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The Denver Infill Blog, a excellent blog that is covering what is happening in the downtown Denver area, has just done a three part series on the Denver Union Station project. The project includes three parts including Commuter Rail, Bus Service and Light Rail. The project is centralized around the historic Denver Union station.
Here are the three entries from the blog:
Denver Union Station Plan: Light Rail
Denver Union Station Plan: Bus Terminal
Denver Union Station Plan: Commuter Rail
First some observations about the plan.
In the last couple of years I have made a few trips to Denver for meetings. Usually I will ride Amtrak into Union Station and ride the light rail line out to my motel. There is actually several nice hotels/motels located along the Southeast Light Rail line.
Right now I can get off the train walk over to the light rail platform and catch my train. Now I will have to walk two blocks from the Zephyr over to the light rail platform. Right now the area is not appealing but the may change once the project comes to fruition. However, I will also be carrying luggage which will make the journey harder.
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Another problem I see with the plan is that people arriving the the commuter trains will also have to make this walk if they wish to catch a light rail train. While it is only two blocks, how many people would want to get off of Front Runner then walk two blocks to board a TRAX train? Chances are fewer than do it now.
To make transit more attractive you need to make it try to make it convenient. Making people walk two blocks to change from Commuter Rail to light rail does not make it more convenient.
The Denver Union Station plan also has the same problem as our Intermodal Terminal and that is a lack of expansion room for an expanded rail passenger system. Most of the tracks at Denver Union Station are already set aside for Denver's commuter trains, plus one for Amtrak and another track that can be used by the ski train if it gets restarted (until this year Denver had a train that would travel up to the ski resorts at Winter Park) and in fact the lack of room was blamed in part for the ski train's demise.
If or when the day comes that we start expanding our long distance rail passenger network to make it a true network, Denver Union Station will have a tough time accommodating the growth. In addition there is little expansion room if Denver decides to expand its commuter rail network in the future.
We face the same problem here in Salt Lake. There is little expansion room at the current Central Station which could create conflicts if we see an expansion of our intercity train network. Even Front Runner is hemmed in by Amtrak and would be hard pressed to expand without a major expensive expansion project.
While the Denver plan is visionary and will make some wonderful changes to the area, it is important that when we make this kind of changes, the passenger is considered first and the future expansion is taken into consideration whether that be in Denver, Salt Lake City or any other project of this nature.