RTD's 'Train to Plane' plagued with problems before opening day

Six days before RTD's A Line opened up to the public , the testing of the line was encountering problem after problem thanks to a late spring snowstorm. 

Next with Kyle Clark. 9NEWS at 6 p.m. 08/31/16. None

KUSA - Six days before RTD’s A Line opened up to the public, the testing of the line was encountering problem after problem thanks to a late spring snowstorm. 

At one point a train lost all power near DIA.  When a rescue train was sent to assist, it too lost power. 

The author of the daily status report put it bluntly.  “Train service did not run well.”

It would hardly be the only worrisome day encountered by RTD and Denver Transit Partners in the lead up to April 22.

Analysis by 9Wants to Know of dozens of daily status reports show RTD was well aware of the fact the testing phase wasn’t coming close to expectations.

Crossings weren’t working properly. Trains were losing power. On some testing days, the on-time percentage dipped well below 70 percent.

Yet RTD never made the decision to delay the opening.

As an RTD spokesperson put it, “We literally would never open a project if we said every single issue had to be addressed 100 percent.  That’s simply not attainable.”

RTD records show testing never came close to meeting goals

The System Performance Demonstration, or SPD as RTD liked to call it, was meant to make sure the A Line was, in essence, ready for prime time.

For five weeks, RTD along with the project’s concessionaire Denver Transit Partners, wanted to see if the train line could handle the rigors of a regular schedule. So they started running trains at the same times they would run after opening day, with no passengers on board.

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The SPD began in mid-March.  According to the contract with Denver Transit Partners, the goal was to hit 95 percent or above on what’s known as an availability ratio. The number took into account, among other things, how often the trains were on time and how many scheduled trips were completed.

The contract states RTD wanted Denver Transit Partners to hit a score of 95 percent or above on 21 consecutive days during the SPD.

It also wanted to hit more than 97 percent on seven consecutive days.

Once the testing started, it became clear hitting those goals would prove difficult if not downright impossible.

On March 14, 2016, the availability ratio was 59.63 percent.

The following day it hit 64.25 percent.

Records analyzed by 9Wants to Know indicate that while the scores did eventually get better, the tests never put the line anywhere near the goal.

In fact, only six times did the testing phase get above 95 percent. Again, the goal was 21 days in a row. It hit more than 97 percent only three times. None happened in succession.

RTD spokesperson Scott Reed explained Wednesday the numbers were, in essence, “stretch goals.”

“We knew going in it was going to be almost impossible to hit that,” he said.

According to the reports, March 20 was another bad day. The results were “poor and well below the standard.”

Five days before opening day, the trains were on time less than 56 percent.

Two days before opening day, the availability ratio dipped to 80 percent.

Reed said it’s customary to open rail lines without everything functioning perfectly.  “What we look for in the testing phase are issues that can’t be addressed in operation -- real showstoppers.  And we did not see that,” he said.

It’s true, many of the problems that occurred during testing have been remedied.  A problem with the two phase breaks that exist on the line are no longer an issue, according to RTD. The phase breaks represent temporary, but completely planned, loss of power on the line as the trains transfer from one power source to the next.

Other problems continue with A-line

During the testing phase, the crossings at major intersections proved particularly problematic.  It’s why today there are still two people manning the crossings 24 hours a day.

Reed said while the crossing arms sometimes don’t go up when they are supposed to, the problem doesn’t reflect a safety issue on the line.

It’s not clear when the Colorado Public Utilities Commission will allow the two-person teams to leave the crossing areas. Reed said Denver Transit Partners, and not taxpayers or RTD, is picking up the tab to keep them there.

Wednesday, another problem led to some delays on the line for a few hours.

Months of bad publicity surrounding the A Line have left Reed and others at RTD unfazed.

“Was there ever pressure to open this up on time?” asked 9Wants to Know reporter Chris Vanderveen.

“No,” replied Reed.

Yet the reports seem to indicate his boss, RTD General Manager Dave Genova wasn’t exactly forthcoming about problems encountered during the testing phase when asked earlier in the year by 9News anchor Kyle Clark if there were warning signs that should have been addressed.

“We really didn’t see any issues during testing that would cause us any concern,” Genova told Clark back then.  

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Reed said on Wednesday, Genova’s comments mesh with the findings of the 9Wants to Know investigation.

Reed told 9Wants to Know, “Dave’s statements and mine are consistent:  If we had seen issues that were, indeed, showstoppers, we would have communicated those to the mayor and others.  There was no communication to the mayor because there were no major issues identified in the testing phase that we believed couldn’t be addressed in the operational phase.”

Why set the goals in the first place?

“It’s kind of like shooting for the stars and you still reach the moon,” he said. “I think that’s exactly what we did with this.”

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