North of Dallas, a New Commuter Rail Line that Never Makes it Downtown

» A train line adds to the Dallas region’s plethora of rail options.

There are many competing reasons to invest in new transportation capacity, the most compelling of which is often to expand mobility — that is, to increase the number of places an individual can get to within a certain period of time. The need to decrease travel times between major destinations is an essential question for transit, since its major competition, the private automobile, usually provides quicker, more convenient trips.

In cities with high levels of highway capacity per capita, the only transit mode that can compete relatively well in terms of mobility is commuter rail, as its limited stopping pattern and sometimes very high speeds allow it to move faster than even free-flow traffic in some cases. The value of commuter rail is of course disputed since its fast running times tend to encourage decentralization from the center city, but assuming one purpose of transit is to increase mobility, it can be quite productive.

That is, it can be productive if it’s designed to fulfill a real travel need.

Some recent commuter rail lines, like Minneapolis’ Northstar and Austin’s Capital Metrorail, have produced somewhat mediocre ridership because of their limited frequencies and inaccessible downtown termini. They both offer relatively fast transit times from the suburbs to the business core, but their inconvenient operating patterns and difficult-to-get-to stations diminish their value, which explains why few people ride them.

The nation’s newest commuter rail line may be even more questionable and raises significant questions about what its designers and planners were intending when they funded it.

Opening this week, the 21-mile Denton County A-Train connects the far northwestern suburbs of the Dallas region, including Medpark, Lewisville, and Hebron, with the Trinity Mills light rail station in Carrollton — a stop that is itself 38 minutes from the region’s central business district via the Dallas DART Green Line light rail, which opened for service late last year. The new $320 million project is expected to attract 4,000-5,000 passengers a day.

Unlike peer systems almost everywhere else in the county, the A-Train does not provide direct access downtown. Rather, it offers connectivity between suburban destinations, with the possibility of a transfer downtown via DART light rail at North Carrollton. The whole route, including the 8-minute connection? About 80 minutes. Compare that to the express bus service between Denton and Dallas that was offered until now, which could make the link in about one hour.

The now-longer ride will not provide much convenience for people who make the daily commute, and in terms of speed itself it is a downgrade from the old service (though of course the train offers more station stops). To make matters worse, the service is only offered during morning and evening rush hours, with a very occasional bus route filling in the gaps during the midday. While there is currently congestion on the highways between Dallas and its northwestern suburbs, the state is about to begin a $4.4 billion expansion of I-35 East, which follows a route similar to the train. This construction project may increase transit ridership in the short term as people look for an alternative, but its reopening is likely to spur a significant decrease in the advantage of taking the train, especially since it is significantly slower than the express buses it replaced.

Could there have been a feasible alternative? One option could have been extending the DART Green Line (already the nation’s longest light rail route) further north, but this would have come at an incredible cost; the construction expenditures required to install a pair of dedicated tracks and the catenary required for light rail would be far higher than that needed for infrequent and diesel-powered commuter rail operating on tracks shared with the freight railroads, as is the A-Train.

Another possibility could have been extending the commuter rail line all the way into downtown Dallas along a mostly single-tracked freight line. But this would have been difficult to justify, as it would require upgrades to a track almost directly adjacent to the Green Line.

Then there is the third option, which arguably would have been the most effective: Allowing A-Trains to run express along Green Line tracks. Using tram-train equipment now increasingly common in Europe, the commuter trains could use occasional bypass tracks to make their trip around light rail trains stopped at stations. This is effectively what occurs in Lyon, France, where the Rhônexpress airport train shares a portion of its tracks with the T3 tramway. Not stopping at the majority of the T3 stations allows the airport train to save five minutes compared to a 25-minute trip on the tram.*

Unfortunately, this compromise approach never had the chance to come into being. The fact that Denton County is not a sales tax-paying member of DART (but rather operates its own agency, DCTA) poses a major obstacle; why would DART make an effort to incorporate services by another entity into its plans if the two did not cooperate? This project may come to be interpreted as yet another failure of American metropolitan areas to act regionally.

Similarly, the Federal Railroad Administration’s rules on the sharing of tracks between freight and lighter passenger trains make it almost impossible to foresee the A-Train simply continuing along Green Line tracks as an occasional service from downtown Dallas, even though the trains purchased to be added to the A-Train fleet next year would be able to do so technically.** Even without bypass tracks, the ability to avoid the transfer at Trinity Mills would save commuters at least eight minutes. But this would require true cooperation between Denton County and DART. The A-Train is planned to have a connection into the proposed Cotton Belt rail line that will run somewhat circumferentially around the region, but that project has yet to be funded.

The fact that the A-Train never reaches downtown, however, could be interpreted as a positive feature of the system, reflecting on the area’s dispersed living patterns. In a highly suburbanized metropolitan area like Dallas, this may make sense; after all, shouldn’t a city attempt to adapt its transportation offerings to the living patterns of its citizens? And indeed, estimates of the train’s ridership suggest that the majority of its users will be reverse commuters, taking the trip into the suburbs in the morning and and back towards the city at night. Denton and the surrounding towns host a number of universities and medical centers that attract thousands of daily commuters heading out from Dallas County.

