's crash was the first of its kind in 25 years of light rail operation.

“One accident is too many,” Meader said. “RTD is committed to continuous improvement and doing all we can to ensure that an incident like this can be avoided in the future.”

This is a developing news story and will be updated.