Facility keeps trains running

Posted 10/13/09

Keeping light rail vehicles clean and operating falls to the staff at the Elati Light Rail Maintenance Facility in Englewood. The massive 82,500 …

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Facility keeps trains running


Keeping light rail vehicles clean and operating falls to the staff at the Elati Light Rail Maintenance Facility in Englewood.

The massive 82,500 square-foot facility is located just off the light rail tracks and its distinctive design generally attracts the attention of those passing by.

But it is more than just a pretty building.

Cal Shankstert, RTD’s acting assistant general manager of rail operations, guided a tour through the facility to help celebrate light rail’s 15th anniversary.

He explained the facility provided the primary location for light rail vehicle service, which includes everything from cleaning the inside and washing the outside to major maintenance of the electric power system and replacing the wheels.

Planners designed the maintenance building to easily get trains in and out for maintenance. There are 12 sets of tracks leading into the east side of the building and the same number on the west side of the building. Each set of tracks brings the light rail car to a stop over a below-ground-level maintenance area called the pit or over a hydraulic system to lift the 88,000-pound vehicle for work on the wheels and undercarriage.

Several bays also have walkways above them so technicians can get to the top of the train to work on the electrical systems and on the air conditioning systems.

The vehicle is powered by two sets of 400-horsepower electric motors attached to the wheels, called trucks, at each end of the car. A third set of trucks in the middle of the car is unpowered. Electricity for the motors comes from 750-volt power lines suspended above the light rail track. Older cars in the fleet run on direct current, but newer cars run on a more efficient alternating current system.

Like an automobile, the vehicle has wheels encased in steel tires. The tires are mounted to the wheels on rubber pads to provide a smoother, quieter ride. The tires are changes about every 300,000 miles.

About every six months, technicians at the maintenance facility “true the wheels” to make sure all the 12 wheels on a vehicle are the same size. Since precision is the key to long life and efficiency of a car the sophisticated equipment “trues” the wheels so the diameter of all 12 wheels on a car are kept within 1/10,000 of an inch of each other.

Shankstert began his career with RTD as a bus mechanic. He chose to move to light rail vehicle maintenance in 1994. He said much of the work is the same but there have been many technological advances in the vehicle, its transmission and power plant to make each train more efficient.

He noted the very rigorous preventive maintenance program keeps the vehicles it top shape. He said, for example, the manufacture recommends a major overhaul of gear boxes every 250,000 miles. However, he said good preventive maintenance has delayed the major overhaul until the vehicle has traveled 1 million miles.

The expanding fleet means there is a need for a larger maintenance force that includes new mechanics like Bill Chan.

Chan was a Mercedes Benz mechanic for 30 years and then decided it was time for a career change.

He tested, was accepted and now has been with RTD for 18 months.

“This is a great organization and I really enjoy my job,” he said. “Of course, it was a big change with a lot to learn. But, I like a challenge and I really enjoy my job.”

Teams also keep an close eye on the tracks to make sure everything is in good repair. A team walks every mile of track to make a detailed visual inspection once a month. Then, every six months, RTD hires a contractor to do a ultrasonic rail inspection. The vehicle carries expensive, specialized equipment that checks to make sure there are no cracks or other flaws in the rails.


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