Jim Intriglia

Renaissance Soul, Unleashed.

Riding RTD’s ‘A’ Train to Denver International Airport

A Good Transportation Alternative
During Colorado’s Long Winter Months

View of new Denver RTD University of Colorado Station at Denver International Airport (Photo: Jim Intriglia)

View of new Denver RTD University of Colorado Station at Denver International Airport (Photo: Jim Intriglia)

The announcement of Denver’s new ‘A’ Train service to Denver International Airport (DIA) early this Summer brought to mind several things to mind for those of us who travel to DIA:

  • Avoiding the hazard of driving snow-packed, icy roads when going to or from the airport during Colorado’s long winter season

  • Saving money on gas and parking by using public transportation rather than our personal vehicles

  • The option of dropping off or picking up family, friends and colleagues at a RTD Light Rail station rather than doing the drive to the airport

According to RTD’s Airport Service web page, ‘A’ Line trains depart to and from the airport every 15 minutes throughout the day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Early morning and late evening trips depart every 30 minutes.

For just $9, a Regional Day Pass can be purchased, which is good for travel anywhere in the RTD system, including riding a new ‘A’ Line train to DIA.

Deciding it was time to check out Denver’s new RTD University of Colorado ‘A’ Line train service to DIA, I ventured out one morning rush hour to experience a trip to the airport via RTD Light Rail service and commuter rail service.

What’s it Like Taking RTD Light Rail to Union Station?

RTD Lincoln Station Light Rail stop, Lone Tree, Colorado

RTD Lincoln Station Light Rail stop, Lone Tree, Colorado

In checking RTD’s Light Rail train schedules for my trip downtown, I noticed ‘E’ Line trains depart Lincoln Station in the City of Lone Tree every 30 minutes, with the final stop at Denver’s historic Union Station. The University of Colorado ‘A’ train to DIA departs Track 1, which is located just outside of Union Station.

Traveling to RTD Light Rail Station.  Leaving my home in Parker at 6:50am, I completed the twenty-minute trip by car to the RTD Lincoln Station Park & Ride in Lone Tree. After parking my car in the RTD public parking garage, I validated by RTD Light Rail ticket and checked the cost to park my car for the day, using the automated kiosks provided.

After entering my vehicles license plate number, I learned it would be free park my car for a 24-hour period. That saves me the typical $7 to $9 a day charge to park at an off-site airport parking facility or $13 per day charge to park at the airport. Sweet!

On-board the 'E' Train Bound for Union Station.  At 7:10am, I boarded the next ‘E’ train bound for Union Station, which is located in downtown Denver. According to the RTD Trip Planner, the time to travel to DIA is estimated at one hour and thirty-six minutes. The train was mostly empty, so I had plenty of options as to where to sit for the trip downtown.

After debarking the RTD Light Rail E Trail, it's a short city-block walk to Union Station. The University of Colorado 'A' train leaves for DIA on Track 1 (hidden behind the Amtrak train).  

After debarking the RTD Light Rail E Trail, it's a short city-block walk to Union Station. The University of Colorado 'A' train leaves for DIA on Track 1 (hidden behind the Amtrak train).  

The A Train on Track 1 bound for DIA departs every 15 minutes weekdays throughout the day.

The A Train on Track 1 bound for DIA departs every 15 minutes weekdays throughout the day.

At 8:08am, we arrived at the end of the line for the ‘E’ train, the Union Station stop. All passengers enroute to DIA debark the train and make way for Union Station for the connecting ‘A’ train to the airport.

Riding the ‘A’ Train from Union Station to Denver International Airport.  After a few minutes walk to the historic Union Station building, I board the University of Colorado ‘A’ train that is waiting for passengers on Track 1.

Onboard the ‘A’ train, I find the air-conditioned train car is roomy and comfortable, with rows of two and three across seating with ample above seating storage for suitcases and travel bags. There is room for under seat storage if you choose to keep you travel bag with you for easy access during the trip.

At 8:16am, the train departs Union Station, with only a handful of seats remaining unoccupied. Plenty of overhead space is still available for travelers suitcases and travel bags. There is a space on the car for passengers in wheelchairs, and an area where travelers with bicycles can secure their bike for the trip to the airport.

Aboard an A Train bound for DIA. The air-conditioned cars were roomy, clean and comfortable. For business travelers, you could easily open your laptop and get some work done on the way to the airport.

Aboard an A Train bound for DIA. The air-conditioned cars were roomy, clean and comfortable. For business travelers, you could easily open your laptop and get some work done on the way to the airport.

As the A train progressed through each of the six station stops en-route to Denver International Airport, the empty seat filled with passengers laden with suitcases and travel bags. Though most of the seats were filled after departing the 61st and Pena station, there was still plenty of overhead storage rack space to accommodate passenger baggage. 

At 8:48am, thirty minutes after we depart Union Station, the ‘A’ line train pulls into the RTD facility at Denver International Airport. Total travel time to the airport: one hour and 48 minutes.

What are the Benefits of Using Denver's
RTD Light Rail Service to DIA?

