TRAX trains slower with two new lines, computer glitches

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 23 2011 5:11 p.m. MDT

Passengers ride a University TRAX train in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011. At left is Rusty White. At right is Greg Carling.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — An increase in the number of passengers, coupled with software glitches on new rail cars and the addition of two service lines has caused scheduling problems for TRAX in the past few weeks.

Riders have complained of overcrowded platforms and trains, as well as slower commute times as the system deals with growing pains.

"Its one of the challenges of operating a more complex system," said Utah Transit Authority spokesman Gerry Carpenter. The Mid-Jordan and West Valley lines became operational just over two weeks ago, bringing with them more people and the initial confusion that new riders might experience.

Additionally, there have been multiple, non-UTA-related, vehicle accidents on TRAX lines that have resulted in disrupted service, jamming up the lines while official investigations are conducted and debris is cleared.

"Over time, it will even out," Carpenter said.

The scheduling frustration, he said, is warranted, as reliability has suffered with the recent additions. Before the new lines were added, Carpenter said UTA's TRAX schedule was nearly 98 percent reliable.

But those trains had been in operation for almost 12 years, which is plenty of time for the system to become streamlined.

Ridership has increased about 13.5 percent since last year, with 53,600 boarders tallied on Monday, the first day of the University of Utah's fall semester. There were 47,200 at the same time in 2010.

About 3,000 of those new riders boarded at one of the new Mid-Jordan line platforms and 2,200 joined along the West Valley line. Carpenter said there is a higher frequency of riders at varying platforms because more trains are now overlapping service areas.

"We have more service and are seeing more people ride it, but as with any expansion, there will be growing pains," he said, adding that UTA is "working everyday to be better."

UTA is anticipating the delivery of additional cars and can accommodate up to a four-car train on the lines, but that is usually only necessary for special events.

Carpenter said some of the cars are having trouble carrying a full load, as they were tested empty and operators have since noticed a significant software glitch affecting propulsion. UTA is working with the manufacturer of the cars to fix the problem as quickly as possible, but Carpenter did say the problem might be noticeable to some riders.

Commuters are also just settling into their own patterns, and hopefully realizing there is more than one transfer point on any given line, Carpenter said. Some platforms are more crowded than others, specifically the Courthouse station, which has become a major transfer point where all three lines stop.

"People are just getting used to the new configuration," he said. With more people getting on and off at those points, Carpenter said the doors are left open longer than usual, creating delays down the line. Wheelchair ramps also take some time to employ, holding up the schedule a bit.

But all the issues are being worked out; Carpenter just asks that riders "bear with us."

The system is capable of handling many more riders and even additional trains, but getting everything to work on the same schedule is what takes some getting used to.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

Twitter: wendyleonards

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