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State law keeps police, media from seeing RTD report

The investigative report is complete, describing what is known about the light rail derailment at Sable Boulevard and Exposition Avenue, but no one can read it.

DENVER — RTD has been transparent about suspending service on part of its R Line in Aurora.

Several light rail cars derailed on Sept. 21 and full service has yet to resume.

RTD has not been transparent about the investigation into the crash. Not to the public or the city of Aurora.

It turns out the transportation agency is protected by a curious state law.

"My wife and I made the conscious choice to always live near transit services," Aurora city councilman Juan Marcano said. "Right now, it's not great with the R Line northbound being shut down past Florida [Avenue]. It has been for several months now and my wife, I and my constituents are livid about it."

The investigative report is complete, describing what is known about the light rail derailment at Sable Boulevard and Exposition Avenue.

It is complete. Just not for anyone to see.

"I knew that it was underway, but did not know it was finished," Aurora city councilman Dustin Zvonek said.

"I'm glad that there's a report, we all deserve to see it," Marcano said.

If there were an Odd Couple on Aurora city council, it might be Zvonek and Marcano.

They rarely agree.

"Open, transparent government is something that he and I are always going to see eye-to-eye on," Zvonek said.

"This isn't a national security matter," Marcano said.

They both believe the investigative report that is complete should be made public.

9NEWS requested it and was denied.

Aurora Police asked for it too and got the same denial.

"Under state statute and [Public Utilities Commission] regulation, RTD must withhold and treat all information compiled in connection with the investigation of a light rail vehicle accident as confidential. When RTD investigates a light rail accident, it stands in the shoes of the PUC and all information compiled as well as the investigative report, attachments, and proposed corrective action plan are confidential unless otherwise ordered by the Commission," RTD responded to Aurora Police.

The PUC has oversight of light rail safety and RTD submits the investigative report confidentially to the PUC, which can decide if it becomes public.

State law gives PUC the power to keep the report private or make it public.

"Investigative reports of the commission compiled under this article shall be confidential and shall not be discoverable nor used as evidence in any court or administrative action," the state law states.

"This type of report should be readily available. In fact, it should be online and not something that we have to request," Zvonek said. "This is a change that I think that our state legislature should make."

Even though the investigation is complete, RTD has not resumed service. No light rail trains go between Florida Avenue and 13th Avenue. That means no stops at Aurora Metro Center nor Second Ave/Abilene.

And on Oct. 30, RTD stopped running bus shuttles to get people from one end of the closure to the other.

"Folks who are impacted daily by this service outage have a right to know. Policymakers who serve the impacted jurisdictions have a right to know," Marcano said.

This is the second derailment in the same area.

In 2019, a light rail operator driving 38 miles per hour in a 10-mile-per-hour zone caused a derailment that tossed a woman out of the car and severed her leg.

The corrective action report was submitted to the PUC and eventually made public, if you know how to find it on a not-easy-to-navigate PUC website.

"Unless there's some sort of safety concerns that the PUC can point to, which I can't imagine that that's the case, I don't know why this wouldn't be made public," Zvonek said. "The more transparency, the more sunlight you shed on these types of things, the better."

In a statement emailed to 9NEWS, Aurora mayor Mike Coffman also called for the report to be released and the state law to be changed.

"I appreciate every effort that RTD is making to reopen the R Line, to full service, as soon as possible. I understand that state law and PUC regulations prevent RTD from publicly releasing any information compiled during the investigation of September’s derailment, but I see absolutely no reason why this information should be withheld from the public. I strongly urge our state legislators to change the law to require that all of the accident information be made public because, as taxpayers, we have a right to know," Coffman said.

9NEWS emailed RTD seeking an interview with General Manager Debra Johnson and asked if she like to see state law changed to make reports like these public and if she would push the PUC to make the report public.

An RTD spokeswoman said that Johnson was not available.

"It would not be appropriate for her to provide an opinion on state law," the RTD spokeswoman said.

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