A new era of comfort: new light rail seat covers being installed

Laurie Huff

In the coming days, a notable change is being introduced on RTD’s light rail cars that has been in the works for more than two years: new vinyl-covered seats. The grey and multicolor-striped wool blend fabric that has carried countless thousands of customers over decades is on the way out, to be replaced by a blue pattern that represents RTD’s stops and connectivity across the system. The design, chosen earlier this year by employees, also emphasizes the agency’s brand colors.

Vinyl seats are easier to clean than wool, more resistant to stains and better able to withstand high volumes of people sitting on them over time, noted Phil Eberl, General Superintendent of Light Rail Vehicle Maintenance. Cleaning the backs and bottoms of wool seats on one rail car took one employee’s entire shift every day, he said. Vinyl can be wiped down by comparison – and in far less time.

“Shampooing and cleaning the old seats is seriously labor-intensive and time-consuming,” Eberl said. “There's a reduced maintenance cost and effort with vinyl.”

RTD staff worked with a vendor last week to install the new vinyl seats in the first train car. The plan moving forward is to complete one car per week until RTD’s entire fleet of approximately 200 light rail vehicles has been converted. The new seats support agency efforts to create a welcoming transit environment and will enhance the overall customer experience. In the 2023 RTD customer satisfaction survey, train cleanliness ranked ninth in importance.

When rail debuted in the Denver metro region 30 years ago, seats covered in wool were seen as plush and welcoming to customers, initially lasting five or more years, Eberl said. Since then, he noted, wool fabric is wearing more quickly and the colors are fading faster. Vinyl holds its appearance for many more years.

Further, Eberl said, as the world moved through the COVID-19 pandemic, cleanliness began to be equated with safety. These seats, he said, “are going to look and feel brighter and cleaner.” Even with the best effort, he said, wool seats hold odors where vinyl does not.

A similar seat transition is being planned for RTD’s buses, with a timeline for that project still being developed.

By Laurie Huff

New Seat Covers