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CATS: Streetcar had ‘dead-man switch,’ but would not have stopped accident

Streetcar crash video released

Streetcar riders take a wild ride before crashing into an SUV in uptown Charlotte
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Streetcar riders take a wild ride before crashing into an SUV in uptown Charlotte

The streetcar that rolled down Elizabeth Avenue and crashed into an SUV last Saturday was equipped with a so-called “dead-man switch,” but that safety feature wouldn’t have prevented the accident, the Charlotte Area Transit System said this week.

Dead-man switches on trains are safety features designed to stop the train if a conductor becomes incapacitated.

CATS said the dead-man switch is in effect when the Gomaco-manufactured streetcar is being propelled forward, by the driver. But in last Saturday’s accident, the streetcar is believed to have crashed because it was rolling downhill.

“It was in neutral,” said Olaf Kinard, director of marketing and communications for CATS.

When streetcar drivers are operating the trolleys, they either have to depress a pedal with their foot or depress button with their finger. That is the “dead-man switch.”

If the driver were to become incapacitated – perhaps from a heart attack – the release of the switch would activate the brakes and stop the streetcar.

But Saturday’s crash is believed to have stemmed from different circumstances.

When driver Metro Coston Jr. reached the Hawthorne station at the end of the line, he walked to the back of the streetcar, which is standard procedure. The trolleys can be driven from either the front or the back.

But CATS said it believes the driver failed to flip a switch to activate the controls at the back of the streetcar.

CATS believes Coston then mistakenly released the brake. The streetcar began rolling downhill.

Because the controls weren’t activated, the driver couldn’t use the regular brake or an emergency electromagnetic brake.

The driver still had another option: a hand-brake that is activated by turning a mechanical wheel. CATS said the driver called the rail operations center, and he was told to use the mechanical brake.

But CATS said the driver didn’t do that.

The streetcar crashed into an SUV that was waiting at a red light on Elizabeth Avenue and Kings Drive. The streetcar was traveling at 25 mph at the time of impact.

The driver of the SUV was taken to the hospital and released that day. None of the passengers of the streetcar was hurt.

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs

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