General Manager Quarterly News Update
October 18, 2016
Remarks by RTD General Manager and CEO Dave Genova: This is the first of RTD’s new process of keeping you informed on a quarterly basis with the latest information from RTD. We want to make you aware of current activities in a candid and transparent way, and I am passionate about serving our community and the transit industry. Safety is our number 1 priority, along with our focus on reliability. You can expect me to provide these briefings at least every quarter.
I want to begin by thanking the many RTD partners that work with us on a regular basis to accomplish our service mission: the Federal Railroad Administration or FRA, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission or PUC, the Federal Transit Administration or FTA and of course our local municipalities and counties, our state legislators, and the Colorado US Congressional delegation. And thank you to the nearly 350,000 RTD patrons that use the RTD family of services on a daily basis. RTD exists to serve you with safe, clean, reliable, courteous, accessible and cost effective service throughout the District.
Joining me today are RTD’s Board Chair Tom Tobiassen, and RTD’s concessionaire or contractor for the University of Colorado A, B and G lines, Denver Transit Partners’ Executive Director John Thompson.
Let me begin with some current activities – we are in the midst of our budget planning process for 2017 and the 2017 budget will soon be posted for public review. It has been very challenging to present a balanced budget and maintain existing service levels, but we have been able to do so. Another important part of our budgeting process is RTD’s 5-year strategic budget plan, which the RTD Board recently approved along with the FasTracks annual program evaluation.
In January we began service on the new Flatiron Flyer bus rapid transit between Denver and Boulder along the U.S. 36 corridor. The service is faster, more frequent and offers enhanced passenger stations. As a result we’ve seen ridership increase by 45% in this corridor.
With the transformation of Union Station complete, we are shifting focus to the other end of 16th Street Mall as we look to revitalize Civic Center Station. In July we broke ground on the renovation of Civic Center. For 33 years the station has served as the transit hub on the southeast end of the mall. It is one of our busiest bus transit centers, with an average of 15,000 passengers per day. The new station will feature a modern, open look that will provide enhanced security and better operations.
Soon you will see new Free MallRide vehicles along the 16th Street Mall. With an average of nearly 45,000 passengers a day, the Free MallRide is RTD’s most used service. The 16th Street MallRide is the backbone of our regional transportation plan and infrastructure connecting transit centers, rail lines and bus routes. It is a vital piece of our transit network. These new vehicles are all electric and have air conditioning that will provide passengers with comfort in summer months. Downtown commuters, residents and visitors rely on the 16th Street MallRide to get them to work, transit, entertainment and recreation. Please note that this will be only our third fleet of Mall Shuttle vehicles, a remarkable feat given that the 16th Street Mall opened in 1982.
We receive a lot of questions on the Eagle P3 Project, which includes the University of Colorado A Line, the B line and the G line . So I want to provide an update on those lines beginning with some background. In 2007, RTD entered into the FTA’s Public Private Partnership Pilot program or Penta P program. Three agencies from across the country were selected to participate in this program, but RTD was the only agency to enter into a public private partnership or P3 project. That project is RTD’s Eagle P3 project which is a design build finance operate and maintain concession agreement with Denver Transit Partners. RTD selected three teams through a Request for Qualifications process to participate in the procurement process for this project. In 2010, RTD entered into a 34-year concession agreement with Denver Transit Partners. The main companies that make up the concessionaire team are: Fluor, Balfour Beatty Rail Infrastructure, Alternative Concepts, Ames Construction, Aberdeen Assets, and John Laing. Major subcontractors include Wabtec Corporation (grade crossings and other systems) and Hyundai Rotem (train car manufacturer). There is also a fact sheet in the packet that will be handed out at the end of the news conference describing the P3 partners.
There were a number of advantages to pursuing a P3 arrangement. Participating in the Penta P program allowed RTD to pursue a full funding grant agreement for the University of Colorado A Line and the G line. RTD was successful in obtaining a $1 billion grant for the project. Denver Transit Partners also contributed private equity into the project, and the overall project came in $300 million under internal cost estimates which allowed RTD to invest in other FasTracks projects. Also, because of the effects of the Great Recession, RTD estimates lost revenue of approximately $1 billion, and the P3 project allowed RTD to advance FasTracks much further than we could have without engaging a P3.
P3 contracts are typically performance-based contracts meaning that contract requirements, means and methods are not dictated or prescriptive, but allow for innovation, efficiency and private sector expertise to meet a prescribed set of performance requirements. There are also deductions allowed for performance shortfalls. Performance deductions have occurred to date, and additional non-performance related deductions are occurring monthly – $250,000/month for the University of Colorado A Line and $100,000/month for the B line.
Since the opening of the University of Colorado A Line last April, the daily, average on-time performance is 87.3%. Now that is not good enough, we want to be at a minimum of 90% or better. Since the opening of the B line, daily average on-time performance is 95.9%. To put that in perspective, the RTD Board-approved minimum goal for light rail on-time performance is 90% and light rail is performing at approximately 94%. Let me explain on-time performance. On-time means arrival at a location no more than one minute early or no more than five minutes after the scheduled arrival time. Considering that across the entire RTD system, that is a pretty strict standard. Ridership is doing well at just over 18,000 weekday on the University of Colorado A Line, and 1400 weekday on the B line. The University of Colorado A Line ridership is nearly at it’s one year projected estimate of 18,600; and the B line ridership is already exceeding estimates of 800 per day by next July.
