RTD sets R-Line reopening, new safety rules after derailment

A four-mile stretch of RTD’s R-Line is set to resume operating in late November after a state commission on Wednesday signed off on new safety rules planned for an Aurora intersection where light-rail trains have derailed twice.

Train operators will face a speed-limit reduction from 35 mph to 25 mph on a straightaway as they approach the intersection of South Sable Boulevard and East Exposition Avenue. They also will have to stop before entering the intersection, where the track turns 90 degrees and has a 10 mph limit.

The Regional Transportation District says it anticipates service “will be fully restored beginning the week of Nov. 28” — more than two months after the most recent derailment on Sept. 21. Since then, the R-Line has been closed between the Florida and 13th Avenue stations.

At its meeting Wednesday morning, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission approved the initial safety measures outlined in RTD’s corrective-action plan for the incident, according to an RTD news release. It also asked for more information by Dec. 31 about RTD’s proposals to add more signs along the track regarding the intersection curve and to move a radar-activated speed display farther north, which would give operators more warning.

RTD has not released its investigation’s findings, and the full corrective plan remains sealed. Regardless of the cause, a police surveillance camera at the intersection recorded the southbound train clearly traveling too fast as it entered the intersection, injuring three people.

A train derailed at the same location in January 2019, injuring nine passengers. RTD fired the operator after citing speeding as the major factor. The curve is one of several that R-Line train operators navigate through central Aurora, but it’s the only one that has had major incidents.

The Aurora Police Department is no longer investigating the derailment and has deferred to RTD’s probe, Sgt. Faith R. Goodrich told The Denver Post recently.

In 2019, Aurora police investigated that incident and recommended criminal assault charges against the operator. But the district attorney’s office declined to file charges — in part because trains are not considered vehicles under state law, meaning that statutes that spell out offenses for drivers’ cars and trucks don’t apply to train operators. It also found no other law addressed light-rail operators.

“Since there were no other vehicles involved and the train itself is not a vehicle, we do not have jurisdiction to investigate criminal charges against the driver,” Goodrich said about the latest derailment.

RTD’s schedule has sped up slightly from an earlier plan to restore R-Line service in December, pending discussions with Aurora city officials about the “train-traffic interface” at the intersection. Those talks resulted in the new safety rules, the release says, with more coordination planned.

RTD said in Wednesday’s news release that since the latest derailment, light rail operators have undergone additional training “targeting speed adherence across the system,” and it plans more training regarding the Sable and Exposition changes before service is restored.

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