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Earth Day Special: First Electrified Commuter Rail Lines Opens in Over a Century

The new University of Colorado A-Line service opened as scheduled. Free rides were offered Friday and Saturday to thousands of happy children of all ages to enjoy the 23-mile, 37-minute trip from Union Station to Denver International Airport.
April 23, 2016, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The University of Colorado A Line has eight stations, including Union Station and the Denver Airport Station. Six of these stations will provide 4,329 additional parking spaces.

The queue to catch the inaugural service of the A-Line went well into the street on Friday, tweeted Denver Post transportation reporter Monte Whaley. Revenue service begins Sunday. The line was described here last October which indicated it would open April 22.

Highly recommended: Watch the first of several Denver Post news videos [DPtv] on the new train line, featuring the ribbon-cutting (I spotted Gov. John Hickenlooper among the dignitaries). Carloads of beaming rail passengers enjoyed the ride, traveling at speeds up to 79 mph. Interviewed is "Brennan Walter, 23, [who] flew out from Manhattan, Kan., just to be on the first A-train run Friday," write Monte Whaley and John Aguilar for The Denver Post.

"I'm really interested and passionate about public transportation and Denver is way ahead of the curve in building a world class transit system region wide," states Walter. "This really a game changer in the way that it's been built and will be operated over the next 20 years by [public-]private partnership... It's a model for other new systems."

"It's the first electrified commuter rail line built in the U.S. in 'some decades'," he adds.

In looking at the Wikipedia list of commuter rail lines, I believe it's the first new electrified commuter rail (not to be confused with heavy rail like BART) line to be built in the U.S. since the South Shore interurban commuter rail line from South Bend, Indiana to Chicago opened in 1908. Existing lines, like LIRR, NJ Transit, Metro-North, Metra, SEPTA, and MARC were electrified after they were already operating as steam trains in the 19th century under their prior names as private railroads.

"Electrification in the U.S. reached its maximum of 3,100 miles (5,000 km) in the late 1930s," according to Wikipedia. "By 1973 it was down to 1,778 route miles (2,861 km) (Class I railroads) with the top 3 being: Penn Central 829 miles (1,334 km), Milwaukee Road 658 miles (1,059 km), Long Island Rail Road 121 miles (195 km)." I don't believe any of the original Milwaukee Road's electrified lines exist today.


Returning to April 22, not all were pleased with the A-Line. I refer not to riders but demonstrators.

"9to5 Colorado, which advocates for the working poor, protested at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, calling for a more equitable fare structure," write Whaley and Aguilar.

Another group — Colorado Fiscal Institute — also said RTD fares favor higher-income riders. They say RTD should provide a 50 percent discount off regular fares for riders who earn less than 150 percent of the federal poverty level. [See: CFI Report Shows How RTD Fares Can Be Fair]

While a trip to DIA from Union Station will cost an adult $9.00, local fare is a modest $2.60. [More on fares here. Also explained in Post video, "RTD: Everything you need to know about the train from downtown to DIA".]

Why named for a University?

Another first for the A-Line is that it may be the first rail line that came with naming rights, for a price. See DPtv: University of Colorado President Bruce Benson explains the decision to the Post's Molly Hughes to pay $5 million for the A-Line name for five years. [She asks all the right questions.]. Read her piece here. And no, the train doesn't service the university.

As posted earlier, "look for two new electrified commuter rail lines to be opening this year: Gold Line and the first segment of the Northwest Rail. A (third) line will open in 2018."

Full Story:
Published on Friday, April 22, 2016 in The Denver Post
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