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Engineer, transit advocate questions RTD's lack of train technology after derailment

Transit advocate and civil engineer questions why RTD doesn't have the technology to force light rail trains to stop at the end of the line.

GOLDEN, Colo — The JeffCo Government Center station along RTD’s W Line will remain closed for at least two more weeks as crews work to repair damage caused by a train overshooting the platform and end of the line, derailing on Saturday.

Much of the damage to the track is to the overhead wire that drives the train, according to RTD Chief Communications Officer Stuart Summers.

It could take much longer to learn what caused the derailment. State law requires investigations into light rail crashes to be confidential, kept in secret until the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decides whether or not to release the findings, Summers said.

“We want to know the root cause of that derailment so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Summers said.

Saturday’s incident marks the third time a light rail train has derailed in the Denver metro area in the last four years. Trains have twice jumped off the tracks near Exposition and Sable in Aurora.

The series of derailments is concerning to Greater Denver Transit, a grassroots advocacy group devoted to pushing for more reliable transit in the area.

“The way light rail was developed in this country and around the world is that light rail has always traditionally been something we drive trains on sight,” said Richard Bamber, the group’s co-founder and a civil engineer who works on railway design. “We rely on a human operator to ensure that the space ahead of the car is clear and that they can stop on time.”

Bamber suggests RTD should consider adding technology that would automatically cause trains to slow down and stop near the ends of tracks.

All RTD light rail cars are equipped with a system called Automatic Train-Stop (ATS), which slows a train car approaching a lighted signal along the line. Summers said the existing ATS system mainly keeps trains away from each other, triggering signals along the line to stop nearby trains from entering another area where a train is already on the track.

RTD does not have the technology to stop trains from moving beyond the end of any line, as the train did on Sunday. ATS signals only exist along the lines and aren’t situated at the end of the line.

At the JeffCo Government Station, there is an ATS signal prior to the platform but none beyond the platform.

“It’s on dedicated right of way…you haven’t got sort of vehicle traffic sharing… it’s not on the streets … it’s in a dedicated station and reaching speeds of up to 55 miles per hour,” Bamber said. “It is appropriate to look at technology that would stop trains at the end of the line.”

After the derailments along the R Line in Aurora, RTD presented the PUC with a list of actions the agency planned to take to prevent future problems. Among that list is the implementation of an ATS signal along the sharp curve where speeding trains have left the tracks.  According to a plan submitted to the PUC by the agency, RTD plans to complete that signal this summer.

Have a tip about this or any story? E-mail 9NEWS reporter Steve Staeger at steve@9news.com.



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