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Stories Along the Line: What a game-changer looks like


By Z.J. Czupor
Starting April 22, 2016, people leaving and arriving in Denver will, for the first time, have the option to board a new commuter rail train that can shuttle them between downtown Denver’s historic and revitalized Union Station, and the city’s landmark Denver International Airport, famous for its sculpted, peaked and translucent canopy.

Train at Denver International Airport

Remarkably, this new train vaults Denver into an ever-growing elite club of North American, European, Asian and Oceania cities that have rail service connecting airports with downtowns.

While airport rail links to city centers have been popular in Europe and Japan for decades, the rest of the world is catching up. Faster and easier connections have proven to be great advantages for riders as well as for helping to make cities more competitive.

Denver joins such North American cities as Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Portland, Providence, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington, D.C. with rail connections between airports and downtowns.

Cleveland RTA train at the airport. Photo: Michael Barera

Interestingly, Cleveland was the first North American city to boast a direct downtown to airport rail connection. Cleveland Municipal Airport was founded in 1925, making it the first U.S. airport owned by a municipality; plus in 1930, it was the first to install an air traffic control tower; a ground-to-air radio control system; to have the first airfield lighting system; and, in 1968, the first airport to be directly connected to downtown via the Cleveland Rapid Transit Authority’s Red Line light rail train.

Internationally, Africa has two cities in this club, while Oceania (Australia and New Zealand) has two; Europe has 48 and Asia 28.

The first airport to city rail service in the world began in 1927 in Berlin and with its Tempelhof Airport, which closed in 2008. Currently, S-Bahn trains run to the city from Berlin’s newer Schönefeld Airport.

According to Airports Council International-North America, the majority of public transport to airports is by buses. However, airports have recognized that rail transportation is favorably viewed by passengers--especially from international travelers where rail to the airport is more common.

A joint study released in November 2013 by the U.S. Travel Association and the American Public Transportation Association found that cities with airport rail connections have a competitive advantage in generating revenues for the private sector and the overall city tax base compared to similar cities that do not have direct rail connection to the airport.

Commuter train at Union Station

This all points to something extraordinary happening in Denver. Not only is the Mile High City home to a vibrant and thriving community, but the start of RTD’s new commuter rail service to Denver International Airport is without doubt the most anticipated rail line opening since Denver’s city fathers in 1867 raised funds to build a railroad line from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Denver.

RTD and its innovative FasTracks program, a multi-billion dollar voter-approved transit expansion plan, has demonstrated the need and demand for such a critical transit service. This new train is considered a “game changer” for the Denver metro region and the airport. Moreover, this new train is playing a major role in boosting the region’s global presence.

Make plans now to catch a ride on RTD’s University of Colorado A Line, opening April 22.