Things are looking up for the Regional Transportation District.
Thursday morning, the Public Utilities Commission, a state regulatory department, granted RTD’s request for a “rehearing,” in which the PUC could decide to do away with guards at each A Line crossing.
Guards have been manning those crossings for more than a year because the gates often come down a few seconds too soon before a train, or stay down too long after.
In September, RTD asked the commission to approve the length at which the gates stay down now, and to remove attendants at three crossings: one at Sable Boulevard in Aurora, and two and Dahlia and Steele streets in Denver. The PUC rejected that proposal on September 27, one day before the FRA came out and said the A Line is fine as is, and granted the train to the plane a five-year waiver to operate, based on federal standards.
RTD asked for a new PUC hearing in November because of the FRA's decision, and added that “the use of flaggers at the A Line at-grade crossings will make operation of the A Line unsustainable.” RTD also questioned why the FRA could approve the train, but Colorado could not.
“At some point, you have to reexamine what you’re doing,” said Commissioner Frances Koncilja at the Thursday meeting. “What I don’t want to have happen is, let this go to the administrative law judge in a fashion that he reads (the PUC's judgments) as being very narrow, and I don’t think we want it to be narrow.”
The PUC eventually agreed to consider doing away with attendants at every A Line crossing, and not just three of them. The PUC will make the same consideration for the G Line, the train scheduled to run from Denver’s Union Station to Arvada and Wheat Ridge, which hasn’t begun operations yet because of the A Line concerns.
Normally, the process to approve those changes would take months. The commission agreed to bundle each of the 28 crossings into one hearing, with one 10-day window for feedback from other public entities. That period should begin at some point next week, and a hearing will be scheduled once it concludes.
In the past, commissioners have said drivers, cyclists or pedestrians may become irritated if gates stay down for too long, and they might attempt to proceed through the crossing, rather than wait. In the upcoming hearing, RTD will be expected to show why the extended wait times are acceptable.
“Now it is a matter of RTD saying, well, our system doesn’t work as planned, it will result in additional timeframes, as I understand it, and I believe the burden will be on (RTD) to show that the additional timeframes are safe, which I actually think will be an interesting presentation, given that those additional timeframes aren’t in place anywhere else in the country, that I’m aware of,” said Commissioner Wendy Moser.
The timing issue is related to the federally-mandated operating system, Positive Train Control. Once the guards have been removed, and the PUC has accepted the timing of the gates, the A Line can stop blaring its horns at every crossing, as it has been doing, much to the dismay of the train’s neighbors.