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What is RTD Light Rail?

By T. L. Childree
Updated May 23, 2024
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RTD light rail is a mass transit system operated by the Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Denver, Colorado. It began as a 5-mile (about 8 km) section of track in 1994 and was eventually expanded to provide both rail and bus service to much of the Denver metropolitan area. RTD light rail currently operates six different rail lines containing over 39 miles (about 63 km) miles of track, along with 36 railway stations. In addition to its rail lines, RTD also provides over 150 local, express, and limited bus routes throughout the Denver area.

The first section of RTD light rail was opened to the public in October of 1994. The district offered free service to riders for the first two days to introduce passengers to the new system. It is believed that over 200,000 people took advantage of the free ride during that time period. Various extensions were added to the rail line from 2000 through 2006, including a 19 mile (31 km) stretch of double track along the Interstate 25 highway known as the Southeast Corridor. RTD light initially began with only 11 light rail cars, but now operates more than 125 of these vehicles.

The primary services provided by RTD include both bus and train routes. Bus routes are operated as regional, local, or express services, while light rail service is split into four different zones. Local bus routes provide service within two light rail zones, while express routes cover three zones. Regional bus routes offer service within all four light rail zones.

In addition to its regularly scheduled bus routes, RTD light rail also offers other types of special bus services. These special services include a taxi-type service known as call-n-ride that will pick passengers up from a particular location and transport them to the destination of their choice. Another special bus service is known as free-mall-ride and provides courtesy transportation to Denver’s 16th Street shopping mall. RTD also offers a direct bus service to the Denver International Airport from several different locations.

Special bus services to major sporting events are also provided by RTD light rail. A program known as Broncos-ride offers direct bus service to and from Denver’s football stadium when professional football games are being played. Rockies-ride is a similar special bus service that provides transportation to and from Denver’s major league baseball field during baseball season. In addition to these special bus services, RTD light rail also offers a program known as access-a-ride which provides transportation for people with disabilities.

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