CHARLOTTE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — When North Carolina Department of Transportation inspectors visited the South End light rail facility unannounced in May, they discovered a staffing problem. This time controllers were working too many hours.
Now Charlotte Area Transit System officials are working to hire more controllers by offering a $7,500 signing bonus. If officials fail to properly staff the rail operations center, NCDOT may force CATS officials to cut a rail line.
Thousands of riders use the CityLYNX Blue and Gold lines every day, to travel within the Queen City.
“I go to Central Piedmont right down there, so I’m just using it to finish up school and it’s just easy to get around,” Ariana Martinez said.
Inside CATS’ rail operations control center, or ROCC, on South Boulevard, the NCDOT says there aren’t enough workers. During their March visit, NCDOT inspectors discovered only one controller juggling the responsibility of both the lines and the yard.
The violation prompted transit leaders to implement mandatory overtime which CEO Brent Cagle says triggered another violation.
“We had to do mandatory overtime,” Cagle said. “We have had a few hours-of-service violations again we are now monitoring that much more closely.”
In a letter from NCDOT, inspectors say rail controllers were working more than 12 hours a day and 60 hours per week.
“If we fail to have a minimum of two staff available when we have three requirements or stations in the ROCC that could lead to further action up to and including the recommendation to close a line, not necessarily the entire rail system but a line, i.e., the Gold Line.”
The Blue Line light rail attracts an average of more than 15,000 riders per day, while Gold Line streetcar sees just over 1,800.
Cagle says the Gold Line is more labor-intensive than the Blue Line because it runs through traffic.
CATS officials are aggressively recruiting rail controllers with record-high pay hoping to stay compliant to avoid cutting the Gold Line. The Gold Line has been in service since 2015 and was extended in 2021 to run east to east connecting Plaza Midwood to Johnson C. Smith University.
Some riders say cutting the Gold Line would impact their quality of life.
“I don’t have a car, so it would be really difficult for me to get my groceries, it would really suck,” Ken Hong said.
NCDOT inspectors will continue to monitor CATS operations to make sure there are enough workers at the light rail facility.