Even so, the point remains: If the goal of the A-Train is to encourage mobility — and mobility means speed — the system could have been designed in a way that ensured that those reverse commutes were more effectively quickened.

Whatever the relative benefits of the line, though, perhaps the greatest success of the project’s backers was getting it funded in the first place through the creation of a 1/2-cent sales tax in 2002, approved by the electorate by a wide margin, and the redirection of road tolls, which covered 80% of the cost (no federal dollars were involved to speed up the process).

Denton County is no progressive place; its voters supported McCain over Obama by a 62% to 37% margin in 2008. But for residents of these suburban areas, the promise of a train — in whatever form — was enough to merit their contribution through taxation. One hopes similar networks, which clearly benefit from popular support, can be better designed to satisfy the needs of more people in the future.

* On the shared portion from Gare Part Dieu to Meyzieu.

** The A-Train is currently running with older trains borrowed from the Trinity Railroad Express, which runs from Dallas to Fort Worth.

Image above: Light rail in Dallas, from Flickr user Retail Mania (cc)

82 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • jon

    Wow, A-train is almost identical to WES outside Portland, OR.

    • My thoughts, too–another suburb-to-suburb commuter line, with a light rail connection to downtown.

      (You might note that the picture is of Dallas’ light rail line, not of the commuter line which–like WES–is a FRA-compliant, diesel-powered service).

      One question: Locomotive-hauled, or DMU? And if the latter, did the Dallas transit agency manage to wriggle out of the “Buy America” requirement that ensared WES?

  • Nick

    Wow, maybe this author doesn’t quite know what “plethora” means.

  • Andrew

    Yonah,

    nicely worded piece that dances around just coming straight out saying:
    “this thing is an epic waste of money boondoggle”

    • Nathanael

      Denton County paid for it locally, if I’m not mistaken. It may be the best Denton County can offer.

      To me, that brands it as “train for the rich people of Denton County, who don’t like buses”, but I haven’t actually looked at the demographic profile. If I’m right, that’s just fine, since those same rich people are paying for it.

      If I’m wrong… then there’s a problem, because it is certainly the best designed route in the world.

  • I believe that most of their riders aren’t even going to downtown Dallas and the planners of the line know that, but it is positive that the connection is at least possible for those that can’t make it there by driving and for those with destinations elsewhere on the Green Line.

    @Nick, the three light rail lines and the commuter line to Fort Worth may not be a plethora but they’re much more extensive than most cities in the SW.

  • Michael

    I live in the city of Denton and used the A-Train Monday. I also use to make the commute from Denton to Dallas and vice-versa. The car ride with an unimpeded traffic flow takes about 45 minutes, during rush hour that can easily climb to over 70 minutes. So while the time to get from Denton to Downtown Dallas is high, for those in rush hour traffic they may feel some relief being able to use another option.

    Even though downtown Dallas is the major economic center for the city of Dallas it is not the only place where people work. The UT Southwestern which employs thousands is on the way. I saw individuals disembarking the A-Train before we got to the Trinity Mills station with the green line. Also don’t forget that Denton has two Universities with a combined student population of >42,000 and that doesn’t include all the Professors and staff who may live in those southern suburban cities near enough to the A-Train to have their spouses drop them off in the morning, but to go north, not south.

    I do wish the Dallas Fort Worth metro had developed in a more dense less sprawly manner. However it didn’t and the transit agencies are working with what they have. I really like that 80% of this rail line was funded with tolls instead of using that money to simply build more roads.

    The rail options in Dallas Fort Worth will only increase with the orange line in Dallas and the second commuter line planned in Fort Worth. Even though not ideal for public transit these agencies deserve props for doing what they can with what was handed to them.

    • Andre L.

      The siphoning of toll money to fund rail is unacceptable and outrageous to me. Where required, tolls should be used to maintain and expand highway facilities and infrastructure only. A Park&Ride? That is ok to pay with tolls. Urban stations? Hell no.

      • Michael

        Do you live in the DFW area? I do and it is completely acceptable to me. If it is unacceptable for you then fight public transit projects in your metro area if they take this approach.

        • Andre L.

          I’m thinking in a more conceptual aspect. This is like opening a can of worms that could lead us to a situation like that of countries like France or Germany, with an unfunded budget for transit that must be paid by those who don’t use it.

          I’m not saying transit is bad, but good transit should be able to be articulated with planning strategies, recoup value via real estate etc. I just think that it is inherently bad public policy to prey on toll revenue to build transit, anywhere in North America.

          At the extreme case of France, you end with a situation where the central government if funding the operation (not capital expenses) of mini-buses to sleepy villages of pop. 1200 – and dwindling -, and trapped under a permanent deficit situation: a collection of transit systems designed not to operate under a requirement of operational self-sufficiency (infrastructure costs excluded, for fairness with roads and runways), and then the increase on ridership only creates bigger operational deficits that must be paid somehow, to the point the transportation budget becomes something to be nationally managed as its overall deficit becomes huge, massive.

