Broken part, inexperience and poor communication: A Line passengers get answers after latest mishap

DENVER -- Hundreds of passengers were stranded without bathrooms, food or water for nearly four hours on the so-called "train to the plane" last month. But on Tuesday during a board meeting, RTD – and the public – finally got answers about what went wrong, as it was the first time RTD demanded to hear from Denver Transit Partners, the contractor running the embattled A Line. 

It all came down to a broken metal bracket, inexperience and poor communication; and now the top brass at Denver Transit Partners are apologizing, while RTD demands they treat "every disabled train as a full-scale emergency."

On April 20, a broken bracket disabled a train with more than 100 passengers leaving Denver International Airport, heading south. Before realizing how serious the problem was, staff sent a second train to help the first to perform what's called a "coupling," but that one also ran into the same problem, stranding another hundred or so passengers.

"Everything brakes down at one point or another. I think people understand that. What they don’t understand is being held hostage while you’re trying to figure out what the problem is," said Director Barbara Deadwyler.

Anne Herzenberg, General Manager of Denver Transit Operations, gave several reasons about what went wrong and why it was handled so poorly.

She admitted the second train should never have been sent. She also explained that for several years now, Denver Transit Partners had been looking for a rescue train for specific situations like this, but had not successfully found one.

“The issue there is partly the location," Herzenberg said. "Most trains were four miles away from the nearest station. It was a sleeting, miserable day. The nearest gate was several hundred feet off for us to get a bus in there; it would have been quite difficult.

The RTD and the RFA have both made a point that they understand evacuating passengers to the ground is always the last resort. I mean, that has a lot of risks in and of itself. The problem here is that we never thought at any point during this whole emergency is that it was going to take as long as it did.”

Denver Transit is still investigating what caused the part to break. Herzenberg mentioned that it took 1,900 pounds of pressure for it to break.

RTD directors are asking for preventative maintenance and plan to reach out to the affected passengers.

Denver Transit Partners also said it is hiring customer service representatives for the control room to help communicate with passengers in emergencies. It will implement quarterly table top exercises for employees, to help better handle emergencies in the future.

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