Metro Transit has confirmed that a crash in downtown St. Paul earlier this year marked the first time in its 10 years of operation that a light rail train driver was at fault in an accident.
No one was injured in the minor accident that took place on Jan. 30. The Blue Line train was traveling northbound when it hit the trailer of a pickup truck at the intersection of 34th Avenue and Airport Lane in Bloomington.
Heavy snow fell across the metro that day. Metro Transit initially reported that the pickup truck got stuck on the tracks on the slippery road, but later attributed it to operator error.
There have been 82 collisions or incidents of the light rail coming into contact with a vehicle, pedestrian, bicyclist, and in one case machinery, since the blue line began operating about 10 years ago. With the exception of the Jan. 30 incident, all are attributed to motorist, pedestrian or bicyclist error, according to John Siqveland, Metro Transit spokesman.
"There are 222 trips on the METRO Blue Line each weekday and there have been over 92 million trips on the line in the nearly 10 years it has been in operation," Siqveland said. "This minor collision is the only incident of the 82 in which the investigation determined that the light rail operator was determined to be the primary cause of the incident."
According to the Metro Transit police report, a pickup truck was making a left turn on a green arrow when the light rail train struck its trailer. The train operator told police he had a blinking track light and started to slow down to stop, and "he could feel the train start to slide or slip on the track." He pushed the emergency brake on the train but he said it was too late.
There are no local, state or federal laws that the train operator violated in this crash, according to the report -- he was not cited for the incident. The light rail operator is receiving several hours of compulsory classroom and field training and a verbal warning on his record.
As the second light rail line -- the METRO Green Line --- approaches its opening day June 14, Metro Transit is reaching out to the public with a safety campaign.
"Light rail in the Twin Cities has a very strong safety record due in part to the extensive ongoing training operators receive," Siqveland said.
The breakout of 82 incidents or crashes involving the Blue Line since 2004:
• 52 rail-vehicle, including three fatalities
• 22 rail-pedestrian, including six fatalities
• 7 rail-bicycle, one fatality
• One case in which a rail vehicle came into contact with construction equipment