The chairman of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Thursday accused the Regional Transportation District of “misinforming the public” over the regulatory process in which RTD’s troubled commuter rail system is entangled.
The transit agency needs the PUC’s approval for the wireless crossing gate system used on its new A, B and G commuter rail lines. The crossing gates come down earlier and stay down longer than RTD originally said they would. While the Federal Railroad Administration recently gave the system its OK, the PUC has declined to do so.
The crossing gate issue has prevented the G Line from opening, much to the frustration of west metro residents including the mayor of Arvada. The PUC and FRA allowed the A and B lines to open last year, but required trains to blow their horns and for flaggers to be posted at all at-grade crossings.
At a community meeting earlier this month, RTD spokesman Nate Currey told a crowd in Stapleton that PUC commissioners were apparently “not well informed” about commuter rail systems compared to the FRA. PUC Chairman Jeffrey Ackermann took issue with that specific comment.
"I would caution RTD that misinforming the public about the process, and by extension, misdirecting them away from their responsibility and their burden, does not aid the process,” Ackermann said at a PUC deliberation Thursday.
"RTD, we have as much information as you bring forth to us,” Ackermann continued. “We are informed with everything you bring to us and what you share with the commission. So hopefully, going forth, the process now is to further inform us, so we can have a good and expedited process with good outcomes."
In an interview Thursday afternoon, Currey claimed the three-word quote, printed in a community newspaper in Denver, was taken out of context.
"The point that I made was that clearly the PUC wasn't as informed as far as the facts about the commuter rail system as the FRA was -- that was evidence of their voting no. That they didn't have the same data sets basically in front of them. That's what the context of that was.”
Currey said he apologized to the commissioners and hopes the two agencies can move forward. "It certainly was not my intent ever to insult them or call into question their own knowledge of the regulatory process," he said.
Commissioner Frances A. Koncilja disagreed with Ackermann, arguing that RTD’s Currey was well within his First Amendment rights to free speech.
“I just don't think it's appropriate,” she said of Ackermann’s criticism. “I think everyone needs to feel the freedom to participate as they deem appropriate."
Ackermann replied that he was simply putting RTD “on notice,” and that he wanted the regulatory process to be a legal one and not about public opinion. A third commissioner, Wendy Moser, agreed with Ackermann.
At another public meeting this month, Arvada Mayor Marc Williams implored his constituents to pressure the PUC. RTD representatives at that meeting, including Currey, did not directly criticize the PUC.
The commission also decided Thursday to allow RTD to re-argue its case for its crossing gate system, and referred the matter to an administrative law judge. That’s an important step in RTD’s quest to open its long-delayed G Line, stop blowing train horns on the A Line and dismiss the crossing flaggers.
“They have to convince the three of us, who I think are very intelligent and are very astute, what they are proposing is safe and is consistent, despite it being it’s a different standard than what we see elsewhere,” Moser said of RTD.
The commission also combined all 12 at-grade crossings on the A Line and 15 at-grade crossings on the G Line into one hearing. That, and the shortening of the notice period from 30 to 10 days should result in a faster process, Currey said. He added that it was a “great surprise.”
The schedule for that hearing should firm up in the coming weeks.