NewsLocal News


Train control system RTD considered in 2019 could've prevented recent derailment, safety expert says

RTD train derailment Aurora 9-21-22
Posted at 10:06 PM, Sep 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-27 00:19:05-04

AURORA, Colo. — A train control system the Regional Transportation District considered in 2019 after a derailment injured several people could have prevented last week's derailment, according to an expert.

Richard Beall, a railroad operation and safety expert with more than 40 years of experience, watched the video Aurora police recently released showing the R Line train going off its tracks Wednesday and disconnecting at East Exposition Avenue and South Sable Boulevard.

"I'm estimating that thing to be doing 30-35 [mph]," he said. "You're seeing that thing barreling down on that curve that it can't possibly take, and naturally, the expected happened."

About two dozen people were evaluated at the scene for injuries. Only three required transport to the hospital for treatment.

Beall said what they went through shouldn't have happened.

"Something happened in that cab. I don't know if the guy went to sleep. I don't know if he got confused, he lost his situational awareness, but something was wrong," he said.

There are systems that exist to prevent crashes and derailments from happening. They're typically called automatic or positive train control systems. Beall says, using satellites and GPS, a train's speed can be slowed down without the need for an operator's actions.

"They can virtually take over from the operator, the engineer," he said. "It generally works like it's supposed to. It would have worked here."

RTD was looking into upgrading its fleet to a system like this after the 2019 derailment at the same intersection, according to documents from the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The agency said it would cost about $15 million to do so, but it didn't have the funds at the time. The following year, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which drastically cut into RTD's budget.

At last check, according to those documents, RTD was supposed to hire a consultant last year to look further into the system. It's unclear what came of that, as RTD won't answer questions about this and requested Denver7 file an open records request instead.

"Now, this is two [derailments]," Beall said. "Is there going to be three? Is there going to be four?"

Until a system like this can get up and running, he recommends RTD consider other alternatives, like having a second crew member for another set of eyes so a derailment doesn't happen again.

Denver7 also learned Monday RTD's A Line to the airport, for example, has a positive train control system installed, as it's federally required for commuter rails. It's not required on light rails like the R Line.