The Light Rail to Denver International Airport

April 2016 marked the opening of the A line of the Denver light rail, connecting downtown Denver’s Union Station and Denver International Airport. The 40-minute ride costs $9 one-way, and it’s also a great commuter train for the thousands of workers who service the airport.

Entrance to the train station

Entrance to the train station

Before I continue, let me give you a brief history of Denver and its airport situation. Then you’ll understand the importance of this train. The original airport for Denver was Stapleton Airport, which was conveniently located in the city itself. People of old Denver still reminisce about driving under the airstrip on I-70, or being able to drive and park at the end of the runway on the edge of Aurora, where you could almost touch the planes as they arrived and departed. Yet, due to lack of space to expand and complaints of noise from neighborhoods, Stapleton was replaced with a new and better airport: Denver International Airport (DIA).

train from Airport to DT

Train from DIA to downtown

As much as Denver loved Stapleton, it loves DIA more, which has won numerous awards for its architecture and art. It’s also received just as much grief for its distance, as the airport is now 25 miles away from downtown (19 miles farther than the more convenient Stapleton)—a dilemma for sure. If you’re from Denver, you’re aware of the traffic issues to and from DIA. Coupled with the increase in people living in Denver and traveling to Denver, it’s made for a miserable commute. Hence the reason for the new train.

Inside the train

Inside the train

The train leaves every 15 minutes from 6 a.m to 8 p.m at a new station built almost underneath the new, 519-room Westin Hotel and Convention Center. The walk to the station is a little confusing, with very few signs leading the way. So, here’s a little secret: if you walk out to the plaza area before heading to the train, you’ll get the rare chance to see real Colorado plains. To some it may seem like just a view of grass, but to those that love Colorado, aka The Gateway to the West, you know that this state is a famous for its spacious grasslands as well as its mountains. The plaza even has a large moving sculpture of blowing blades of grass, giving homage to this glorious part of Colorado—a moving tribute indeed.

artwork along the way

Artwork along the way

So, let’s get to the important part of this article: the train itself. It’s brand new and it still has that new train smell (yes, that’s a thing). It’s large, with the capacity of 209 passengers (only seats for 91, the remaining stand), plus two wheelchair-accessible spots per car, according to information given by the policeman/conductor on board the train (oh, yeah, he has a gun too). The train stops at seven stations (61st and Peña Boulevard, 40th Avenue and Airport Boulevard, Peoria, Central Park, 40th and Colorado Boulevard, 38th and Blake Street) before reaching downtown. The Central Park Station is right at the new Stapleton Housing Development, kind of a dig to old Stapleton if you ask me. So, being the number cruncher that I am, I looked around me on a nearly empty train and envisioned what it would look like with 209 people, their baggage (carry-on and emotional) in various shapes and sizes, and it was an ugly picture indeed.

Union Station in downtown

Union Station in downtown

The trip itself is long, but that’s to be expected due to the long distance. It ends at the beautifully renovated Union Station, once an empty and lonely reminder of the old days of travel—it’s now alive and full of energy. There are shops, restaurants, a hotel, and a fun water feature in front of the main entrance—the Station is a real treat for the weary traveler. The only downside to the whole adventure is the view from the train. I’m from Denver, and neither I nor the locals I was riding with recognized the part of Denver the trains blow through. What made it worse was there was nothing even remotely recognizable about that part of town; I didn’t even see a pot store the entire time—the one big thing Denver has become famous for. All I can say is it follows Smith Road. Yes, that’s right, not a freeway or byway, but just a plain road all the way to downtown Denver. So, if you take the train and hope to “see” Denver, you won’t because it’s not. That being said, I really enjoyed my trip on the train so much that it even excites me to return to Denver and experience the ride again.

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1 CommentLeave a comment

  • Need to see more of the USA and this seems like a good way to do part of it – thanks for sharing!

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