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CATS investigates Saturday streetcar accident

This streetcar, part of Charlotte’s new streetcar line that started running Tuesday, was involved in an accident with a sport utility vehicle on Saturday morning.
This streetcar, part of Charlotte’s new streetcar line that started running Tuesday, was involved in an accident with a sport utility vehicle on Saturday morning. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte transit officials are continuing to investigate a Saturday accident on its new streetcar line that left two people with minor injuries less than a week after the trolley made its high-profile debut.

It’s the first accident involving the $37 million line.

The incident happened around 10:30 a.m., when a streetcar rear-ended a sport utility vehicle, Charlotte Area Transit System spokesman Olaf Kinard said. The accident occurred on Elizabeth Avenue near North Kings Drive.

According to Medic, two people were taken to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

The cause of the accident remained under investigation, Kinard said Saturday morning. The driver was being given mandatory drug and alcohol testing, he said.

Charlotte resident Michelle Orr was on the streetcar during the accident with her 2-year-old and 4-year-old children.

Orr said the streetcar had reached the end of its route at Hawthorne Avenue. But instead of stopping to let her and the other passengers off at the platform on Hawthorne, she said the streetcar began “drifting” on Hawthorne back onto Elizabeth Avenue, where it had just traveled.

As the streetcar pulled away from the platform, the streetcar’s driver tried opening the doors multiple times but they wouldn’t work, Orr said.

“It was kind of like he didn’t have control over the trolley car,” she said. “It seemed like the trolley was shut off, and we were coasting down the hill” on Elizabeth Avenue.

“We went through one green light, which was great for us, and the light was red at Kings and Elizabeth, and that's where we hit the SUV.”

The streetcar traveled for about another 200 feet, stopping near the Interstate 277 overpass, Orr said. She said the streetcar had about 15 passengers.

CATS spokeswoman Ashley Elliott declined to comment on what caused the accident.

Prior to the start of service, CATS warned that the streetcars can’t stop quickly. The cars take almost 100 feet to stop at 16 mph, CATS has said.

The accident happened just four days after service began on the Gold Line, Charlotte’s first streetcar line in 77 years.

A ribbon-cutting attended by former Charlotte mayor and current U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was held Tuesday to celebrate the opening of the 1.5-mile route, which runs from Time Warner Cable Arena to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center.

Streetcar service was suspended until mid-afternoon Saturday, CATS said.

Orr said she had been excited about getting to ride the streetcar for the first time.

“I’m not sure if I’ll ride it again,” she said. “I love mass transit, and I think it’s great, but it was a little nerve-racking.”

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