AURORA | A four-mile segment of the Regional Transportation District’s R Line will reopen to the public next week, more than two months after the train derailed in central Aurora, agency representatives said in a statement.
The affected section of light rail track, running between the Aurora Metro Center and the 13th Avenue Station, has been closed since September. RTD offered bus transportation from one station to the other for about a month after the derailment, before discontinuing the bus bridge at the end of October.
“I do not take lightly the disruption and inconvenience this service outage has caused for individuals who rely on the R Line on a daily basis,” the agency’s general manager and CEO, Debra Johnson, told the Aurora City Council while delivering an update on Monday.
“Should a similar service disruption occur in the future, I submit to you that RTD will strive to engage in a more robust communication and collaborative effort with municipal and county officials and stakeholders to educate and inform them regarding the timelines, processes and regulatory requirements related to the safe and complete restoration of transit services.”
Since opening to the public in 2017, the R Line has experienced derailments twice at Exposition Avenue and Sable Boulevard.
In January 2019, a light rail operator took the 90-degree bend too quickly, derailing the train and injuring multiple people, including a woman whose leg was severed when she fell out of a door. Then, on Sept. 21 of this year, the train again derailed, injuring three passengers and damaging a power pole.
Police surveillance video shows the train tipping and jumping the track as it tried to navigate the curve, appearing to slow down only a little if at all, though the speed limit on the track requires drivers to slow from a maximum speed of 35 miles per hour on the straightaway to no more than 10 miles per hour at the turn.
When Councilmember Steve Sundberg asked Johnson whether the derailment was due to “human error” and whether the operator of the train was traveling too fast, she replied that the answers to his questions were part of the confidential report, but that, in light of the video, it was “easy to surmise that speed was involved.”
In a news release, the agency described the details of a corrective action plan approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Nov. 16 that includes changes meant to slow trains at Exposition and Sable.
The plan would require trains to stop before passing through the intersection, and the speed limit on the track approaching the bend would be reduced from 35 to 25 miles per hour.
Johnson said RTD has also conducted more training focused on following speed limits across its light rail system, and that training specifically focusing on the intersection at Exposition and Sable would take place before the line reopens.
Commission staff also recommended that more information be gathered regarding proposals by the agency to add signage ahead of the curve and move a radar sign farther north of the intersection to give more advanced warning. The agency said in the release that it would return to the commission with that information by the end of the year.
RTD said in the release the affected section of the R Line is scheduled to reopen during the week of Nov. 28. On Monday, Johnson told the council that the line would reopen “once regulatory and safety milestones are met.”
“Safety is paramount for public transit agencies,” she said. “My team and I continue to coordinate with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and City of Aurora officials to comply with state and federal regulatory oversight requirements, to implement training measures and to complete infrastructure enhancements to minimize the likelihood of an event such as the Sept. 21, 2022, incident from recurring.”
When asked by Mayor Mike Coffman about the status of the agency’s report on the investigation into the cause of the Sept. 21 incident, Johnson said the document was still being withheld from the public due to state regulations. She told Councilmember Juan Marcano that it was up to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to make decisions about releasing the record.
The commission did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday.