Northwest Rail Peak Service Study

In Progress

At the end of 2022, the RTD Study Team confirmed the existing conditions, local plans and commitments in Milestones 1 and 2. Milestone 3 efforts, which define the Base Configuration to build and operate Peak Service refined as outstanding infrastructure needs are further identified in the rail corridor.

The study schedule is continuing to flex to ensure coordination with BNSF, FRPR, local agencies and organizations and state agency partners is meaningful and productive while establishing a common set of facts.

RTD just hosted another round of two public open houses that provided new information about the Northwest Rail Peak Service Study, including siding locations, ongoing community partnerships, and benefits and impacts for the proposed commuter rail between Longmont and Denver.

Couldn’t make the open houses? There is still an opportunity to learn more and provide input!

Access the self-guided online meeting anytime now until Dec. 8, 2023. The same information from the open houses is presented and there is the opportunity to provide feedback and submit questions. The self-guided online meeting will also be available in Spanish.

For further information, call 720-881-0778 or e-mail [email protected].

Thank you and we look forward to your participation!

Check out the self-guided online meeting here.


Project Overview

2022 - 2023

Over a period of approximately 24 months, the Northwest Rail Peak Service Study will identify the requirements, costs, and operational needs to upgrade existing track, develop rail stations, and provide peak service to northwestern metropolitan communities, which include Arvada, Westminster, Broomfield, Louisville, Boulder and Longmont.

The first section of the Northwest Rail, known as the B Line, currently operates between Denver Union Station and Westminster Station at 72nd Avenue. Findings and implementation recommendations from the Study will help RTD and partners determine the feasibility of extending rail service through an initial peak service approach. The continuation of the Northwest Rail to Longmont offers opportunities for possible partnership with agencies like the Front Range Passenger Rail District.

As in other regions around the country where commuter rail service is implemented in phases as ridership grows, the Peak Service Plan will take steps to preserve future service expansion options.

What's New?

Our work continues to define the Base Configuration that would provide Peak Service. The RTD Study Team is currently conducting the following efforts:

  • Understanding and incorporating the requirements of the freight railroad owner, BNSF Railway, whose preliminary design work has started and is expected to be completed in the first half of 2024
  • Evaluating how Peak Service would operate along the Northwest Rail
  • Determining which partnerships are needed to be successful
  • Identifying cost and funding needs for RTD Peak Service
  • Understanding how Front Range Passenger Rail (FRPR) might fit into the same corridor and ensure that Peak Service would not preclude operational and partnership plans

About Us

The Northwest Rail Peak Service Study is part of a continuing collaborative effort between RTD, local transportation partners and community stakeholders to identify and address mobility solutions for peak period service along the Northwest Rail alignment extending from Westminster Station to Boulder and Longmont.

Study Snapshot

  • Planning service delivery for the 35-mile segment from the existing B Line Westminster Station to future Longmont Station
  • Partnering with local jurisdictions to plan for and conceptually design six new stations: Downtown Westminster (88th Avenue), Broomfield (116th Avenue), Flatiron, Downtown Louisville, Boulder Junction, and Downtown Longmont
  • Identify preferred maintenance facility locations near the end-of-line station in Longmont
  • Coordinating with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) which owns the rail line; Peak Service would operate on existing BNSF tracks
  • Evaluate potential vehicle types to meet operational requirements

Study Goals

The process to reach an acceptable recommendation will be inclusive, equitable, transparent, and honest. The Study has three goals:

  • Provide updated engineering plans and cost estimates to determine peak service recommendations
    • Establish existing conditions inventory
    • Determine requirements to implement peak service operation
    • Estimate capital, operations, maintenance costs
  • Design in a manner to not preclude future build-out
  • Align RTD strategically with the agency’s stated goals of partnering with external stakeholders

Study Milestones

The decision-making process will take place through a series of five milestones focused on achieving a common understanding of current conditions and considerations for the path forward. The process will involve engagement from stakeholders, technical advisors, public officials, project partners and study team members. In-person and online public engagement opportunities will be held during milestones 3, 4, and 5 to share study milestone results and gather input. Look for events and public input opportunities in the 60-day look ahead section of this page.

