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Commuter Rail vs. Light Rail


Up until now, RTD's train system has consisted entirely of light rail. But most of the rail lines currently under construction are being built for a new type of train to RTD.

It's called commuter rail and the differences between the two are significant.

Side by side comparison of commuter rail train and light rail train

Rail Technology Quick Comparison


 Commuter Rail
 Light Rail
Powered by 25kV alternating current overhead electrical systemPowered by 750 V direct current by overhead electrical system
Typically serves longer lines with fewer stationsCan operate along crowded, narrow streets
Can operate up to 79 mph
Can accelerate and decelerate quickly; top speed 55 mph
Capacity of 91 seats, 79 standing for 170 total
Capacity of 64 seats, 91 standing for 155 total
Used on East Rail Line, Gold Line, first segment Northwest Rail Line, North Metro Rail Line
Used on Southeast corridor, Southwest corridor, Central corridor, West Rail Line, I-225 Rail Line
Housed at Commuter Rail Maintenance FacilityHoused at Elati Light Rail Maintenance Facility


Light Rail
RTD's light rail is a passenger train powered by overhead electrical wires. It has a lighter frame and smaller body than most other trains, thus its name "light" rail.

Because of its "lighter" size and tighter turning radius, light rail has the ability to operate along crowded city streets and in urban corridors with frequent stops, where quick acceleration and deceleration are necessary.

Commuter Rail Frequently Asked Questions
Who manufactures this train? Hyundai Rotem USA, a leading railcar manufacturer that has produced more than 15,000 electric and diesel railcars. Over 60 percent of the vehicle components are made in America.

Why do you use two cars (married pairs?) RTD will use married pairs for the East Rail Line to the airport, Gold Line, the first segment of the Northwest Rail and the North Metro Rail Line. Married pairs are more cost effective to use. They also allow a better use of space as an operating cab is not needed at each end of each car.

Why not use light rail vehicles? The freight railroads whose corridors we are sharing require RTD to use heavier commuter rail cars that comply with Federal Railroad Administration safety standards. Additionally, commuter rail vehicles travel faster than light rail - with a top operating speed of 79 mph vs. 55 for light rail - and are therefore the mode of choice on longer rail lines such as the 23-mile East Rail Line to Denver International Airport.

What kind of storage do commuter rail vehicles have? Commuter rail cars have a higher storage capacity than existing light rail, including on-board bike racks and baggage storage areas, which will be especially helpful for commuters and passengers riding to Denver International Airport.

What will the fare be on commuter rail? A new fare structure and rates will be in effect when the commuter rail lines open in 2016. Follow this link for information about the fares.
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