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NRHS 2016 Convention Guided light rail/commuter rail tour 7/20/2016

by Chris Guenzler

Elizabeth and I got up at the Super 8 Motel and tried their breakfast then walked over to the Holiday Inn and joined the line for the bus. This was not a bus to the A Line Commuter rail station as the convention booklet had stated. Instead it was a bus to Denver Union Station so we would see some of the neighborhoods on the way into town. We made it to Union Station and the bus took us to the underground bus plaza. It was a short walk to where a wrapped light rail train was waiting. Who would give a wrapped train to a national group for their tour of their system? You could not take pictures through the side windows. I knew a view through the operator's cab would be the only way I could document this trip. In addition, a gas leak in downtown had that section closed so we could not ride the entire Denver Light Rail system. We were supposed to leave Union Station at 9:00 AM but did not leave until 9:17 AM.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail (branded as TheRide) is a transit system in the Denver, Colorado, metropolitan area. Operated by the Regional Transportation District (RTD), it includes six light rail lines with 46 stations and 47 miles of track.

Light rail

RTD's first light rail line, a 5.3 mile section of what is now the D Line, opened on Friday, October 7, 1994. It operated with free service for that half day and the first weekend, with revenue service starting on October 10. It was estimated that more than 200,000 passengers rode the new system during its two-and-a-half day opening weekend, when the fleet comprised only 11 Siemens SD-100 rail cars.

Since that time, several additional light rail lines have been opened. An 8.7-mile southwest extension to Mineral Avenue in Littleton opened in July 2000, and the 1.8-mile Platte Valley extension to Denver Union Station opened in April 2002. An additional 19-mile Southeast Corridor extension along I-25 to Lone Tree and a branch along I-225 to Parker Road were completed in November 2006 as part of Denver's T-REX project.

As of April 2013, the system had 170 light rail vehicles, serving 47 miles of track.

Primary services

The primary RTD services are scheduled bus and light rail routes. Light rail is divided in four zones: A, B, C and D. Local service is service within two zones, express service is within three zones, and regional service is within four zones.

The current light rail lines are:
C Line: Littleton/Mineral to Union Station
D Line: Littleton/Mineral to 30th/Downing
E Line: Lincoln to Union Station
F Line: Lincoln to 18th/California & 18th/Stout
H Line: Nine Mile to 18th/California & 18th/Stout
W Line: Denver Union Station to Jeffco Government Center

With the opening of the Southeast Corridor, many regional bus routes that provided service from the North Metro to Denver Tech Center were replaced by service to Union Station and light rail from Union Station to the Belleview light rail station. Several regional bus routes to and from the South Metro were also eliminated by the openings of the Southeast & Southwest Corridors, replaced by feeder routes to light rail.

RTD Denver FasTracks

FasTracks is a multi-billion dollar public transportation expansion plan under construction in metropolitan Denver. Developed by the Regional Transportation District, the plan consists of new commuter rail, light rail and express bus services. Six new light rail, electric commuter rail and diesel commuter rail lines with a combined length of 122 miles will be constructed under the plan. It expands on previous transportation projects, notably T-REX, and includes 57 new transit stations and stops, 21,000 new parking spaces, 18 miles of a bus service between Denver and Boulder and the renovation of Denver Union Station as a multi-modal transportation hub.

Originally envisioned to cost $4.7 billion and to be completed in 2017, voters in the eight counties that comprise the RTD approved a 0.4 percent sales tax increase in 2004. The 2008 global financial crisis caused a drop in revenues and material costs rose faster than forecast. By 2010, the budget grew to $6.5 billion while projected revenues dropped to $4.1 billion. Another tax increase was not put on the 2010 or 2012 ballot, although the project is not expected to be finished until at least 2044. Alternative funding sources, such as public-private partnerships, have been sought to complete projects as quickly as possible.

The first of the six new lines envisioned in the plan, the West Corridor light rail line to Golden, Colorado, opened for revenue service on April 26, 2013. By mid-2014, construction was underway on the five other rail lines. Three of the commuter rail lines, the East Rail Line to Denver International Airport, the Gold Line to Arvada, and the portion of the Northwest Rail Line to south Westminster, along with the I-225 Rail Line through Aurora, are projected to open in 2016. In addition, the North Metro Rail Line to Thornton will open in 2018.

