University catches the RTD “A” train; links to Anschutz

CU invests in naming rights for soon-to-open line connecting Union Station and DIA
April 13, 2016

A long-awaited RTD light rail line is set to open, with a stop just a couple of miles from the Anschutz Medical Campus. But the trains will carry a familiar campus name across many miles of track.

The A Line’s Peoria stop
The A Line’s Peoria stop is a short distance from the Anschutz Medical Campus and connects with the 121 bus line.

The University of Colorado A Line, a nearly 23-mile line running from Denver’s Union Station downtown to Denver International Airport, is slated to open for business at noon on April 22 with free rides for the public. The line includes six stops in between the train station and the airport, including one just west of Peoria Street and 33rd Avenue. Total travel time from Union Station to the Peoria stop: 16 minutes. From there, patients, visitors and employees headed to the Anschutz Medical Campus can catch RTD’s 121 bus route for a short ride south. Travelers to campus will also be able to take the Route 89 bus at the A Line’s Central Park Station, one stop west of Peoria.

The “train-to-plane” ad is one of many that include the University of Colorado name and logo.
The University of Colorado has naming rights for the line through RTD’s Corporate Partnerships Program. The five-year, $5 million agreement – the first finalized under the program – is part of “a major initiative to raise our profile,” said Ken McConnellogue, CU’s vice president for communications. “The A Line is an important part of that effort,” he added.

The broad marketing campaign, dubbed “All Four: Colorado,” launched last September and includes television, billboard and digital advertising. It aims to raise awareness of the system’s campuses in Boulder, Denver, Aurora, and Colorado Springs. The partnership also gives CU advertising rights on the “Flatiron Flyer,” which provides rapid-transit bus service from Union Station to Boulder. A Flatiron Flyer line from the Anschutz Medical Campus to Boulder is also now up and running.

Making an impression

McConnellogue noted that the A Line will carry an estimated 10 million riders annually, a significant number of them national and international visitors getting a taste of what Colorado has to offer for the first time. The exterior of the trains will carry the CU name and logo, as will some 35,000 maps, 50,000 schedules, digital destination boards marking train arrivals and departures, and protective canopies on train platforms.

A-line practice run
The University of Colorado A Line speeds through a practice run in preparation for its debut April 22.

The CU name will be announced in pre-recorded messages and displayed on video display terminals in the cars that will loop footage of the campuses with scrolling informational messages about the university campuses. Individuals looking up the A Line on RTD’s mobile app and website will also see “CU” and “University of Colorado” on each visit.

The blitz is all about making an impression, McConnellogue said. “In a market that is fiercely competitive for staff, philanthropy and research, we felt strongly it was important to get our name out there,” he said. “We look at the RTD naming rights as an investment, and one of the returns is many millions of dollars’ worth of publicity value.”

The CU-RTD partnership puzzled some who wondered why one public entity would pay another for naming rights, McConnellogue conceded. But he noted that CU’s competitors are “all spending boatloads of money on publicity.” Beyond extending CU’s name recognition, he added, the deal helps to link the university system to the metro area’s healthy growth.

RTD’s 121 bus
RTD’s 121 bus will link to the A Line at the Peoria and 33rd Avenue stop.

“RTD is undertaking what is perhaps the biggest and newest transportation project in the nation, if not in the world,” McConnellogue said. “Denver is a dynamic place and we feel this partnership makes us part of that dynamism and will help us to leverage what we want to do” as a university.

The A Line opening is a major milestone in RTD’s FasTracks initiative, which originally was approved by Colorado voters in 2004 to expand transit services in the Denver metro area. The A Line is part of a larger project, dubbed the Eagle P3, that also includes construction of the G (Gold) and B (Northwest Rail) lines. These two lines, slated for completion late in 2016, will connect Wheat Ridge and Westminster, respectively, to Union Station. When it wraps up, the Eagle P3 project will add a combined 36 miles of transit lines.
Another piece of the puzzle

The R Line
The R Line, slated to open late this year, includes this stop above Colfax Avenue at I-225.

Also on tap later this year is completion of the 10.5-mile R Line that will connect Nine Mile Station in southeast Aurora with the A Line. The R Line’s eight stops on its travels through Aurora include two near the Anschutz Medical Campus: one to the east at Colfax Avenue and I-225 and another to the north at Fitzsimons Parkway and Ursula Street.

Plans are well underway to provide shuttle service for travelers to the Anschutz campus when the R Line opens, said Dave Turnquist, associate vice chancellor for Facilities Operations for the University of Colorado Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus. He said the university, University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado officials have jointly discussed details for operating the service. As part of the preparations for the R Line, UCH and its campus partners also conducted surveys to solicit from employees feedback about their transportation needs.

Fitzsimons Stop
The R Line stop at Fitzsimons Parkway and Ursula Street, north of the Anschutz Medical Campus, will be serviced by shuttle buses.

The shuttle, which Turnquist says will be free and open to the public, will run from the Fitzsimons Parkway light rail stop and is currently slated to make five stops at major campus buildings for CU, University Physicians, Inc., Children’s Hospital Colorado and UCH employees and visitors. The stops include one near UCH’s Leprino Building.

Turnquist said the bus routes will be timed to match the R Line schedule, with shuttles arriving at the Fitzsimons stop roughly seven minutes apart during peak times. Shuttles will operate seven days a week, he added.

The university received $1.5 million from a TIP (Transportation Improvement) grant through the Denver Council of Regional Governments to help pay for the 18-seat, ADA-accessible shuttles, Turnquist said. He expects the buses to be delivered at the end of May, in advance of RTD testing the R Line in late summer. The plan is to hire shuttle bus drivers by November and have them in place for the R Line’s slated December opening, Turnquist added.

For regularly updated information on all lines involved in the FasTracks project, visit the RTD website.

About the author

Tyler Smith has been a health care writer, with a focus on hospitals, since 1996. He served as a writer and editor for the Marketing and Communications team at University of Colorado Hospital and UCHealth from 2007 to 2017. More recently, he has reported for and contributed stories to the University of Colorado School of Medicine, the Colorado School of Public Health and the Colorado Bioscience Association.