RTD’s commuter rail line from Union Station to Denver International Airport hasn’t been as reliable as riders expect--- and need. Delays from various problems since its opening April 22 have caused missed flights and other big headaches.
A local real estate broker told TheDenverChannel that a client of her's faced an overnight delay because of A Line issues.
"I called him the next morning to talk about work and he said, 'I'm going through security at DIA because the train took an hour and 45 minutes to get the airport last night, and I missed my flight,'” Holly Jaros said. "He had to get a hotel room, that's not cheap, and his wife was not happy, she's at home with a newborn baby."
The same client got stuck on the train Aug. 11 after it lost power for the second day in a row.
According to Scott Reed, the assistant general manager of communications with RTD, both outages were caused by the same equipment malfunction.
“There are what are called hanger wires that hold the electric power line in place,” Reed said. “And when it gets hot, they sag a bit; they are designed to expand with the heat and contract with the cold, and there has to be a certain amount of leeway there, otherwise they would break."
But a wire sagged too much, and the pantograph, an antenna-like contraption that connects the train to the power line above, snagged it, breaking the wire and itself. This failure happened both Aug. 10 and 11. Two different wires about a mile and a half from each other near the 61st and Pena Boulevard station failed, one on the westbound track, the other eastbound.
"In both cases they had to bring another train in to rescue the disabled train that was without power and take it out of the way. And then you're down to just one track,” Reed said.
The removed trains are now being repaired, and Reed said each hanger wire is being “aggressively checked” to see which ones need to be repositioned or replaced.
Reed acknowledged that these types are breakdowns are “not acceptable,” but added that each delay since the April opening has been caused by a different issue.
Here’s a look at the issues:
False Activations At Crossings
RTD reported on Aug. 17 that 15-30 minute delays in both directions of the A Line were caused by false activations at the York, Clayton, Steele and the Dahlia crossings.
Lengthy 'Phase Breaks'
Phase breaks were the cause for delays in mid-May. A phase break is the zone between two power stations where the train is not connected to a live wire. It's there to keep the train from receiving too much power at any one time. The breaks were around 300 feet long and have now been taken down to 30 feet, to “dramatically reduce the chances of a similar delay occurring again,” Reed said.
Power Loss From Repairs
There were a number of power failures in mid-May, ranging in length from 14 minutes to a couple of hours, most likely caused by the repair of the phase breaks and the balancing of a substation’s power process, Reed said. Now that the phase breaks have been shortened, Reed said there should be no repeats with this specific issue.
On May 24 a direct lightning strike to a messenger wire, the line that holds the power lines in place, caused a loss of power that lasted six hours. According to the Denver Post, at least 81 passengers were evacuated after waiting on the train for 70 minutes. The Post reported there are surge protectors and lightning arresters put in place in an attempt to minimize these issues, but they weren't helpful since the hit was direct.
A similar event happened June 13 when a lightning strike caused a loss of power that was restored 20 minutes later.
Similar to the event that happened last week, the Denver Post reported that in mid-June the pantagraph of a train caught a portion of the catenary wire, used to transmit electrical energy to the train, damaging the pantagraph and causing a loss of power and a 30 to 45 minute delay.
RTD tweeted on June 21 that 20 to 30 minute delays were being caused by signal issues in both directions. CBS Denver reported there was another delay on June 17, with RTD citing an "issue" at the Chambers Road crossing and a "signal issue" at the Colorado Station.
Guidance System Errors
Fox 31 Denver reported that on July 19, the train was delayed to upwards of an hour from issues with the computer guidance system.
The delays have some people wondering: Will RTD do anything if I miss my flight?
@RTD So What's Wrong With This So Called High Tech A-Train? Hmmmm? I think Refunds are in order for Those Passengers.— William D (@WillD2090) August 12, 2016
Short answer: no. "Just like taxicab companies, limo services, Super Shuttle or your next door neighbor, RTD cannot guarantee travel times," Reed told TheDenverChannel.com.
CU Willing To Give Partnership Time
The train's formal title is the University of Colorado A Line -- a name that CU paid for as a marketing gambit. Ken McConnellogue, the vice president for communication for the CU system, said the university was willing to give RTD time to work out the kinks in its system.
"It's less than four months into its lifespan, so we're looking at our partnership over the long term," McConnellogue said. "We have a five-year relationship, and while certainly some of the stoppages are unfortunate, the train's a mechanical thing and mechanical things break sometimes."
He said the performance overall has been "solid," noting that the train is on schedule almost 90 percent of the time. Scott Reed of RTD confirmed this statistic, adding that it is reaching the same reliability rate of the rest of RTD's light rail system.
McConnellogue said CU has expressed no concerns to RTD about the delay issues, and is still excited about the opportunity the partnership has presented: Reaching the estimated 10 million people who will ride the A Line this year.