Las Vegas group kicks off Denver transit trip with look at airport commuter rail

A commuter rail line that is set to debut next month is shown at Denver International Airport, Monday, March 7, 2016.

DENVER — Southern Nevada leaders from the public and private sector got an in-person look Monday at how rail transit can connect with a major airport, helping inform their thinking as the Las Vegas region considers developing a similar system.

Kicking off a two-day visit all about mass transit, the group first gathered at Denver International Airport, where a 23-mile commuter rail line is set to debut late next month. That gave a preview of what’s in store Tuesday, when the Nevada group will embark on a full day of panel discussions and transit-related tours.

The trip is led by the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada and the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, which has offices in both Denver and Las Vegas. It’s intended to give some 50 Las Vegas-area leaders a detailed view of how light rail and commuter rail have taken shape in Denver — and what lessons that might offer for Southern Nevada.

A wide-ranging transit plan released by the commission last year includes a recommendation for a light rail system to connect McCarran International Airport with the Strip and downtown Las Vegas. The plan has been presented to several public bodies in the region, including the influential Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee, which could help the light rail portion get the funding it needs.

Light rail from the airport to the Strip, at least, would be particularly significant, allowing tourists to bypass traffic and quickly getting them to their hotel rooms or conventions without having to step foot in a car. But it’ll take billions of dollars, and likely many years, to make it all happen, even if local leaders move forward on the plan this year.

Meanwhile, it’s already happening in Denver.

Called the University of Colorado A Line, the commuter rail line previewed by the Las Vegas group Monday will allow travelers to pay $9 for a 37-minute ride between the airport and Union Station in downtown Denver, according to local officials. The line opens April 22, and officials say trains will run every 15 minutes during peak hours.

The airport line is part of the FasTracks plan, an initiative approved by voters in 2004 that’s bringing 122 miles of new light rail and commuter rail to the Denver area, among other transit improvements. Denver officials plan to open other rail expansions this year, too.

The Las Vegas group will hear more about the background and implications of Denver’s transit plans on Tuesday via panels as well as tours of Union Station and the future Panasonic Enterprise Solutions facility.