N(ext) Line: RTD begins testing northbound rail

Thornton to Denver service slated for Spring 2020

Posted 4/24/19

As Metro Denver commuters celebrate the long-awaited westbound train line between Denver and Wheat Ridge Friday, Commerce City, Northglenn and Thornton residents could start hearing some train horns …

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N(ext) Line: RTD begins testing northbound rail

Thornton to Denver service slated for Spring 2020

Posted

As Metro Denver commuters celebrate the long-awaited westbound train line between Denver and Wheat Ridge Friday, Commerce City, Northglenn and Thornton residents could start hearing some train horns of their own.

RTD officials said they’ll be running a powered train car along the long-fallow N-Line this week, with horns announcing the train as it near the five at-grade crossings along its path.

Those tests will continue with increasing frequency this summer, with a now-planned beginning of service in the spring of 2020.

“We’re having a celebration now with one line opening, so here’s to hoping we’ll have another in a year,” said RTD Board Member Vince Buzek. Buzek represents District J.

RTD is scheduled to debut the western spur of its FasTracks plan April 26, running regular service between Downtown Denver’s Union Station and Ward Road in Wheat Ridge, with stops along the way at Sheridan Boulevard and Olde Town Arvada. The grand opening comes almost two years after the line was originally scheduled to open, thanks to delays with software and signals along the route’s 15 at-grade crossings.

The N-Line was announced at the same time in 2013 and originally scheduled to begin service in 2018. Cities rushed to finish building stations and other developments along the route.

RTD representative Lisa Trujillo said the N-Line tracks are complete now and testing began in March — first by pulling a frame the same size as a train car up the track. That was to make sure the train would fit, without running into overhead wires, lights or other obstructions.

That test was followed by a dead-car pull on March 28. A small engine slowly pulled a full set of cars up the track.

Powered cars began moving along the route on April 15.

“This is the next step, and the train is only supposed to be traveling about five miles per hour,” Trujillo said. “It’s very slow, especially at the beginning, but it will ramp up.”

The trains will be blowing their horns each time they approach a road crossing and flaggers will be on duty to warn drivers, in addition to crossing arms.

“We have messages going out to the people in the area,” she said. “We do have to blow horns at all of the at-grade crossings, but there are only five at-grade crossings.”

Trujillo said the trains will be tested regularly this summer, with speeds increasing as the year wears on. Tests could occur anytime from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday — with occasional Saturdays as well.

`Fingers crossed’

RTD officials said they have their fingers crossed the route will open according to the new timeline. Buzek said he’s confident it won’t suffer the delays that plagued the G-Line.

“There is always a little trepidation because of how they got burned on the G-Line, but they are pretty confident about the spring of 2020,” Buzek said.

The N-Line benefits from RTD’s experience as well as some other factors, he said.

“First of all, we learned some lessons with the testing for the earlier lines,” Buzek said. “They’ve been able to go in and fix the software problems. It took a long time to fix, but it’s better now. And we have fewer crossings and then we don’t have to share it with the commercial traffic. We have Union Pacific and Burlington Northern trains that are blowing through the G Line. So, fortunately, the N-Line does not have that.”

The 13-mile-long route leaves Union Station and travels northeast to National Western Center at 48th and Brighton. There, it turns north and snakes it way through Commerce City and Northglenn before ending at Thornton’s Eastlake Station at about 124th and Claude Court.

Trujillo said she’s been working with local schools to teach students and bus drivers to be aware of the new conditions.

“We are deep into our process regarding public safety and education,” she said.

Further FasTracks

Buzek said the board committed April 15 to expansions beyond the current work, including expanding the N-Line north of Eastlake up to Colorado Highway 7 and expanding the B-Line, which runs from downtown to Westminster Station at about 70th and Federal Boulevard. Plans call for running that line north from Westminster through Boulder and on to Longmont, eventually.

“But the board has now recommitted, and are letting the world know, that we are committing to finishing all of the unfinished FasTracks corridors,” Buzek said.

RTD will post flaggers and trains will blow horns this at five at-grade crossings along the N-Line during the testing phase.

The crossings are at:

Steele Street, north of 78th Place

Thornton Parkway west of Welby Road

East 100th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard

East 112th Avenue west of York Street

East 124th and Claude Court

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