Administrative Issues Led to Sacramento Light Rail Crash, Report Says (Updated)

A diagram from the NTSB report shows the location and other details of the August 2019 collision of two Sacramento Regional Transit light rail trains. (National Transportation Safety Board)

WASHINGTON — “Weak administrative controls” that allowed a supervisor to authorize a high-speed test without knowing another train was on the same track led to the collision of two light rail trains in Sacramento, Washington. California, in August 2019, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report.

The August 22, 2019 crash happened at 9:39 p.m. and injured 27 people, 13 of whom had to be taken to hospital. Two of them suffered moderate injuries. [see “Sacramento light-rail collision injures 27,” Trains News Wire, Aug. 23, 2019].

One of the trains involved was conducting trials with an operator and two contractors on board; the other, a regular train, had an operator and 27 passengers on board. The test train was traveling at 48 mph when the operator saw the other train approaching about 65 meters away and applied the emergency brakes; the other train was traveling at 32 mph at the time of impact. No trains derailed, but damage was estimated at $242,450.

The report says the Sacramento regional transportation supervisor involved had been following a performance improvement plan, which ended when he changed assignments. Otherwise, his performance would have been monitored for another 30 days.

Following the crash, the NTSB recommended that Sacramento Regional Transit more carefully monitor employee performance, assess the risk of high-speed testing, and revise testing schedules and controls; improve reporting on train delays; and install transmission-based train control.

The full report is available here.

The Sacramento Bee Reports the transit agency has safety procedures in place, including requiring derails and stop signs at each end of a segment of track where testing takes place, and enhanced radio communication regarding test trains. In a long response to report, Sacramento RT describes what it calls “radical safety improvements” that resulted from its initial assessment of the crash. These include a restructuring of its management to have a vice president responsible for the light rail system and a responsible for the bus system; the hiring of a chief security officer and changes in employee training and performance monitoring.

– Updated 12 p.m. CDT to fix duplicate titles, add link to Sacramento RT’s response to report.

Jose P. Rogers