A-Line crossing arms need to work each time at each intersection for 1 week before being certified

Posted at 3:43 PM, Aug 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-01 02:36:36-04

DENVER -- The University of Colorado A-Line experienced more issues getting passengers to and from Denver International Airport on Wednesday afternoon.

The "train to the plane" experienced 15 to 20 minutes delays in both directions due to "operational difficulties at multiple crossings" according to an RTD tweet and web post.

"We had several of the crossing gates, three different intersections, where the gates came down and stayed down," RTD spokesman Scott Reed told Denver7.

The delays took place at the Clayton, Dahlia and Steele Street crossings.

Since the gates stayed down, the trains had to operate at slower speeds, causing the delays.

"We were able to continue service throughout, but it just slowed speeds down a little bit," Reed said.

The crossing arms have been an issue since the A-Line opened in April. In fact, the crossing arms have never worked to the standards required by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

The FRA has granted RTD two waivers of compliance to operate the crossing intersections with flaggers on site. The human redundancy is required for safety purposes to make sure traffic does not enter the crossing if there are any crossing arm issues.

RTD requested the waiver so that the A-Line could operate safely.

"We would not be able to get a waiver, if they weren't operating to come down when a train is present," said Reed.

RTD is on its second waiver, which expires on October 16.

A federal source told Denver7 that the waiver does not mean the A-Line is unsafe, it means RTD sought permission to meet safety standards in other means not prescribed by the FRA.

Denver7 timed some of the train arrivals at the Clayton Street crossing on Wednesday night.

The FRA requires the following:

"A highway-rail grade crossing warning system shall be maintained to activate in accordance with the design of the warning system, but in no event shall it provide less than 20 seconds warning time for the normal operation of through trains before the grade crossing is occupied by rail traffic."

Denver7 recorded crossing times of:

  • 49 seconds
  • 59 seconds
  • 1 minute, 25 seconds

According to the waiver, for RTD to no longer need the flaggers on site, the crossing arms would have to work correctly each time at each crossing for seven consecutive days.

"Since this line has been open in April, there's never been seven consecutive days where they worked properly?" asked Denver7 reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"The main issue is the amount of time that the gates come down prior to the train coming through, staying down through the train going through the intersection and then when the gates come back up after the train goes through," said Reed. "It continues to be safe, but the problem is they are going down too early and they are staying down too long."

"You're telling me it's safe, it's just inconvenient?" asked Zelinger.

"Yes," said Reed.

"Did RTD overpromise the public on what this train would do from day one?" asked Zelinger.

"No, we believe that every issue that we identified during the testing phase, could be addressed by Denver Transit Partners in the operational phase."

That means RTD believed the problems known before the A-Line even opened could be fixed while the line is active.

"They have continued to have better on-time performance, but it's still not up to our standards," said Reed. "We believed that this would be fixed in a relatively short period of time, clearly it hasn't been."

"At what point would it take RTD to say, 'We're shutting it down?'" asked Zelinger.

"It's not really a matter of having to shut down to make repairs. This is something that can be addressed during operations. It's a matter of getting the software to sync up with the Positive Train Control software," said Reed.

Positive Train Control is a computerized fail safe for the train system. The A-Line is the first commuter rail line to try to operate with Positive Train Control from the start.

Positive Train Control is supposed to help prevent trains from:

  • Speeding
  • Colliding
  • Entering misaligned switches
  • Entering "established work zones" when workers are on site

The A-Line's Positive Train Control won't be fully certified until the crossing arm issues are worked out.

Until the Positive Train Control is certified, the trains have to air their horns at the intersections, even in the neighborhoods that are supposed to be "quiet zones" and exempt from the horns.


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