G Line meeting shows a community with little patience left

Best estimate for opening is "hoping for 2018"


Michael Mutnan recalls when the original RTD G Line was announced in 2004 with plans to create a light rail system to connect Arvada, Wheat Ridge and Denver that would open in 2013.
That was before a man drove his car onto tracks in California in a suicide attempt and caused a derailment in 2005. A number of other nationwide accidents led to a 2008 federal mandate that requires more safety regulations for train lines, known as Positive Train Control.

Still, the G Line was slated to open in 2016. But a year later, the trains still are not running.

“I'm very frustrated with what seems to be the treatment that the A Line got,” said Mutnan, an Arvada resident who is eager to ride the commuter rail line. “They get all the waivers (to operate), they get this, they get that, and it seems as if we just got left out of the mix.”

The G Line is part of RTD's 2004 voter-approved FasTracks plan to expand transit across the Denver metro region and is part of a larger project called the Eagle P3 project, which includes the East Corridor transit line to Denver International Airport, the A Line. The A Line, which opened in April of 2016, runs between DIA and Union Station.

The G Line is an 11.2-mile electric commuter rail transit line that will connect Denver Union Station to Wheat Ridge, passing through northwest Denver, Adams County and Arvada with eight stations: Denver Union Station, 41st/Fox, Pecos, Federal, Gold Strike, Olde Town Arvada, Arvada Ridge and Ward Road.

Construction on the G Line was completed a year ago, but it remains stuck in the testing phase with no opening date.

"I'd rather they not give a date until we know," Wheat Ridge City Manager Patrick Goff said in a phone interview this week.
"That just tends to cause more angst."

The timing gate technology, one of the new requirements instituted in 2008, is the root of the problem. Regulators say the crossing arms are staying down for 20 seconds too long when trains go by, possibly leading to drivers trying to sneak through the gates. A different technology is used to control the crossing arms along RTD's light rail lines, which are unaffected by the testing delays.

Last month, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) unanimously voted against allowing RTD to resume full testing of the long-delayed G Line commuter rail line. The next day RTD received word that the Federal Railroad Administration would be granting a five-year waiver to allow the A and B commuter rail lines to continue running, while RTD continues to work on a plan to solve the ongoing crossing gate technology issues.

“It's the first train line in history being built from the ground up with this technology,” said Nate Currey of RTD, who spoke during an open house held Oct. 25 in Arvada.

Currey said that human factors have caused some predicting issues with the software — such as not initially factoring in human variation in how fast people get on or off a train.

RTD is now drafting a response to the PUC for its denial of the plans to complete testing of the software, which the Federal Railroad Administration approved.

Goff said he hoped supporting testimony from the cities, including Wheat Ridge would help to change the PUC's ruling.

Community meetings

RTD held a series of community meetings in Westminster, Arvada and Wheat Ridge last week to discuss the status of its A, B and G commuter rail lines.

Tensions ran high at the Oct. 25 open house, which drew a standing room-only crowd, with attendees consistently yelling their questions at the facilitator. Arvada residents say they are upset that the G Line is not open and there is no set date for the opening.

Among the attendees was Arvada Mayor Marc Williams, who also expressed frustration.

“It's not happening as quick as any of us want,” Williams said, adding that Arvada City Council wrote a letter to the state PUC on its refusal to authorize testing. “I think we need to put as much pressure on the CPUC as we can right now. We need to put pressure on them to say, `enough is enough.' ”

Williams encouraged those at the meeting and all residents frustrated with the delay to write letters to Gov. John Hickenlooper, the PUC commissioners and the RTD board.

When asked about a best case opening date, Currey said he cannot give an exact date, but that RTD is hoping for 2018.

For now, the A Line, running between Union Station and DIA, and the B Line, running from Westminster to Union Station, will continue to operate, though extra safety flaggers will still be required at every road crossing. Flaggers will continue to stand at crossings along the G Line as well. Minimal testing will continue on the G Line until approval to move toward on full testing is granted.

RTD, G Line, active train control, commuter rail, mass transit, Arvada Colorado, Wheat Ridge Colorado, Shanna Fortier


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