Denver Development

Ten Problems With RTD's Trains

The University of Colorado’s A Line is getting an F: After months of headaches, delays and denials, last week RTD withheld more than $800K from the contracting firm hired to run the four-month-old "train to the plane" route...for the next 34 years.  But the A Line is just one of the problems in RTD’s train system. Let's count down ten ways the trains could use some effective conducting.

10. Dependability
Let’s start with the biggie: There exists a reasonable expectation that trains will, you know, arrive and depart on time. They're how we get to work, they're how we organize our day, they're how some people defend the legacy of Mussolini. But trains across the system have failed to meet this expectation, and there's no reason to believe that this problem will be fixed or even subside any time soon. RTD's response to the various delays has largely been misdirection and bluster. This strategy might work in campaigns for the presidency, but not so much for the nuts-and-bolts concerns of mass transit.

9. Lightning
Lightning is sort of a strange problem for a rail system, isn’t it? It’s vaguely biblical, as if the train went offline due to a plague of locusts or hordes of frogs. But despite the odds, lightning actually struck the A Line twice — in May and again in June, causing a complete shutdown of the route and forcing passengers at one point to exit the stranded train cars and traverse a fifty-foot-high bridge in order to catch a bus to get them (very late) to their destinations.

8. Crossing Guards
The challenge here isn't retirees with too much time on their hands and an orange vest handy, but the actual mechanized crossing gates that separate road from tracks. At least they’re supposed to be mechanized. Unfortunately, the gates have demonstrated a propensity for dropping when there’s no train coming — or worse, failing to fully lower before a train enters the intersection. Sort of the opposite of what a “guard” is supposed to do, right?

7. Switching and Signaling
It’s not just the A Line that suffers from issues with these small but vital components to the routing of the trains. It happens on other lines as well. (The A Line just gets the most press, because it’s the biggest mess.) The entire system suffers from glitches; there are regular delays and schedule snafus that can be attributed to problems like these, and they can cause anything from significantly slower trains to outright stalled schedules. Not the best way for anyone to start their day — or not be able to start their day, as the case may be.

6. Power
Unlike the pseudo-science that Back to the Future taught us, fueling a power-hungry vehicle like a train or a DeLorean isn’t just a simple matter of timing a lightning strike to said vehicle traveling at 88 miles per hour in order to take advantage of nature’s own gigawatts. Rather, it’s a delicate system of grids and overhead lines and attachments that connect train and line and keep everything moving. But sometimes the lines snap, or the attachments break, or there’s just not enough juice between stations to keep it all going in a forward direction. And then you get stuck, and it only feels like you’re in the 1950s, trying to avoid disappearing from reality while being hit on by your mom.

Keep reading for five more ways RTD's rail system could get back on track.

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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen