After a 44-year absence, public rail transit
returned to Denver in the form of light rail on October 7, 1994.
Denver once had an extensive network of streetcar lines
operating on narrow 3í 6" gauge track. Originally a cable
operation overseen by the Denver Tramway Company, it was
converted to electric and totaled 222 route miles at its peak.
As in most other North American cities, streetcar lines in
Denver were phased out after WWII in favor of buses, and service
ended on June 3, 1950. In 1969, the Colorado General Assembly
created RTD, or the Regional Transportation District, and
service overseen by this agency began in 1974.
RTD had proposed a 77-mile light rail system
in the late 1970s, calling for a 0.1% sales tax increase to help
finance it. Voters rejected a proposal on the 1980 general
election ballot. Most residents of metro Denver supported light
rail, but didnít like the idea of a sales tax increase. Luckily,
the idea didnít die. Ironically, most metro Denver residents
today say they would support a tax increase if it would help
build new lines faster.
The new line became popular right away, and
ridership quickly exceeded expectations. Six additional vehicles
were ordered to supplement the original 11-car fleet. This
pattern repeated itself when the Southwest Corridor opened. The
14 cars ordered by RTD proved insufficient, and a dozen more
were ordered to keep up with service demands. Ridership
continues to exceed projections by as much as 56%. RTD
proactively exercised the option to buy 34 additional cars on
top of the 34 ordered for Southeast Corridor service.
Unlike the narrow-gauge Denver Tramway
streetcars with trolley poles, todayís RTD light rail trains are
equipped with pantographs and operate on standard gauge track.
Track construction consists of welded rails secured with spring
clips to concrete ties. Power is provided by overhead wire on
street running portions and by Catenary along private ROW at a
pressure of 825 volts DC. Most of the Catenary consists of
center pole construction and counterweight tensioning.
The entire system is
double-tracked with these exceptions: a five-block stretch of
single track along Welton St. between 24th
Streets; a third track at the Pepsi Center-Six Flags Elitch
Gardens station and an added third track at the Broadway
station. There is also a third track south of the Southmoor
station that is used for short turns. Initial plans called for
the original Central Corridor to continue along California and
Stout Streets all the way to 30th
Ave. During public hearings, business owners in Five Points
petitioned RTD to run the line along Welton St. instead. When
RTD countered by saying it would be double-tracked all the way
up Welton St., those same owners insisted on a single-track line
for at least part of the way.
RTD has adopted the "Itís
better to have it and not need it rather than needing it and not
having it" philosophy of building connections even if they may
not be used right away. Most major junctions permit any train to
take one of two possible routes when approaching from any
direction. While this may result in some normally-unused
connectors, it does offer built-in flexibility and permits
rerouting of trains when necessary. For example, the downtown
loop connection at 14th
St. was used to turn back trains from 30th
Ave. via Stout, 14th,
and California when the line was closed between I-25/Broadway
Street due to construction on several occasions.
All train movements are governed by a
combination of wayside block signals, traffic signals (on the
street-running portion), radio communication, operations
procedures, and train orders.