RTD wants to hear from you. Your comments will help inform the study considerations. Click here to provide your input or sign up for our newsletter.

Northwest Rail Line Video Flyover

Northwest Rail Study Overview

Frequently Asked Questions

Study Overview

What is the Northwest Rail Peak Service Study?

The Study is a continuing collaborative effort between RTD, local transportation partners, and northwest area community stakeholders. Together, the Study team aims to provide a rail solution to the northwest area by evaluating commuter rail operations along the existing BNSF Railway railroad tracks during the busiest travel and commute times – or peak periods (morning and afternoon). Over 24 months, the Study will identify the requirements, costs, and operational needs to upgrade existing track, develop rail stations, and provide peak service along the Northwest Rail Line running from the existing Westminster Station at 72nd Avenue to Boulder and terminating in Longmont. The Study will determine the best approach for peak period service, which includes three weekday morning trips from Longmont to Denver and three weekday evening trips from Denver to Longmont.

Why is RTD undertaking the Study now?

As part of the 2013 Northwest Area Mobility Study (NAMS), RTD and northwest area stakeholders were (and currently remain) committed to assessing Northwest Rail implementation strategies and keeping the public informed of progress. The ongoing efforts of the Study offer a unique opportunity for RTD to partner with Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the Front Range Passenger Rail (FRPR) District to advance the regional mobility conversation. RTD is working collaboratively with CDOT to identify and establish a common set of facts between these two regional projects.

What are the goals of the Study?

The Study has four primary goals:

  1. Provide updated engineering plans and cost estimates to determine Peak Service recommendations
  2. Identify all risks and mitigations to RTD and the communities impacted along the alignment
  3. Design in a manner to preserve opportunities to expand service in the future (the full-build vision)
  4. Align RTD strategically with the agency’s stated goals of partnering with external stakeholders such as the corridor communities, CDOT, and the FRPR District.

Peak Service Details

When will Northwest Rail Peak Service begin?

Currently, there is no planned start date for revenue service. The Study is determining the feasibility of implementing Peak Service, which includes identifying costs and operational requirements. The year 2030 is being used as a “future” year for costs and benefits comparison. This information will enable RTD and the Northwest Rail stakeholders to seek funding opportunities for peak period service implementation.

What are the proposed stations for this Northwest Rail Peak Service?

As part of the FasTracks plan in 2004 and subsequent studies and agency coordination, the following stations were selected for Northwest Rail Peak Service. There are four existing stations and six proposed stations for Peak Service:

  • Existing Stations (4)
    • Denver Union Station
    • 41st•Fox (B and G lines)
    • Pecos Junction (B and G lines)
    • Westminster – 72nd (B Line)
  • Proposed Stations (6)
    • Downtown Westminster
    • Broomfield - 116th
    • Flatiron (Broomfield)
    • Downtown Louisville
    • Boulder Junction at Depot Square
    • Downtown Longmont

How does Peak Service compare to the 2010 full-build vision for Northwest Rail?

In the Northwest Rail Corridor Final Environmental Evaluation (EE) study conducted in 2010, the Northwest Rail full-build scenario anticipates operation of 55 trains daily. Considering the challenges with a dedicated funding source for the full-build scenario, the Study offers a phased approach for providing rail service within the northwest region. The Study proposes three weekday morning trips from Longmont to Denver and three weekday evening trips from Denver to Longmont. RTD and the Northwest Rail stakeholders anticipate that when peak service commences, it will garner more support and attract more captive transit customers required for full-build service expansion. This phased approach could provide an effective way to achieve the future full-build vision.

