Secrets of Colorado: 11 secrets of the Denver International Airport RTD train station

DENVER - It's been nearly 19 years since RTD conducted its first study of how to build a train to Denver International Airport. Starting April 22, the idea becomes a reality when passenger train service begins to DIA.

The A Line, officially named the University of Colorado A Line, will run from Union Station in Denver to DIA with six stops along the way.

Here are 11 secrets of the A line.

Secret No. 1: The A in A line stands for Airport.

The "A" designation was saved for a future "Airport" line almost twenty years ago, according to RTD. That's why the light rail lines in Denver are labeled C, D, E, F, H and W.

It's called the University of Colorado A line because CU paid $5 million for the naming rights.

Secret No. 2: The A line trains are different.

Train riders around the metro area have been using light rail for years, but the trains on the University of Colorado A line are not light rail. These trains are commuter rail vehicles. 

Because the line to DIA runs next to a freight corridor, the government required heavier vehicles than light rail, according to RTD FasTracks Public Information Manager Tara Bettale.

The trains are powered by overhead electrical lines that hold 25,000 volts of electricity.

Secret No. 3: The DIA trains have a max speed of 79 mph.

While light rail trains have a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour, the DIA commuter rail trains have a maximum speed of 79 mph. Why 79 and not 80? Because if they were allowed to go 80 mph or faster they would be classified as high-speed rail and that comes with different rules and regulations, Bettale explained.

While the DIA trains can and will go 79 mph in certain areas, there is a maximum speed of 20 mph on certain turns and other areas along the line.

Secret No. 4: The trains won't run 24 hours a day.

While the trains will run every 15 minutes from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., and every 30 minutes in the early morning and late at night, the trains will stop running for two hours every day from about 1 a.m. to 3 a.m.

During that time, workers will do maintenance, vehicle inspections, routine checks and other work, Bettale said.

Secret No. 5: Every train has a plow.

When a blizzard hit Denver last month, hundreds of drivers got stuck on Pena Boulevard in the ice, the snow and the multiple crashes.

But a blizzard shouldn't stop the DIA trains. Like the light rail trains in Denver, the airport's commuter rail trains have a built-in plow that can be raised up when needed.

While the tracks to the airport are not heated, the switches are to make sure the tracks can be switched as needed, Bettale explained.

Secret No. 6: The trains can be operated from each end.

At the airport, when passengers disembark, so does the train operator. The operator leaves the control booth at one end of the train and moves to a control booth at the opposite end.

Because the trains don't turn around at the airport, the operator has to move so they are operating the train from the front.

Operators need 160 hours of "throttle time," aka behind-the-wheel training, and additional classroom training, to get Federal Railroad Administration (FRM) certified to operate the commuter rail trains. In addition, the operators are dual-certified as locomotive conductors.

Secret No. 7: What if the operator gets sick or something else?

The DIA trains are operated by a human operator and PTC -- Positive Train Control.

Train operators will be given a signal to stop the train if:

  • They are traveling too fast
  • Another train is stopped on the tracks ahead
  • Maintenance crews are out working on the alignment

If the operator does not respond within eight seconds, the train will automatically slow to a stop.

PTC will be required across the United States by 2018. RTD-Denver is the first line in the U.S. to have PTC built into a commuter rail system from the ground up, officials said.

Now let's talk about the train station at Denver International Airport.

Secret No. 8: Why aren't the tracks centered?

When the trains arrive at the DIA train station, there are two tracks under a canopy below the Westin Hotel. However, the tracks are off-set at the train station. That's to allow for future expansion.

While there are spots along the A line where there is just a single track, and while most of the bridges are currently only single track, engineers said there is room for growth there too.

Secret No. 9: The logs on the banks of the train station are an outdoor sculpture.

The logs are part of an art installation called "Shadow Array" by Denver artist Patrick Marold.

The outdoor sculpture features 236 beetle-kill spruce logs.

"The shadows and patterns created by the sculpture will change and shift according to the seasons, daily passage of the sun and with evening lighting," according to Denver International Airport.

There are lights on the logs so the shadows can be seen at night.

Secret No. 10: There's an unplanned artwork at the train station.

As you walk along the platform, you may notice the landscaping at the station has dozens of railroad ties.

Several people we talked to said leftover railroad ties from the construction project were incorporated into the landscaping design.

Secret No. 11: The DIA escalators are the tallest in Colorado.

From the train station platform, travelers will take an escalator up five stories to the plaza between the Westin Hotel and the airport.

Passengers riding the escalators will get to see an art show -- slow-moving images projected onto a  structure above the escalators.

The display was created by Paris-based light artist Yann Kersalé. He calls it "L’eau dans tous ses êtats” or “Water in all of its states.”

We'd show you what it looks like, but right now there's just a sign at the escalators:

Passenger service on the University of Colorado A line begins April 22. You can ride for free during certain hours on April 22 and 23. Learn more about the line, the train stations, the hours and more on the RTD-Denver website. Get fare information here.

Check out more of our secrets of Colorado stories:

Got a place you want us to go inside and learn the secrets of? Email Debbie@TheDenverChannel.com.

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