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RTD releases 73 page plan to fix crossing gate timing

This plan outlines many things. According to the chairman, the FRA's problem with the crossing gates is not a safety issue. The chairman actually said the gates might be too safe because they stay down too long. The FRA is allegedly worried frustrated motorists would grow tired of waiting and ram the gates.

The Regional Transportation District posted its plan online Monday detailing how it’s going to fix known issues with the A Line’s crossing gate. It was submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration one day before Saturday’s deadline and includes improvements for the A, B and G Line.

RTD General Manager and CEO Dave Genova held a press conference to discuss the commuter rail plan on Tuesday.

In a news release, RTD said the plan aims to resolve the crossing gate issues within a year. One of the main issues is that some crossing gates stay down for too long.

This comes after the FRA threatened to shut down the A Line between Union Station and Denver International Airport, calling RTD’s failure to improve the timing of the crossing gates “unacceptable” in a letter dated Nov. 15.

The plan indicates RTD will continue to closely scrutinize problem crossings gate locations like Monaco and Holly and continue to work on operator training. It also highlights work already being done to make crossing gates safer, like traffic barriers and making sure crossing arms are strong enough to resist high winds.

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The report also said there would be a software upgrade in the hopes that it would solve glitches with the Positive Train Control System (PTC). This is a system mandated by the federal government mean to prevent collisions.

RTD said it hopes the software upgrade will help reduce the number of times there are PTC cutouts and allow PTC to activate while the train is stationary.

The report indicated part of the problem is at Union Station, saying:

“Specifically at Denver Union Station there has been significant high rise building development in the surrounding area which has impacted reception of GPS signal in the platform area. There are a few PTC initialization issues each day due to poor reception of GPS signal. This increases PTC cutouts for the first section of the train trip and in some cases causes a longer warning time at York crossing once the train initializes at 38th/Blake station.”

When federal regulators visited Denver in August to examine the gates along the A Line and the B Line – which runs from Union Station to Westminster – the gates did not pass their tests 63 out of 540 times, the letter said.

The timing of the crossing at Holly and Monaco were the most problematic, the FRA said. These gates didn’t meet standards 20 to 30 percent of the time, according to the letter.

Doug Tisdale, the chairman for the RTD board, said they’ve continuously worked on crossing gate timing, including making improvements at Holly and Monaco.

In an email, Tisdale said:

“This is NOT about safety. The University of Colorado A Line is safe. Safe and timely, averaging about 97 percent or more on-time performance. And the crossing gates are not UNSAFE. If anything, they may be a little TOO safe: the gates come down a few seconds sooner than they need to or stay down a few seconds longer than necessary. The issue that the Federal Railroad Administration is concerned about doesn’t relate to our trains. It relates to the fear that frustrated motorists will charge the gates and cause accidents.”

The timing of the crossing gates for the A Line has been a problem since it started running in 2016, but RTD was allowed to run the trains with attendants manning the crossings.

Those “flaggers” were allowed to leave their posts earlier this year, but they came back to three A Line crossings and one on the B Line in August because of continued concerns about those gates.

The FRA granted the A and B Lines a five-year waiver in September 2017. Tisdale said the FRA was doing routine inspections this summer when they noticed ongoing issues spelled out in a Nov. 15 letter from the feds that said:

“This level of noncompliance with the conditions of the waiver is unacceptable. If RTD fails to submit an acceptable action plan within 30 days of RTD's receipt of this letter, FRA will have no choice but to consider other actions as appropriate, potentially including enhanced enforcement, modification of the existing waiver — including by imposing additional conditions as necessary for rail safety and/or reducing the duration of the waiver — or revoking the waiver.”

Tisdale said RTD wrote up what they are currently doing to fix the problem and future plans as well.

The plan did also indicate hopes to open the G Line within the first few months of 2019 with the FRA’s approval. In November the FRA wrote because of the concerns over crossing gates, it cannot allow the G Line, which will run from Denver to Arvada and Wheat Ridge, to begin operating. RTD expected the G Line to open in October 2016.

The A, B and G Lines were the first trains in the country to begin running with these gate-control and operating systems.

In an email, the FRA said, “We received the plan and are reviewing it. We will follow up with RTD as needed.”

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