Updated: February 27, 2020 12:01 PM
Created: February 26, 2020 08:41 PM
ALBUQUERQUE. N.M. – If you’ve ever been to Albuquerque’s Biopark zoo or the aquarium, you may have caught a ride on one of the passenger trains that shuttle families around.
A review of internal city government records reveals some of those trains have had problems – from derailments to injuries and even a lawsuit.
Sources who work inside the Biopark told the 4 Investigates team that the trains are known to derail quite often – sometimes once or twice a week.
A review of five years’ worth of maintenance records at Albuquerque City Hall revealed several mentions of derailments. However, it took months to dig up records that actually tracked train-related injuries – and it turns out, there are some.
According to security logs, in May of 2018, former train conductor James Lakatos was entering the zoo when “they had a problem with the train.”
Records show the rear driver side wheel broke off, causing the engine to bottom out and the train to de-rail. Lakatos says he was thrown from the conductor’s chair and was taken to a local urgent care after reporting back pain.
Lakatos later filed a lawsuit against the City of Albuquerque, claiming the city had a “history of ignoring train maintenance and a culture of ‘do nothing until it breaks.’”
The 4 Investigates team took those concerns to Hakim Bellamy, deputy director of Albuquerque’s Cultural Service Department which oversees the Biopark.
“The train is very safe because the train is very slow – it tops out in the park at like two miles an hour,” said Bellamy.
In addition to daily upkeep, the trains themselves are certified and inspected once a year as required by state law. Bellamy says injuries are rare.
Bellamy: “The folks who have been here longer than me don’t have any recollection of anything.”
4 Investigator Nathan O’Neal: They don’t have any recollection of anybody getting injured?
Bellamy: “No, other than the one you already know about – but none in addition to that.”
However, the 4 Investigates team managed to dig up evidence of at least one other train related injured which happened months before the conductor’s incident. According to a security injury report from April 2018, a 9-year-old boy was riding the train to the aquarium with his mom when the train de-railed. The train came to an immediate stop and caused the boy to hit his head on the side of the train car. He was treated on site.
4 Investigator Nathan O’Neal: As far as oversight, if it’s not rising to the level of hospitalization… is there really no intent to keep track of it?
Bellamy: There is intent. You found it. You found the security report.
4 Investigator Nathan O’Neal: Right, but as far was from an oversight level? Is anybody going back and looking at that and seeing how often…?
Bellamy: It hasn’t risen to the level of alarm where we thought that this is something that is not just something that occasionally happens when you run a train. Things happen when you’re running a train. So it hasn’t gotten to the level where like the train is dangerous, if that’s what you’re insinuating… no.”
As for the lawsuit filed against the City of Albuquerque, city officials confirm the lawsuit was recently settled. Former conductor James Lakatos received a $38,000 payout; however, the city will not admit to any sort of negligence as part of the settlement agreement.
In regard to the future of the attractions, Bellamy says the trains are not going anywhere. However, there are plans to upgrade the trains – including replacing at least one with an electric train which, city officials claim, would enhance the experience and overall safety of the ride.
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