Zoo answers questions about train incident



Posted on August 15, 2009 at 6:43 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 13 at 2:04 PM

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On Monday morning the Louisville Zoo released the following summary. An additional letter was sent out to Zoo members that day.

Zoo Train Summary


  • Rides on Zoo trains have been offered at the Zoo since 1969.
  • Ridership on the train is currently estimated to exceed 200,000 per year, close to 25% of Zoo visitors.
  • The Zoo owns three trains that run year-round weather permitting with anywhere from 2 to 40 passengers per train. Each train has an engine and up to three cars.
  • Over the past two years, the Zoo has not had any trainderailments (when a wheel loses contact with the track).
  • In October of 2007, there was a mechanical malfunction when an axle broke on one car on the train requiring an abrupt stop resulting in a back injury for one passenger. The car was repaired and passed subsequent inspections.
  • Tracking back to 2002, there were two minor derailments where wheels lost contact with the track causing the driver to stop the train resulting in one minor first aid treatment.
  • Although the trains will not be running until further notice, the Zoo is open on our regular summer schedule for visits.


  • Trains are inspected by drivers daily using a 35-point checklist, much like a pilot performs a pre-flight walk around; trains and tracks are inspected weekly and monthly by the Zoo's maintenance mechanic and annually by the state ride inspectors through the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Ride inspectors can also make unscheduled visits. To our knowledge, the Zoo has received successful annual inspections since the inception of the amusement ride inspection program by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture in 1984. Successful annual ride inspections provide for full permission to continue ride operations. The Zoo staff does on-going required maintenance on trains and tracks contracting outside vendors as needed.


  • Training for the train drivers involves an internal certification program managed through the Zoo's Guest Service Department where certified veteran drivers train new drivers, and senior supervisors grant the certification.
  • The training involves new drivers shadowing certified drivers, operating the trains in tandem with veteran drivers, learning safety checks, procedures and scripts designed to showcase the Zoo as well as to help maintain a steady pace during the ride. Driving of the train requires use of a throttle to produce speed and brakes to slow and stop the vehicle. The number of training rides is dependent on the aptitude and skill of the new driver and may range from 20 to 60 training rides; some trainees never pass certification and are assigned other duties.
  • Zoo train drivers, like operators of amusement park rides statewide, are required by state law to be at least 18 years of age. The employee who drove the train involved in the accident is 18 years of age and was in the second year of employment at the Zoo. The employee received minor injuries and is currently not scheduled to work. Prior to certification, the driver completed between 20-30 training rides, a number that falls within the average range.The employee was certified by a senior supervisor with over 12 years of experience certifying Zoo train drivers. The Zoo has withheld the name of the driver to allow the employee time for personal recovery and privacy pending results of the official investigation. The employee is participating fully with the investigation.


  • CEO and Medical Director for Louisville Metro EMS, Dr. Neal Richmond : "There was real teamwork by EMS, Fire and police," CEO and medical director for Louisville Metro EMS Dr. Neal Richmond said, "and the Zoo showed how a well thought-out and rehearsed emergency disaster plan can make all the difference-one of the best I've ever seen. Staff lined the roads and pointed the way from outside the Zoo right to the scene. Emergency responders were able to get in and out very fast, and the Zoo staff's work helped make a very difficult scene one that we could effectively manage."
  • Dr. Jared Christensen, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who was visiting the Zoo that day: "I wanted to pass along my compliments on a job extremely well performed yesterday by your zoo staff. I was walking near the gift shop by the gorilla exhibit when I heard a loud noise I jumped over the small wooden fence and ran towards the scene within seconds, several Zoo employees with their characteristic shirts came running along the track from both directions. They quickly responded to instructions, allowing me to triage the remainder of the patients. They were very attuned to the needs of each injured person. They each found a person, sat with them, and helped them by cleaning cuts and applying pressure where needed. Probably more importantly, they found 'their' person and stayed with them, talking to them, calming them, helping them to cope. employees quickly jumped in and helped wherever they could. It was a job extremely well done. You have first rate employees who should be complimented on their efforts. I have been a firefighter and was trained as an EMT before becoming a physician I have been in situations where everyone was trained professionally to handle these situations, and your zoo staff was just as good if not better than the pros. They worked hard to deal with the situation. They were awesome. Please send along my compliments for what they did. They really deserve the praise, both in private and publicly."