CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Duke Energy restored power to nearly everyone in the Charlotte area over the weekend after Hurricane Michael left tens of thousands in the dark, but there is still some damage around town, including to the LYNX Blue Line, and riders are growing beyond frustrated with the delays.
Crews had to close portions of the light rail to fix equipment that was damaged during the storm, causing chaos for commuters Monday morning.
CATS officials worked Tuesday morning to avoid a repeat of the mess a day earlier -- which saw hundreds of people waiting in long lines for trains and running late to work and school -- but Channel 9 spoke with riders who were fed up.
Charlotte Area Transit System CEO John Lewis apologized to riders for the interruption in a tweet Monday morning, and actually went to the Scaleybark station Tuesday morning, where he was confronted by angry commuters as he tried to smooth things over.
Tropical Storm Michael damaged the Blue Line, so many riders have to catch a bus between stations.
Riders started lining up around 6 a.m. Tuesday after getting off the light rail at Scalybark to catch a bus either to Uptown or to the Sugar Creek light rail station.
Between Scalybark and Sugar Creek is the portion of light rail that is out of service because of storm damage last week.
“There’s a lot more than just hanging wire and putting power to it,” Stephen Newcomb, CATS maintenance of way manager, said.
A crew from San Francisco, another from Denver and CATS workers are practically rebuilding a mile of the Blue Line.
“I have trouble thinking of a worse spot for this to happen,” Newcomb said.
A tree that fell on 12th Street caused damage to two overhead wire tensions systems that power the light rail.
“The tree hit close enough to that overlap where it affected both systems," Newcomb said.
There’s 3,500 feet of wire toward Noda and 2,500 feet of wire into Uptown.
To fix it, crews are replacing poles, the system the wires hang from and about a mile of wire.
Officials also said the wire needs to be treated, which means it hangs overhead for a given time before being tightened.
Crews risk electrocution if any of the 750-volt light right lines are charged while working, so no cars can run on the sections
“We know there's pressure. We know there's people depending on us to get it done quickly, so that's what we're trying to do,” Newcomb said.
Crews said they hope to wrap up the repairs by next Thursday. When asked if he thought crews would finish the repairs on time, Newcomb said yes.
"Absolutely, we have crews working basically from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m.," Newcomb said.
The bus bridge for the service gap has not been perfect.
People told Eyewitness News that they were having trouble finding the right bus to get on. They said at times there aren't enough passes, and buses are driving into rush hour traffic.
One woman told Channel 9 it took her 30 extra minutes to get to work Tuesday. Most riders said their commute time has doubled.
Statement from CATS:
The LYNX Connector bus bridge service will start running from I-485 to Scaleybark Station (not New Bern Station) and from Sugar Creek Station (not 36th Street) to UNC Charlotte Main station.
This change will provide for a more efficient service, safer boarding locations and a better experience for our customers. CATS is also working to establish a few Express buses during morning and afternoon rush hours to expedite the customers to the most desired destinations.
Supervisors will be on site to help customers determine which trips will be express and which will visit each LYNX station. These changes will take effect Wednesday morning.
CATS is working to get express buses that will travel to Uptown during rush hours to help avoid problems. Trains are only running between Interstate 485 and Scaleybark station, then from Sugar Creek to UNC Charlotte.
“The reason why people take light rail is to get out of congestion and not have to deal with the vagaries of traffic, so I get the frustration,” said CATS CEO John Lewis.
Channel 9 past coverage on LYNX Blue Line Extension:
- Whistleblower 9 exclusive: Serious design flaw on Lynx Blue Line extension
- Pedestrian rail crossings fixed along new Blue Line Extension
- UNCC police prepare for opening of Blue Line extension
- Ribbon-cutting for Blue Line Extension days after crossing gate problems
- CATS trains test stop arms, signaling lights along Blue Line extension
- CATS bus changes due to LYNX Blue Line Extension Opening
- Lynx Blue Line extension trains to run more frequently
- CATS CEO speaks to Channel 9 about Blue Line Extension delays
- Malfunction causes gates to close again along Blue Line Extension
- City Council approves additional $15.3M for Blue Line Extension
- Emails shed light on Blue Line extension project delay
Trains arrived every 20 minutes during rush hour and there were multiple times when there weren't enough buses to pick up commuters, forcing them to wait in long lines.
“The weekends are different, but on a day like today when everybody is going to work, there's need to be at least three buses,” said rider Norman Avery.
Many riders like Niara Matthews ditched the lines and found other means of transportation so they wouldn't be late.
"Everybody's here. There's no buses. Everything is going to be late for school, work, and it's just like wow," Matthews said. "I'm just going to order a Lyft and bring a bunch of people to UNC if I can."
Matthews said she will probably skip the train until things are back on a normal schedule.
Rider Prita Sinha said she understands that work has to be done to fix the train and that she appreciates the bus service.
"The train takes just about 15 minutes for me. The bus I would say, 20 to 25, not too bad," Sinha said.
Crews are trying to get the impacted section of the light rail back running by Thursday of next week.
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