By Jennifer LeDuc
It looks like 2018 may just be the year of the G Line. After a Public Utilities Commission judge’s ruling last year in favor of resumed testing for the 11-mile line and a PUC certification hearing scheduled for later this year, the Regional Transportation District said that while it’s “hard to predict” when the line would open, the advancement in testing of the sophisticated and leading-edge Positive Train Control system is a significant new momentum for the line.
Tina Jaqez, public affairs manager with the RTD, expressed cautious optimism for what the testing and hearing forecasted for the future of the line.
“This is definitely a great milestone for us that we can start the testing and obviously gets us closer,” Jaqez said, explaining that any additional testing and identifying when the line opens depends on the outcome of the PUC hearings. “But it’s a really good thing; it’s a step forward and we’re really positive about that.”
So, on Tuesday, Jan. 2, the G Line’s rail heated up with a commuter train traveling between the Pecos station and the final station at Ward Road in Wheat Ridge, with horns punctuating the air – a startling reminder to many residents and drivers that indeed, these tracks were built for a high-speed train. The judge’s approval means that the long-stymied testing taking place the first two weeks of January, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m., is the most rigorous testing to date on the G Line.
While flaggers remain in place along the G line and DIA’s A Line, late last year the Federal Railroad Administration approved the RTD’s request to demobilize the flaggers on the B line, which runs between Westminster and Denver’s Union Station, and approved the RTD’s request to resume testing of gate-crossing technology on the G Line. The PUC was still not on board, however, until the judge’s ruling.
“This phase of the testing process will focus on communication and signaling systems, as well as the communication of traffic and rail signals at railroad crossings,” the RTD stated in a release. “While more testing is possible after that point, the bulk of the work is to be completed during this time frame.”
Railroad safety is by and large regulated by the federal government, reinforced with the 2008 Railroad Safety Improvement Act. However the the state’s PUC “retains primary jurisdiction over all public highway-rail crossings, including opening, closing, upgrading, overpasses or underpasses, and the allocation of costs,” according to the PUCs website, and because of this complex and cumbersome division of authorities, must therefore give the final approval of the systems which are integral to the federally mandated Positive Train Control technologies integral to the Railroad Safety Improvement Act.
While other passenger and freight railroads in the country have either fully or partially complied with installing PTC, the new commuter lines in Denver’s regional transit system are one of the first in the country to be built with full compliance.
Three days of PUC hearings exploring the next phase of the approval process, which are open to the public, are slated for March, but depending on varying factors, may be moved up to mid-February.
Wheat Ridge mayor Bud Starker also expressed hopeful optimism for the latest direction in the testing of the line, which many residents, business owners and public officials expected to be open last year.
“I’m thrilled the testing has begun; I hope they get an A-plus,” said the mayor. “I think it’s great that they seem to have opened up a strategy with a PUC that’s got us on the calendar.”
Although the G Line ends in Wheat Ridge, its presence in the city may not be as apparent as it is in Arvada, where the line traverses through the heart of Old Town Arvada.
Consequently, Starker doesn’t field much feedback from residents on the project.
“It’s sort of outside the mental framework for many,” he observed. “I think it has yet to sink into the local lexicon of the city, and I don’t think that will happen until people in the area are able to get on the train and go somewhere – until there’s a train in the station and on the tracks. We’ll get the buzz, once it’s there.”