I recently missed a flight out of Denver International Airport because of a 45-minute delay on the A Line. But I initially resisted writing about the experience. How self-important would that be? “Westword Writer Misses Flight, Probably Should’ve Left an Hour Earlier.” Millennials take enough shit as it is.
Then I told my story to a few friends, and they had stories. And they had friends who had stories. Turns out, the A Line, which will mark its first anniversary next week, has reportedly already fucked more people than Wilt Chamberlain in his prime. If you didn't follow the NBA in the ’60s, that’s a lot of fucks.
I got screwed on Thursday, March 23. I was heading to San Francisco on a flight scheduled for 5:10 p.m., so I had to be at the gate by 4:55 at the latest. I got on the A Line at the 40th and Colorado station at 3:24 p.m. and was scheduled to arrive at DIA by 3:52 p.m. I only had a carry-on bag, so that gave me at least an hour to get through security and to my gate. On a Thursday afternoon at DIA, I figured that would easily be enough time.
Shortly after leaving the Peoria Station, the A Line halted. The conductor, in true New York subway fashion, muttered some gibberish about a “track switch” and said it would be a five-to-ten minute delay. No sweat.
After twenty minutes had gone by, a police officer came into the car and said we weren’t allowed to exit the station unless it was an emergency, like a fire or gunman. We were stuck in the middle of nowhere and a barbed-wire fenced blocked us from the road – lawsuits waiting to happen. I got it.
A few “just ten more minutes” updates from the conductor later, the train finally lurched forward after 45 minutes. Salvation! Some of us might still make it!
The train suddenly stopped again. The conductor again said something about a “track switch,” adding that we'd be going backwards to the Peoria Station, where we would have to get off and either catch a bus to DIA or find a ride.
That edible I'd eaten before getting on the light rail? Ruined. I had to start making moves, because it was clear that public transportation wasn’t getting me to DIA in time. And thanks to the Lyft driver I'd quickly booked driving to the opposite, inaccessible end of the tracks to pick me up, I didn’t. I missed my airline’s last flight to San Francisco and had to rebook for the next day.
At least Lyft gave me a refund. No chance with RTD and the easily readable “Non-refundable” printed on the back of its A Line ticket.
If you’re thinking “He should’ve left earlier,” you’re right. An extra 45 minutes probably would’ve kept me safe, but I have a job, and a life, and a tendency to be late. Given that, I figured I was due for something like this and chalked it up to experience.
But then, after explaining why I wasn’t in San Francisco that night to a few friends, they all gave me horror stories about being stuck on an A Line train, or knowing someone who was. And the stories keep coming.
As I flew back from San Francisco on Monday, March 27, my roommate’s brother was just heading to the airport for a postponed Frontier flight to Vegas. He got on the A Line a little after 5 p.m. His Facebook page still shows his frustrations.
Posted at 5:53 p.m. “Nothing like getting screwed by Frontier Airlines. Then making your trip out to DIA on the RTD lightrail, only to stop a 1/4 of a mile away to miss your over priced 2nd flight from Frontier. Think im gonna give up today,” his first post read at 5:53 p.m.
Posted at 6:38 p.m.: “Stuck on the RTD lightrail for an hour now! Wtf!”
I feel you, man.
Steve Weil feels him, too. Weil, the head of Rockmount Ranch Wear, and his family almost missed their March 18 flight to Puerto Rico because of lengthy A Line delays heading out of Union Station; Uber to the rescue. RTD never did come up with a good explanation for that.
RTD spokesman Nate Currey did send a written explanation for my delay on March 23: “A failed electrical component” in a circuit board had caused my train to stall and also blocked half the track, meaning only one track was available for the A Line. Apparently, my train was the “most unfortunate because we had to shuffle several trains out of the way before we were able to back it up and then proceed to DIA. Also, it was the only train that had to wait a significant amount of time without moving, that was not able to wait in a station, where passengers could de-board.”
I asked Currey about the problems my roommate's brother had experienced on March 27 and finally received a response from Nadia Garas, project communications manager with Denver Transit Partners, the private company that operates the line for RTD. Garas didn’t answer any of the questions I'd sent to Currey, but she did provide some stats I hadn't asked for:
• The A Line has carried more than 4.5 million passengers over the past nine months, which represents a little more than 40,000 total trips between Denver Union Station and Denver Airport Station.
• Of those 40,000+ trips, 89.0 percent of them have arrived within 5 minutes of their scheduled arrival.
• Of those 40,000+ trips, 97.7 percent of them have arrived within 15 minutes of their scheduled arrival.
“Those numbers surprise a lot of people because most people only read about the train when there is an issue. Regardless, I realize that it is frustrating when your trip is one of the 2.3 percent that doesn't arrive within 15 minutes of when it was expected,” Garas wrote in the e-mail. “In terms of issues that cause delays…like any rail system we occasionally experience mechanical and software issues.”
Look, I get that nobody’s perfect. Mistakes happen, and delays in public transportation should probably be factored into your plans for getting to the airport. But I wasn't the only person inconvenienced. For every person who complains publicly, there are dozens more who dealt with the same thing.
So if you hear someone moaning about an “A Line logjam at 5 p.m.,” don’t be offended. It’s not a sex act; it’s just a description of their trip to the airport.
Have you been railed by the A Line? Post a comment with your story.
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