Denver RTD's Southwest Light Rail Line turns 20 years old

July 16, 2020
The line - a five-station extension of the D Line - was the first to serve the south metro suburbs by rail.

The Regional Transportation District (RTD) of Denver marked the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Southwest Light Rail Line from I-25 and Broadway to Englewood and Littleton on July 14.

The line was the first to serve the south metro suburbs by rail. The Southwest Rail Line – an extension of the D Line – added five new stations, at Evans, Englewood, Oxford, Littleton•Downtown and Littleton•Mineral. Future plans for this line will eventually connect downtown Denver to C-470 and Lucent in Highlands Ranch when RTD secures funds to build the Southwest Rail Extension, part of the 2004 FasTracks plan.

“The success of the Southwest Light Rail Line was key in launching more rail connections over the next two decades,” said RTD Chief Executive Officer and General Manager Paul J. Ballard. “We are excited to mark this milestone as we prepare for the Sept. 21 opening of our newest commuter rail line, the N Line, further enhancing connectivity throughout the region.”

When the Southwest Line opened, projected ridership was reached almost immediately, surpassing the forecast of 8,400 riders per weekday and, in April 2002, averaging 17,900 riders at the five stations. In 2019, average weekday ridership reached 18,400 for the C and D Lines combined.

The Southwest Line is one of RTD's great examples of regional collaboration between RTD, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) and local governments. Elected officials along the Southwest Corridor joined RTD officials in Washington, D.C., to advocate for federal funds to help build the line.

On May 9, 1996, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Federico Peña signed a $120-million full funding grant agreement (FFGA), allowing RTD to begin final design. That phase was completed by RTD’s in-house design team in December 1997, saving $2.3 million and resulting in outstanding design and praise from the federal review team.

To demonstrate multimodal cooperation, the Federal Highway Administration (through DRCOG and CDOT) provided $18 million in flexible highway-to-transit funding. The FFGA was paid in full in 2001. Since RTD opened its first light rail line, the Central Corridor, in 1994, the agency’s rail system has grown to include 60.1 miles of light rail track and 40 miles of commuter rail track, with 73 stations. The opening of the N Line will add 13 new miles of commuter rail track and six new stations. The remaining 5.5 miles of the N Line will be built as funds become available.