Infrastructure for Peak Service

What infrastructure changes may be needed to support Peak Service Commuter Rail?

Introducing commuter rail service is more complex than adding passenger trains to the existing railroad track from Westminster to Longmont. The process would involve establishing an operations agreement with BNSF Railway and other factors including safety upgrades to the track and new freight sidings (passing track). Peak Service will also require new rail vehicles to accommodate existing and proposed stations. Additionally, a new commuter rail maintenance facility and new stations with Park-n-Ride lots must be considered to provide commuter rail service that is consistently maintained and accessible for all customers.

What is a freight siding?

A freight siding is a track built parallel to the main track that allows trains to pass. Building short siding segments throughout the rail alignment is less expensive and has fewer land use impacts than building a second track the entire length of the railway. Based on information shared by BNSF Railway in 2017, four sidings, approximately one- to two-miles in length, are anticipated to effectively operate Peak Service while allowing the BNSF Railway to maintain freight operations. Freight trains would be directed to the sidings while commuter rail passenger trains operate during the peak periods. RTD is currently partnering with BNSF Railway to assess the 2017 operating assumptions to determine required sidings and locations for the peak period operations.

What is the maintenance facility, and where will it be located?

As part of the Northwest Rail Peak Service Study, RTD is evaluating potential sites near the proposed Downtown Longmont station for a future maintenance facility. The facility would clean, maintain, fuel, and repair commuter trains, and the trains would be stored at the facility when they’re not in service. The Commuter Rail Facility at 5151 Fox St. in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood is similar to the facility needed to support Northwest Rail. The maintenance facility is vital for bringing sustainable and reliable commuter rail service to northwest area communities.

RTD initially identified 9 potential sites. Six sites were eliminated through a screening process that considered constructability, planned development, and environmental impacts. Three potential sites remain for further study:

  • East of Martin Street, south of the BNSF Railway tracks, and north of Longmont’s Wastewater Treatment Plant.
  • North of Sugar Mill Road and south of the Great Western Railway tracks.
  • North of the Great Western Railway tracks and south of East Rogers Road.

Why these sites?

  • In close proximity to the end-of-line Downtown Longmont Station
  • Border an existing rail track that can connect to proposed Northwest Rail tracks
  • Large enough for a rail maintenance facility with space to support all-day rail service in the future

At this time, there are no approved plans to acquire property or construct the facility.

  • RTD continues to assess potential sites for constructability, suitability, and impacts to local communities.
  • Study findings and recommendations will inform next steps for the facility.

Funding

Why has the Northwest Rail Line not already been constructed with FasTracks funding?

Since FasTracks was passed in 2004, RTD has encountered challenges implementing the full-build vision, including substantially escalated project costs, lack of immediately available funding, and evolving operations requirements.

So then, how could RTD fund Peak Service?

The Study is developing capital construction and operating cost estimates so RTD, local transportation providers, and community stakeholders have a common set of facts. The Study will provide valuable information about potential funding sources for peak service. RTD remains committed to collaborating with local transportation providers and community stakeholders to identify local, state, federal, and private funding sources that could be used to advance Northwest Rail with peak service and beyond.

Study Process & Engagement

What is the Study development process?

The work will be accomplished within a series of “Milestone” decision points to encourage participation and meaningful input from stakeholders and the public. Throughout each milestone, the Study Team meets with local representatives from each jurisdiction for input on station design plans and integrating the rail system into existing and planned infrastructure. These initial recommendations will be shared with the public and to gather input starting in early 2023. Ultimately, the Study will conclude with a report summarizing the infrastructure costs as well as the operations and maintenance requirements associated with providing Peak Service for the Preferred Configuration (the recommended track alignment with freight sidings, high-level station concepts, and commuter rail maintenance facility plans). This common set of facts will help RTD and local decision-makers determine if advancing the Peak Period commuter rail service is a viable investment.

How have you engaged the study area’s jurisdictions and transportation organizations?