Eagle public-private partnership

The Eagle public-private partnership combines two commuter rail lines, the East Line to DIA and the Gold Line to Wheat Ridge, plus a section of the Northwest Line up to Westminster, and a maintenance facility into a single contract. Denver Transit Partners, the consortium of companies RTD selected to lead the Eagle P3 project, is responsible for the design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance of the rail lines in the contract.

Construction broke ground on the Gold Line on August 26, 2010. In August 2011, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood committed $1 billion in federal money to the Eagle P3 project. In December LaHood approved a $280 million loan to advance construction. As of June 2013, the project is on track to open the rail lines under contract in 2016.

East Rail Line (commuter rail)

Being constructed as part of the Eagle P3, the East Rail Line is a 23.6-mile commuter rail line between downtown Denver, Aurora and Denver International Airport using electric multiple unit (EMU) commuter trains. To expedite travel time between downtown Denver and Denver International Airport, only six stations will be located on the line. Construction started in August 2010, and is expected to be completed in 2016.

Gold Line (commuter rail)

The second full line funded under the Eagle P3, the Gold Line is an 11.2-mile commuter rail corridor that will run from Denver Union Station to Wheat Ridge, passing through Adams County and Arvada. As with the East Corridor, the RTD Board of Directors chose EMU commuter trains to run on the Gold Line. The line will have seven new stations - with an already existing station at Union - and is expected to open in 2016.

Northwest Rail Corridor (commuter rail)

The Northwest Rail Corridor is a commuter rail project between Denver, Boulder and Longmont. The 41-mile full line would have had seven stations on a route that would follow an existing railroad right-of-way. The only segment of the line, extending from Denver Union Station to south Westminster, is under construction as part of the Eagle P3 project and is expected to open in late 2016. The remaining segment, extending to downtown Longmont, is currently scheduled to be completed in 2044, although construction has not yet begun. The announcement angered many voters in the cities and suburbs north of Denver who had approved a sales tax increase in 2004 to fund the FasTracks project.

Our Trip

The first line we would travel would be the W line Union Station to Jefferson County Governmental Center-Golden.

Another train of non-wrapped cars at Denver Union Station. We boarded our train of wrapped cars.

On the way to the Pepsi Center-Elitch Gardens station.

Our happy NRHS group this morning.

The map found inside the car.

The Pepsi Center-Elitch Gardens station.

The Pepsi Center, home of the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League and the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association.

One of the BNSF's coal trains sits staged in Denver.

A light rail train passes the BNSF train.

Sports Authority Field at Mile High, home of the Denver Broncos of the National Football League.

The Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium station.

A pedestrian crossing the tracks safely.

Auraria West station.

The junction to the W Line proper.

Crossing over the joint lines.

The bridge under I-25.

The bridge across the Platte River.

Decatur/Federal Station which is also the station for the Sports Authority Field at Mile High on the W Line.

On the way to the Knox station.

Knox station.

The tracks make a curve.

Perry station.

On the way to Sheridan station.

Sheridan station.

On the way to Lamar station.

Lamar station.

On the way to Lakewood-Wadsworth station, we passed another inbound train.

Lakewood-Wadsworth station.

On the way to Garrison station.

Garrison station.

On the way to Oak station.

Oak station.

On the way to Federal Center station.

The carbarn that holds the Intermountain Chapter's trolley No. 25 which is on display certain days of the year and has a quarter mile of track to operate over.

The three-track Federal Center station.

The three tracks at Federal Center then goes into a single track to just east of our next station at Red Rocks College.

On the way to Red Rocks College station.

At Red Rocks College station, we met another inbound train.

On the way to Jefferson County Government Center-Golden station.

Our trolley has reached the end of the W Line at Jefferson County Government Center-Golden station. Here passengers were given a photo opportunity as well as a bathroom break. We then headed back east down the W Line to Auraria West where we would switch to the D Line, also known as the Southwest Line.

Click here for Part 2 of this story!