Transportation

Light-rail crash was not Sacramento’s first. Recent incidents highlight urban transit risks

Sacramento Regional Transit’s light-rail system, in service in since 1987, has a history of safe performance but trains have been involved in a handful of notable crashes before Thursday night’s collision that injured at least 13 people, highlighting the difficulties and dangers of operating a rail line in an urban area.

The trains are controlled to travel no faster than 55 miles per hour, and considerably slower than that when traveling on city streets among cars. Under state safety rules, the trains are required to be traveling at 20 miles per hour or lower when entering a station.

Here is a list of some of the notable recent crashes and derailments involving the system’s trains:

Runaway driverless train

In 2015, a maintenance technician in the yard mistakenly disabled a safety feature on a train, allowing that train to take off on its own on live tracks. It traveled at speeds up to 40 miles per hour through three active light-rail stations and several street crossings on a 1.5-mile, four-minute journey before its electronic connector rod detached, causing it to glide to a halt near Del Paso Boulevard.

The technician was troubleshooting an electrical issue on the train on a spur track at the agency’s Academy Way facility. He jammed a screwdriver under the vehicle’s “deadman” switch, disabling that mechanism, officials said. He also disconnected a secondary device that would have kept the train from accelerating.

SacRT has since implemented new on-board safety measures, and retrained maintenance workers.

Maintenance worker killed

In 2008, an RT maintenance worker was killed just south of the maintenance yard when he was hit by a train while lubricating the tracks. RT officials determined that inattention by both the maintenance worker and the train operator were the cause of the July fatality.

In the report, RT officials concluded employee Troy Schafer stepped onto the tracks without looking as a train approached. The train operator had sent two text messages on her cellphone, against RT policy, prior to the accident, according to phone records, the most recent about four minutes before the crash, officials said. The operator said she was not, however, on her phone when the crash occurred.

Station fatality

In 2014, Yong Sin Day, 56, was killed when she walked in front of an arriving train in the Cordova Town Center station on a rainy evening. Day, who worked nearby at a grocery, was crossing the platform with an umbrella in one hand and a plastic grocery sack in the other. Video showed that she did not appear to see the train as she crossed the station track at the closest edge to the oncoming train.

Homeless man run over by train

In 2013, Steven Lofton, 52, who was apparently homeless, tried to hurry in front of an approaching train at the Power Inn light rail station platform, but tripped and fell on the tracks. He was unable to get up in time and was pinned under the train. State PUC officials later determined the train had entered the station faster than is allowed.

30 injured in crash

On Feb. 8, 1999, 30 people were injured in midtown when an RT train carrying passengers on a single-track bridge at 19th and R streets collided head-on with a disabled train that had been allowed to bypass a red signal light, according to previous reporting in The Sacramento Bee.

At the time, RT officials blamed the crash on an error by its radio control center to determine the location of the trains and the use of multiple radio channels by operators and maintenance personnel.

‘Gate jumper’ fatality

In 2012, members of three generations of one family died when a light-rail train hit their Nissan Pathfinder broadside at 26th Avenue as the SUV darted through gates, authorities said. The 62-year-old driver was attempting to weave through the safety gates, called “gate jumping.” He died along with his daughter, 25, and 22-month-old grandson.

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Tony Bizjak has been reporting for The Bee for 30 years. He covers transportation, housing and development and previously was the paper’s City Hall beat reporter.
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