The R Line opened for revenue service on February 24 after nearly four years of construction. The project was endorsed by metro area voters in 2004 when they approved the FasTracks program. Unlike all the other rail passenger lines in the FasTracks system, the R Line is unique in that it does not originate in central Denver and radiate to outlying communities. Instead, it is a circumferential line linking suburban communities to each other and to pre-existing lines including the A Line commuter rail and the E, F and H lines serving the southeast and downtown Denver.
The R Line directly serves Northeast Denver with two light rail stops at the Anschutz Medical Campus and one at the Peoria Station. Key features of those stops include:
Peoria: a cross-platform transfer for riders switching between the A and R Lines.
Fitzsimons Parkway: a free shuttle bus service provided by the University of Colorado running continuously between 5:30 am and 7 pm. Aurora will be constructing a 12-foot-wide “multi-use path” this spring to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists traveling from the station into the campus. It will be located along Ursula Street.
Colfax: the station is elevated above the state highway meaning patrons can access the line without having to cross Colfax on foot. The station is also notable for the enhancements provided by Aurora including street level public art and the grand arch above the platform. The arch is lighted at night and helps provide shelter from the elements.
The R Line extends 22 miles south from the Peoria station to the Lincoln station in Lone Tree. The full trip requires 55 minutes of travel time and costs $2.60 one-way. A regular fare traveler to DIA pays $9.
The R Line will run much more quietly than the A Line, blowing muted horns only at gated crossings. As a light rail facility, it is not subject to the same safety measures as mandated by the federal government for commuter rail sharing freight corridors as occurs on the A Line.
A major design challenge for the R Line was integrating the train signaling system with Aurora’s traffic control system. Generally, the R Line runs with traffic and does not preempt city street intersection controls. Preemption is allowed at the 17th Place exit from I-225 due to the importance of emergency vehicle access. Whichever vehicle arrives at that crossing first, whether an ambulance, fire truck or R Line train, preempts the street signals at that location. Similar concern with emergency vehicle access is what led to construction of the Peoria Crossing, a bridge that takes cars and trucks up and over the A Line and pre-existing freight lines.
RTD faced two other design challenges with the R Line: bringing light rail out of the I-225 right-of-way and onto the local city streets when it heads north from the Nine Mile station. Aurora insisted that the train serve its city center; and, realigning train tracks from the center of the Anschutz campus at the request of the University of Colorado. CU feared impacts to sensitive research equipment from vibration and electro-magnetic interference if the train were allowed to run along Montview Boulevard. RTD has described this as the most significant design change encountered on any of its passenger rail projects. Coincidentally, Stapleton benefited from that realignment because it moved the rail corridor away from Stapleton’s frontage on Peoria Street. Originally, the R Line was going to exit the Anschutz campus at Montview, travel north on the east side of Peoria Street, then cross Peoria at a diagonal at the 25th Avenue intersection.