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Tiny Town train crash: Up to $30,000 fine possible for derailment caused by operator error

After Wednesday's Tiny Town train crash, which injured more than twenty people, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office found no criminal negligence -- and now, the state agency tasked with looking into the derailment confirms the cause as operator error.

This gaffe could prove costly, and not just because Tiny Town probably won't get the go-ahead to begin operating its trains again until early next week. Fines could run as high as $30,000.

Despite the operator-error determination, "our investigation is going to continue," notes Bill Thoennes, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, whose Division of Oil and Public Safety oversees amusement parks and the like. "The engineer has explained what went wrong, but we still want to do a thorough investigation of the locomotive and all of its working parts just to make sure there's no continuing factor -- something that perhaps the operator was unaware of that might have led to this derailment.

"We just want to make sure that operator error was the sole reason for the accident."

The Division of Oil and Public Safety can't shut down Tiny Town as a whole, and the attraction is scheduled to be open for business today. However, Thoennes says, the agency has ordered that trains not run until the investigation wraps. That'll probably take place over the next day or so, at which point "other trains not involved in this accident will be authorized to run," he points out. "But the train involved in the accident, the No. 10 engine, can't be brought back into service until a third-party investigator does a thorough examination and a recertification of the engine. It's our understanding that Tiny Town is working with the train's manufacturer to have it inspected and recertified."

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Regarding potential fines, Mahesh Albuquerque, director of the Division of Oil and Public Safety, "tells me that the statutes don't give the specific fines for these kinds of infractions," Thoennes reveals. Instead, "it says the fines may be computed based on the number of violations, the length of time the operator has worked on a particular ride, and other factors. And that could add up to tens of thousands of dollars, up to $30,000."

In the meantime, the operator in question, who Thoennes says is in his second season at Tiny Town and operated trains for "at least thirty-some trips," won't be allowed to serve as an engineer until the investigation is over, and it's possible he could be ordered to undergo more training if the amount of instruction he had beforehand is deemed insufficient.

Look below to see first-day coverage from Channel 9, plus photos of the trains from the Tiny Town website:

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