Next, let me explain a few service exceptions that have occurred. We have experienced a few significant service interruptions on the University of Colorado A Line, and I sincerely apologize to our patrons for the inconveniences these have caused. Most notably, was the power interruption due to a severed power wire on May 24, 2016. Initially reported as a lightning strike, the system experienced a power loss when this wire severed which resulted in an evacuation from a train on the I-70 bridge. We are still working the forensic analysis to determine the exact cause. The power system is designed to withstand lightning strikes and other types of faults. Let me quickly explain. When the power system detects a fault, caused by lighting or any other cause, it opens breakers (much like the breakers in your home would operate). The system then automatically runs diagnostics to determine if it is safe to re-energize, if the diagnostics say it is safe, the system automatically closes the breakers and the power is restored. This process occurs over a few seconds and does not require human intervention. I won’t go into detail on a few other instances, but each incident is reviewed for cause, corrective action or mitigation, and debriefed to determine how we can prevent and better manage any incident. As with any new rail system, start-up issues exist, we respond to those, learn and make the necessary adjustments.
Another question I often receive is if we saw these types of things during testing. One item we did discover during testing that has been addressed was the phase breaks. Let me explain. The overhead power system is a 25,000 volt alternating current fed to the trains through a pantograph on the train that makes contact with the power wire. There are two power substations that feed the entire commuter rail network. Since alternating current feeds cannot physically touch, a phase break has to be designed into the system. A phase break is a section in which no power is supplied and the trains briefly coast through the phase break. This is a typical industry design for A/C. There are two phase breaks on the University of Colorado A Line, and both have been shortened from a few hundred feet to tens of feet. There are no phase breaks on the B line or the G line. Light rail does not have phase breaks because power is supplied by a 750 volt direct current system and the feeds for direct current do not have to be separated.
The next item I want to discuss is the status of the grade crossings. We are operating a safe system and the grade crossings are activating the flashing lights, warning bells and gates well in advance of train arrival and in excess of the required minimum activation times. The flaggers at the crossings are an added safety measure in place until we complete the final certification of the crossings with the FRA and the PUC. Denver Transit Partners is paying the cost of the flaggers. We are also operating a positive train control system which is a safety system that was mandated by Congress to be installed on all commuter rail systems by 2018. This results in a very safe train operation, and many of the commuter rail networks operating in the US have yet to install the positive train control safety system. The grade crossing technology and the positive train control technology are new and very complex systems to integrate. Additionally, the grade crossings themselves are physically complex, many with multiple commuter rail and freight tracks, signalized intersections, and parallel roads all of which have to integrate within complex clearance and operating cycles. The grade crossings are also designed to qualify for quiet zones, meaning once approved the trains will not have to sound their horns, which adds another layer of complexity to the crossings.
The issue we are experiencing with the grade crossings is related to the activation time versus train arrival time, and the constant warning time required for the establishment of quiet zones. Let me explain. Consider that the activation design time for a crossing is 30 seconds, meaning that the grade crossing activates 30 seconds before the anticipated arrival of the train at the crossing. In some cases, the train is arriving several seconds later than the design time. For example the activation design time may be 30 seconds and the train actually arrives in 45 seconds. We need to shorten this timing gap and get closer to the design time. So, why is there a timing gap? The grade crossings utilize a wireless communication system to predict the arrival of the train. This occurs based on the train sending a signal to the crossing that it is advancing toward the crossing, and the software predicts the train arrival time based on the fastest trip that train can make from the activation point to the grade crossing. There is safety built in here to assure that the grade crossing is completely activated meaning that the flashing lights, warning bells, and gates are deployed well in advance of train arrival. There are many variables that can impact the timing including the presence of a station that may require extended dwell time, variability in train operation from operator to operator, and other factors that may affect the actual operating speed of the train versus the design speed for the train. We are in the process of testing a new software revision to reduce the timing gaps, and we may impact the operations schedule on the University of Colorado A Line to accommodate additional time for testing as we can only test during non-revenue hours.
We are working diligently to resolve the grade crossing timing issue and gain final certification of the grade crossings with the FRA and the PUC. Once we complete this, we can also pursue the quiet zone process. Until then, we continue to operate with flaggers at the crossings as an additional safety measure and as required by the FRA and PUC. It is also important to know that we are currently operating under an extended waiver from the FRA. This extended waiver has a current expiration of November 5, 2016 and we continue to work closely with the FRA to reach resolution and a path forward. We are working with a sense of urgency and this is RTD’s number one priority. Regarding the G line, we are not continuing with testing on the G line until we resolve the grade crossings on the University of Colorado A Line and the one private grade crossing on the B line. We are continuing to target a Fall 2016 opening for the G line. And we are also still aiming at Winter 2016 for the opening of the R line, a light rail extension in Aurora.
For the most current information about the G Line operational progress, please visit http://bit.ly/RTD-GLine-Update.