City Manager Marcus Jones acknowledged in a media briefing Thursday that he was made aware of the May 2022 light rail derailment before Brent Cagle shared the news. He corrected a prior statement saying he had no knowledge of the derailment. Jones said he received a text from former CATS CEO, John Lewis reading:
“FYI. We just had a minor derailment of the blue line train heading northbound at Archdale station. Middle set of wheels came off the track—36 people on board. No injuries. We have a bus bridge in place while we investigate.”
Lewis resigned from his role as CEO last fall.
“This surprised me. This is something that I missed, and I do not recall receiving this text,” Jones said. He added that finding the text prompted him to “continue to review” his exchanges with Lewis.
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Jones said that typically when communicating with Lewis, there was some “acknowledgment” like a “thank you” or a “thumbs up.” Jones said none of those acknowledgments were associated with that text.
“CATS leadership did not think that the May 2022 derailment warranted more action than the aforementioned text,” Jones said.
Jones said he also had the IT department review all of the exchanges between himself and Lewis between May 21, 2022 – March 13, 2023, when Cagle informed the city council of the derailment. Jones said there were no other emails or text messages related to the incident.
“I share this information because it’s different than what I initially shared. It’s not my intent to misinform anyone,” Jones said. He added that missing the text and stating he first heard of the derailment from Cagle was an “honest mistake.”
“Accountability and trust are important, and I felt it was important to share this with you now,” said Jones.
As a result of the May 2022 derailment, a CATS employee was fired.
When asked by Queen City News why he should not be disciplined, Jones responded:
“That would be totally up to the council in terms of how the council addresses this particular situation. For me, one of the things that was important was to talk about it publicly because this was a mistake.”
Though Jones said that “a lot of things are being discovered” and “a lot of issues are being unleashed,” he added that there is nothing to report.
“What I would like for you to do is judge us for how we are addressing our staff issues now,” Jones said.
- Jones requested that the Federal Transit Agency conduct an “all-cycle” review of CATS. The Federal Transit Agency reviews CATS every three years. Jones said 2022 was the latest three-year review. However, it was suggested to Jones that CATS have an immediate all-cycle review. The review will address the May 21, 2022, incident and request that budgetary and maintenance processes be reviewed.
- Jones is referring the oversight of a comprehensive review of CATS to the Transportation Planning in Development Committee, chaired by Ed Driggs.
- Effective immediately, Jones is suspending the CATS CEO search for at least six months. “We have all seen what Brent has been able to do in a very short period of time, and there’s a strong level of trust and competency,” Jones said. Jones added that he thinks it is better to “stabilize” CATS over the next six months under Cagle’s leadership, which Jones said will put CATS in a “better position” in the future for the next CEO.
- Jones said that he is currently working with “city leadership” to create additional resources for CATS. “We have a great group of folks in our general services department that would be helpful in addressing some of the asset management issues. And so we will immediately have resources provides CATS for that purpose,” Jones said.
- Driggs gave an additional update and said that former COO of CATS Allen Smith had filed paperwork indicating plans to retire effective at the end of March or at the start of April. He will no longer be an employee of the city of Charlotte.
Jones said he plans to address three top issues: stability, operations and trust.
“They’re equally important, but maybe it starts with the last one, and that is to make sure that we build back trust with our community,” Jones said.