RTD plans new safety system where the R Line derailed twice in Aurora

Courtesy Aurora Police Department
An RTD R Line light rail train derailed on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022 in Aurora.

The Regional Transportation District plans to install an automatic braking system on a section of its R-Line light-rail line at a location in Aurora where two trains have derailed and seriously injured passengers.

The R Line is mostly straight as it hugs Interstate 225 through the east Denver metro. But it makes several sharp turns to move away from the highway and toward the Town Center at Aurora mall, a design shift that RTD made at the request of Aurora city officials.  

Train operators have said those turns are difficult to maneuver. The 90-degree curve at South Sable Boulevard and East Exposition Avenue has proved to be particularly treacherous, with two derailments since 2019.

RTD blamed both derailments on operators who were driving too fast. In the most recent, in September 2022, the train was traveling at nearly 39 mph in a 10 mph zone when it derailed. Three people were hospitalized. In 2019, the train was traveling at about 30 mph. That crash severed a passenger’s leg

The new safety system, which is described in a report commissioned by RTD earlier this year, would automatically stop speeding trains traveling southbound toward the intersection. The system is expected to cost $876,000 and would take one year to install, the report said. 

RTD has included the project in its 2024 budget, said spokeswoman Marta Sipeki.

“The project will start next year. Currently, we are in the design phase. Once we have a design, it will go through procurement to get a contractor to implement it,” she wrote in an email Friday, adding that the exact completion date is still unclear.

It’s also still unclear whether the installation of the new safety equipment would take the R Line out of service, RTD officials said. 

RTD has made other safety changes at the direction of state safety regulators, including a new, lower speed limit and more signage for operators. 

The agency was unable to retrieve in-cab video footage from one train car in the 2022 derailment. An investigation found multiple technical issues and stated that it’s possible employees tampered with the camera system. RTD has since reminded employees that tampering with cameras can lead to termination.