In order to meet the project goal of partnering with project stakeholders, The Study Advisory Team is comprised of representatives from Boulder County; Boulder Transportation Connections; the cities of Arvada, Boulder, Longmont, Louisville, and Westminster; City and County of Broomfield, CDOT, Commuting Solutions, the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), and Front Range Passenger Rail District. The Study Advisory Team meets monthly to guide the development of the Study.

What is the Study’s decision-making commitment?

RTD is committed to being collaborative, inclusive, and transparent in the decision-making process to arrive at a consensus-driven peak period operating scenario. The decision-making process will occur through five milestones focused on achieving a common understanding of current challenges and considerations for bringing about train service as outlined in the FasTracks program. There will be public input opportunities throughout the milestone process, including in-person pop-up events, open houses, and online input opportunities. Additionally, the Study is identifying disadvantaged communities and evaluating the anticipated impacts and benefits of Northwest Rail to those communities. Community-based organizations representing low-income, communities of color, and other historically disadvantaged groups will be involved in the decision-making process.

How can I stay informed during the Study?

The Northwest Rail Peak Service Study is committed to providing timely and accurate information. The Study is organizing opportunities to provide public input through the project website, pop-up events, online self-guided meetings, and in-person events. Check the 60-Day Look Ahead section on the website for the most up-to-date information. Online and in-person opportunities will be posted on the Study website, shared through RTD social media, and promoted through community-based organizations and city partnerships.

How can I provide input on the Study?

  • Fill out an online comment card and sign-up for e-newsletters through the Study website.
  • Participate in a self-guided online meeting, pop-up events, or in-person open house. Check the Study website for details.

History

What is the history of Northwest Rail?

In 2004, the Denver metropolitan region, with strong support from the northwest area communities, voted to build the FasTracks Program. The FasTracks Program includes Northwest Rail, which is a commuter rail service from Denver Union Station to Longmont along the existing BNSF Railway. Since FasTracks was passed, RTD has encountered challenges implementing the full-build vision, including substantially escalated project costs, lack of immediately available funding, and evolving operations requirements.

In 2022, RTD, in collaboration with the northwest area stakeholders, CDOT, and DRCOG, began the Peak Service Study to keep the conversation moving forward. The advancement of the Front Range Passenger Rail makes this the right moment for the Peak Service Study. The Study puts RTD in a better position for possible collaboration with the FRPR District and CDOT.

Coordination with other transportation projects

How is Northwest Rail coordinating with Front Range Passenger Rail?

In 2022, the Colorado legislature established the FRPR District, a state agency to develop and ultimately operate a passenger rail system along the North Front Range. Representatives from FRPR District serve on the Study Advisory Team and are part of the Technical Representatives guiding the Northwest Rail Peak Service Study.

How does this Study relate to Bus Rapid Transit on US 36 and CO 119 and other transit corridors?

RTD initiated NAMS in 2013 to develop an agreement among RTD, CDOT, local transportation partners, and community stakeholders on cost-effective, immediate-term mobility improvements that address growing congestion and improve travel in the northwest region. NAMS confirmed the commitment to the longer-term implementation of Northwest Rail, as envisioned in FasTracks, while still constructing nearer-term Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on US 36 and CO 119, which parallel the Northwest Rail Line. The now-completed US 36 Project rebuilt the highway and implemented BRT through the Flatiron Flyer service between Boulder and Denver. The CO 119 Bus Rapid Transit Project is currently being completed in cooperation with CDOT and is proceeding with joint funding. The Study is coordinating with concurrent and adjacent transportation projects, like the Flatiron Flyer and CO 119 Bus Rapid Transit Project, to ensure Northwest Rail service is complementary.

Other RTD Services & Projects

Why is RTD investing in the Peak Service Study when transit service has not been restored to pre-pandemic levels?