Avoiding Hazards of the Drive to DIA during the Long Winter Months

When traveling Colorado’s interstates, highways, and roads from November to May, it’s common to experience:

  • Vehicles stuck on partially plowed, snow-packed and icy roadways.
  • Drivers and vehicles that are ill-equipped to safely travel in snow, snow-pack and icy road conditions.
  • Truck and automobile accidents that cause significant traffic delays and road closures.
  • Shortage of available parking spots at airport and off-site parking facilities after a snow event, due to the time and manpower needed to clear parking lot spaces and area.

By choosing to use RTD’s Light Rail system, you avoid missed flights and delayed passenger pickup at the airport due to stuck vehicles, traffic accidents and congested highways due to snow and icy road conditions.

Concerns about finding a place to park your vehicle are eliminated, as the RTD ‘A’ train station is within the DIA airport facility. Parking costs, which can exceed $100 for a two-week trip, are eliminated, which can add-up to a significant cost-savings for frequent travelers.

Rather than driving to DIA to pick-up passengers, have them take the ‘A’ train and then use the RTD system to catch a train to an RTD station that is closer to their final destination. This will save time and eliminates the drive to the airport along with airport parking fees.

Eliminating Costly Airport Vehicle Parking Fees

The added cost of parking your vehicle comes with decision to leave your car at DIA when traveling. Consider the cost to park your car for a typical one-week business trip departing DIA:

Estimated cost to use parking options at Denver International Airport

Estimated cost to use parking options at Denver International Airport

As you can see, for a typical week-long business trip, the cost of parking your vehicle at DIA will range from $144 to park in the covered garage, to $78 for Economy parking. Taking the train to the airport eliminates parking fees, saving you a considerable amount of money, especially so for frequent travelers.

Significantly Reducing the Cost of a Trip to the Airport

The cost of using a typical shared airport shuttle service to travel to or from DIA is about $50. Instead of paying this cost, many people instead choose to drive their personal vehicles to DIA to pickup or drop-off passengers.

For example, when I drive from my home in Parker to DIA to pickup a friend or family member, my usual practice is to take the E-470 toll road for the 25 minute drive to the airport. While this option gets me to DIA in a short amount of time, the cost of this trip is not insignificant, especially when making multiple trips during the year. Consider:

  • $16 for round trip to DIA via E-470.

  • Wear and tear on vehicle; gas/electric expense for 48-mile round-trip to and from airport

  • $4/hour fee for short-term parking

So, how I can save time and the cost of a trip to the airport, while providing friends or family members with a cost-effective and convenient means to travel from DIA to their final destinations in Metro-Denver and the suburbs?

Rather than opting to drive to DIA to pick-up passengers, I can ask them instead to go to the RTD transportation area located on Level 1 of the airport. After purchasing an inexpensive RTD ticket, they board the next ‘A’ train bound for Union Station.

Once at Union Station, it’s a short walk to the RTD Light Rail Pavilion, where they can board the next ‘E’ train (and coming soon, ‘R’ train), where I can then pick them up at either the Lincoln or Arapahoe RTD stations.

As an added bonus, my passengers or I can arrange for a Uber or Lyft driver to meet them on arrival at an RTD Light Rail station. The cost of local trip via the Uber or Lyft service is considerably less than using a local taxi service. Choosing to use Uber or Lyft eliminates the need for me to pickup or drop-off my passengers.

Thwart Thieves, Vandals and Hit-and-Run Airport Drivers

My experience has been that security at DIA airport and offsite private parking facilities is good. Leaving your personal vehicle in the airport for an extended time however, increases the risk that you will become a victim of auto-theft, vandals, or careless drivers who carelessly damage your vehicle and leave you with the bill for repairs.

  • Leaving your vehicle at home avoids the risk of your vehicle being vandalized or stolen while in left unattended in RTD or airport parking facilities.

  • Avoid costly damage to your car in parking areas by careless hit-and-run drivers.

  • Save considerable money on parking fees and transportation costs.

When Personal Transportation is Unavailable

Some families share a single vehicle, so leaving a shared vehicle at airport parking is not an option. When a single vehicle is shared by multiple people, using Uber and Lyft coupled with Light Rail train service provides a viable means to access DIA.

All vehicles require regular maintenance, which is often scheduled by appointment weeks in advance. Vehicles sometimes experience engine trouble or mechanical failures, such as a flat tire, which can lead to delays and a missed flight in the scramble to find alternate transportation to the airport.

Through the use of Uber and Lfyt, or a friend/family member, you can leave your vehicle with the mechanic, and get to DIA via Light Rail service and catch your flight.

More Options to Make Productive Use of Travel Time

By choosing to use Light Rail to travel to and from DIA, you have the option during your trip to the airport, to complete important work, listen to an audiobook or music, or just relax and enjoy the ride.

There is ample room to work comfortably on the trains. If working en-route to the airport is not for you, engage a passenger in conversation, catch-up on your reading, grab a short nap or just enjoy the scenery and the trip.

Feedback and suggestions toward improving this article are welcome.

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Jim Intriglia is a Travel Blogger who likes to explore public transportation options for business commuting and leisure travel. A seasoned New York City and Metro-Denver transit system traveler, he writes about his experience using public transport facilities including trains, planes, bus, taxies, and new, innovative means of public transportation.

 

 

 

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