The light rail trains that have been making test runs on the Green Line between St. Paul and Minneapolis have been involved in four collisions with vehicles since February. But there have also been numerous close calls, according to Metro Transit data.
Between the time testing began in February and May 23, light rail operators activated the trains' emergency brakes on 14 occasions.
Every time the brake is engaged, operators are required to fill out a "special situation report" detailing the circumstances. MPR News obtained those reports through an open records request.
Close calls and collisions during Green Line testing
Collision Other incident Avoided pedestrian
Avoided cyclist Avoided vehicle
According to the reports, motorists cited for running lights and making illegal turns, and pedestrians cited for jaywalking were responsible for the vast majority of the incidents. In one case, a cyclist "cut out" in front of a train in the middle of a snow storm.
There were three incidents where a light rail operator pulled the emergency brake when no pedestrians, cyclists or other vehicles were present. All involved the same operator.
On April 6, the operator stopped the train "about quarter of the way" through the intersection of University and Wheeler. A few weeks later, the operator applied the emergency brake again in response to what he described as a "rapidly changing" traffic light in his report. And on May 19, during a rain storm, the operator used the emergency brake to stop at the Grotto St. intersection in St. Paul, citing "slippery rails."
That operator returned to his job as a bus driver in May. The reassignment was "due to a private matter that is not performance related," Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland wrote in an email.
"It is not a concern that operators apply the emergency brake in situations that require it — especially during training when operators are becoming acquainted with the physical characteristics of the line," Siqveland wrote. "It would be a very serious concern if they were not applying the brake in these situations."
Siqveland said operators also regularly use the emergency brake on the Blue Line, which has been in operation for a decade. In 2013, light rail operators activated the emergency brake 339 times on the Blue Line — close to an average of once a day.
Another operator also was responsible for a disproportionate number of emergency brake incidents, including a May 10 collision with a Dodge truck at the intersection of University Ave. and Pascal St. in St. Paul. The driver of the truck, St. Paul resident Alfred Taylor, received a ticket for failing to obey a traffic light, when he made an illegal left turn and struck the train.
The same LRT operator pulled the emergency brake on May 3 to avoid a pedestrian who "ignored the protected crossing" at University and Western Ave. The operator also activated the emergency brake on March 18, when a "car cut in front of the train". No damage or injuries resulted from those incidents.
That operator continues to drive light rail trains for Metro Transit.
Metro Transit redacted the operators' names from the special situation report data due to employee privacy laws.
The Green Line opens to the public Saturday with free rides all weekend throughout the Metro Transit system.
Disclosure: Minnesota Public Radio and the Metropolitan Council are negotiating ways to reduce noise and vibrations from the newly built light rail line outside MPR headquarters under a contract agreed to in 2009.
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