RTD's ongoing commitment to FasTracks includes extending commuter rail service from Denver Union Station to Longmont. As part of the 2013 NAMS, RTD and northwest area stakeholders are committed to assessing Northwest Rail implementation strategies and keeping citizens abreast of the progress. The Study progresses the ongoing efforts of providing multi-modal mobility solutions within the northwest region. This current time offers a unique opportunity for RTD to partner with CDOT and FRPR District to advance the Northwest Rail conversation. RTD is committed to restoring transit service during regular service plan adjustments in accordance with the agency’s System Optimization Plan (SOP). For information on service planning and changes, visit RTD’s website.

Why is RTD investing in this Peak Service Study when other transit-reliant communities in the region lack transit service?

In 2004, the Denver metropolitan region, with strong support from the northwest area community, approved a tax to build the FasTracks transit system, which includes Northwest Rail. RTD is advancing this Peak Service Study as part of its commitment to the FasTracks Plan. As part of RTD’s core mission of transit service delivery, the agency is continually evaluating service for other communities as part of the agency’s regular service plan adjustments and other future projects within, and in addition to what is contained in the RTD System Optimization Plan.

How are you addressing the public’s comments about wanting a station at Niwot or Gunbarrel?  

In the Northwest Rail Corridor Final Environmental Evaluation (EE) study conducted in 2010, the Northwest Rail full-build scenario considered a station in the Gunbarrel/Niwot segment along CO 119. Due to the lack of a dedicated funding source for the full-build scenario, RTD is investigating the feasibility of a peak service concept for the Northwest Rail solution. The Study offers a phased approach for providing rail service within the Northwest region with a limited number of stops. As the Peak Service concept materialized, the Northwest area stakeholders, along with RTD, worked together to identify preferred station locations. RTD and the Northwest Rail stakeholders anticipate that if peak service commences, it will garner more support and attract more transit customers required to justify incremental service expansion. This phased approach could provide an effective way to achieve a full-build vision of the future.

Public feedback showed a desire for ‘reverse commute’ (trains in the morning from Denver to Longmont) and weeknight and weekend service. Is this Peak Service Study going to address that or is it for a future Northwest Rail effort? 

The Northwest Rail Corridor Final Environmental Evaluation (EE) conducted by RTD in 2010 describes the full-build scenario with all-day service and a lower level of weekend service. The level of service projected in the EE would require significant infrastructure, including a second track through the entire Northwest Rail corridor. The peak service concept is a first step to examine rail service to the northwest area that requires minimal infrastructure improvements while allowing for future service expansion. Reverse commute (Union Station to Longmont in the morning) will be studied further in a future effort.

How is Northwest Rail coordinating with Front Range Passenger Rail?

In 2021, the Colorado legislature established the Front Range Passenger Rail (FRPR) District to develop and ultimately operate an intercity passenger rail system from Pueblo to Fort Collins and extending into New Mexico and Wyoming in the future. Both Northwest Rail and FRPR are evaluating operating train service on the BNSF Railway freight tracks between Denver and Longmont.

The Northwest Rail and FRPR technical teams and stakeholders meet regularly to share data and information, ensure technical consistency and address any technical challenges, especially those related to potential shared stations. The projects are being designed to not preclude the respective operations of each.

The FRPR District executive staff serves on the Study Advisory Team and RTD’s General Manager serves on the board of the FRPR District.

What are the potential partnership opportunities between Northwest Rail and Front Range Passenger Rail?

As the Northwest Rail Peak Service Study and Front Range Passenger Rail Service Development Plan mature, coordinating planning efforts will outline opportunities for partnership and coordinated operations, advancing cost efficiencies and implementation of both projects.

Potential partnership opportunities include track improvements, safety and road crossing upgrades, common fleet elements, shared stations and platforms, and coordinated operations and maintenance. Ultimately, the RTD and FRPR District Boards of Directors will determine joint investment and coordinated operations for the corridor.

Study Milestones