‘R’ is for almost ready to roll light rail in Aurora

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AURORA | Residents are starting to see the train roll down the tracks before the Aurora “R” line opens this winter.

Since July, Regional Transportation District engineers have been testing the train on several segments of the Aurora “R” Line, the 10.5-mile Interstate 225 light rail system will connect the East Commuter Rail Line through Aurora to Nine Mile Station and metro Denver’s Southeast Corridor Light Rail.

“Before we open the line for service, we test all the elements of the rail system to verify that the construction produced a safe and reliable operating rail line,” said Aurora RTD Project Manager Chuck Culig. “This will include testing of the train and traffic equipment at all the crossings and intersections within the city of Aurora.”

So far, the train has been tested to see how well it does running under its own power from Nine Mile Station to East Exposition Avenue. It’s currently being tested from South Abilene Street and East Exposition Avenue through the Aurora Metro Center Station near the Aurora Municipal Center. Culig said that by September, RTD will be testing the train along the rest of the Aurora line that eventually connects with Peoria Station at Interstate 70 where passengers can transfer to the East Rail Line. Also known as the University of Colorado “A” line, the East Rail runs 22 miles from Denver Union Station to Denver International Airport.

When asked whether the “R” line could be plagued by similar power issues that in recent months have left passengers stranded on the East Rail, Culig said the possibility is unlikely.

“That’s the process we’re going through with this testing, to make sure we don’t have those issues,” he said.

The commuter cars used for the “A” line are the state’s first electric commuter rail cars and can travel at 79 miles per hour versus a light rail car, which can only go up to 55 miles per hour, according to RTD.  Culig said the “A” line also runs on AC voltage whereas light rail cars run on DC voltage.

He pointed to the success of light rail lines such as the “W” line in Golden, which opened in 2013, and other suburban RTD light rail lines that have opened with few problems.

“We’ve done this before, we’re more familiar with this process,” Culig said.

The “R” line includes 1,800 parking spaces and eight new stations that will extend north from the existing Nine Mile Station. The Aurora-Denver commute should take 40 minutes on the “R” line, with trains running every 10 minutes at peak times and every 15 minutes in off-peak hours, according to RTD.