By Jesse Wilson
If you live in the metro Denver area, and if you need to connect with your flight out of Denver International Airport (DIA), you’ve got options. You can drive and park, or get someone to drive and drop you off, or ride a taxi or shuttle or Uber (cha-ching). Or you can ride the new University of Colorado A-Train to DIA: $9 for a 37-minute ride one way per person. But I’ve got questions:
- How long does it really take from where I live?
- Does it really save money?
- How easy is the train experience?
- And ultimately, is the A-Train really worth it?
HOW LONG DOES IT REALLY TAKE FROM WHERE I LIVE?
One of the most prominent stats being mentioned is that it takes just 37 minutes to get from Union station to DIA. That sounds great… but not everyone lives right next to Union Station. As someone who lives in one of Denver’s south suburbs, I wanted to find out how long it would take to get to the airport from where I live.
I have to leave home around 9:50am to catch the C Line train that leaves Littleton-Mineral Station at 10:12am. This includes all the time I need to drive, park, unload my luggage, and buy my ticket with enough spare minutes to ensure I don’t miss my train. The C line takes me to Union Station where I switch lines to the A-Train, that brings me right under the security area at Denver International Airport at about 11:40am. My journey took me about 1 hour, 50 minutes from my front door to the airport, whereas I can drive and park in about 55 minutes.
WARNING: If you’re planning to park at a light rail station on a weekday, keep in mind that many parking lots fill up with commuters by 7:30am.
Plus, it’s then that I remembered that it would be just as long a trip to get back home when my return flight landed. That doesn’t sound fun on the way back if my plane lands after midnight, not to mention the transfer through downtown at 1:00am.
DOES IT REALLY SAVE MONEY?
An RTD ticket to the airport is just $9.00 from anywhere on the RTD system, not just Union Station. So you DON’T need to get a regular RTD ticket to get to Union Station, and then pay the $9 to get from there to the airport. You just need one pass and it will cover you all day, which is a pretty good deal. And RTD offers half-price fares of $4.50 to seniors (65+), students age 6 – 19 with ID, Medicare recipients, and individuals with disabilities.
While $9 sounds cheap, remember to double it for the return journey. Plus, this continues to multiply if traveling with a group. A family of 4 taking the A-Train will cost $72 round-trip, more than the airport parking I would have paid for a few days using my AAA discount at The Parking Spot. Then again, if you’re gone 10 days or more, or traveling solo, then taking the A-Train could save you a lot of money!
HOW EASY IS THE TRAIN EXPERIENCE?
When coming from beyond the downtown area like me, you’ll likely take one of the regular light rail lines to Union Station and switch lines. However, it’s a 5-minute walk to get to Rail Platform 1, all while dragging any luggage you have across a Denver city street. For those unsure of where to go, RTD has placed number of helpful signs letting travelers know they are headed the right way. This doesn’t seem so bad in the midday sun, but as mentioned earlier, seems far less enjoyable during the dark of night, or when there is snow on the ground.
The A-Train has plenty of seats arranged for various group sizes and facing both directions; there are compartments for carry-on luggage over the seats and larger luggage near the doors. I’m surprised at how full the train is mid-morning on a Thursday. I was expecting to be one of a handful of travelers at this time, but it’s about 70% full. I imagine the carriage is completely packed on Fridays and Sundays which may make the experience a little less comfortable.
Exiting the train puts you on a platform just under the new Westin Hotel on the south side of the airport. At the end of the platform are escalators that passengers can take up to the south security line area, which is especially convenient for anyone who has already checked-in to their flight and doesn’t need to check luggage. But if you do need to check bags, don’t walk past the multi-airline baggage check just to the right of the escalators. If you’re flying United, American, Southwest, or Delta, you can check-in and drop-off your suitcases, then just hop into the security line at the top of the escalator. This may prove to be one of the A-Train greatest advantages for travelers looking to skip long check-in lines.
So is the A-Train to DIA really worth it? For some, the University of Colorado A-Train is a great option for getting to DIA. For others like me who live further away or travel with a larger group, you’ve got options.
For a complete listing of estimated travel times, use RTD’s Trip Planner tool at rtd-denver.com.
How’s your experience been riding the University of Colorado A-Train? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below.