          As a transit infrastructure (but not the operation of vehicles over it) is a public good, I’d agree with finance it via sales tax applicable to the region concerned and other similar funding strategies. However, to prey on drivers’ wallets to fund a rail system that, in the best case scenario (peak travel, relatively good frequency – during peak -, competing with congested roads) cannot match the travel time of the car is just the policy reflection of bigotry against the drive and use of a private car.

          • Paris manages to fund its transit just fine out of an ongoing payroll tax.

            And Texas roads, at best, recoup half their construction and maintenance costs out of tolls and gas taxes. Some recoup one sixth.

            • Matt

              You say highway drivers don’t “use” transit, but what does that really mean? They benefit from it. It takes demand off of highways and gives alternatives to drivers who were otherwise stuck paying a toll in their expensive-to-drive auto.

              • Andre L.

                I’m sure that happens, but still with such lackluster predicted ridership, the effect is minimal, amounting more to an entitlement for the tiny cohort of users.

                Anyway, as any new system opened, we shall give time to it to prove its usefulness and success. It takes 5 years, at least, to see whether the new rail line brought new development around stations or a bigger ridership enough to free a considerable amount of space in I-35.

              • Don’t forget, transit is competitive not with your average car trip, but with a car trip in the most congested environment. Transit is useful at getting people to and from major job centers; even with very low overall mode share, it can achieve decent mode share for peak travel to the CBD (or maybe an edge city if it’s done right, which in the US it never is), creating sizable congestion reduction.

          • Indeed, the drivers on the tollways benefit from publicly mandated “free” parking, which increase the cost of operations for all public transport. Restricting their toll fees for only the fraction of the public costs they impose on the community represented by wear and tear on the road is a guarantee that they are taking a subsidized ride on the back of others.

          • Don

            Every day, I drive to and from a park and ride – a 15 mile round trip. I don’t use a single mile of US highway. In fact, I don’t even use a single mile of state highway. Yet, I pay all that Federal and state gasoline tax. Hardly fair to me.

            The primary county road I use was funded entirely from a local SALES TAX and the upkeep is funded from my property tax. How, exactly, is my highway consumption linked to the size of my house or my local purchases?

            I think that using highway taxes to fund alternatives to highways is very fair in that it helps keep the highway fluid and keeps it’s value from declining as trip times lengthen.

      • Ocean Railroader

        They did expland the highways on Modern Marvels they showed them building the widest ever section of US highway out there a highway that was 20 lanes wide for 17 miles long.

        If the highway tolls can be used to build the up front costs of building secitons of new line to get the big federal grants then they should go for it in that one way or another we as tax payers are going to have to pay for it one way or another. As for the operating costs they should get them from some other public transporation fund.

      • Anandakos

        Andre,

        Quite honestly, who the *@%# cares what’s “acceptable” or “not acceptable” to you? Who are you other than some guy with a keyboard?

        Seriously. I know this will break your heart, but it’s NOT all about you.

  • late

    Yonah, in your first sentence you confuse mobility with accessibility.

    Mobility is about distance and speed. It measures how far an individual can get in a certain amount of time.

    Accessibility is about places or opportunities. Accessibility measures how many places, opportunities, jobs, etc. an individual can get to in a certain amount of time.

  • Buckeyeman

    Well, at least it goes to downtown Dentin. Surely there should be at least a fair amount of Downtown Denton-oriented commuter traffic. Perhaps though, some kind of through rail transportation might just need to be looked at if enough transfer traffic develops.At the absolute least, DART and Denton County should develop some kind of through ticketing arrangement to at least try to encourage through ridership between the two lines.

    • FDW

      Actually, there is already a through-ticketing system for the transit systems in the Dallas area, which includes the major agencies of DART, DCTA (which operates the A-train), TRE, and The T.

  • The whole Dallas system is a massive failure. It is extremely depressing to see aerial images of the brand new rail lines, which run in the middle of nowhere, with stations in the middle of nowhere. The line is almost as bad as a new freeway in producing sprawl, because it requires driving. Even worse, many times they parallel existing or recently widened freeways, which make you ask “whats the point?”. If you have a giant empty freeway, run buses. Send the rail line somewhere where driving is inconvenient.

    Dallas is building rail for the sake of saying “we have rail”. Not an ounce of thought has been put into making it an actual useful system.

    • FG

      But this is how London, NYC, etc developed – along transit lines in undeveloped territory. It’s even been discussed here that using rail lines to densify is a good thing.

      • Theyre sending rail lines through forests and farmland, not blighted industrial areas that need to be revitalized.

      • Ocean Railroader

        As gas prices go up things will start to change big time. It’s going to be a whole new ball game in ten years.

        • Andre L.

          This conversation has been going on since the first oil shock in 1973.

          • Al S.

            Yeah, time and time again Americans have shown increasing fuel prices are not going to force them to use public transit, outside of a few outliers like NYC.

            • That would be in the increasing use of public transport use in the 1980 oil price shock, followed by reversion once oil prices dropped to ultra low levels, and then the increasing public transport use in the 2007/2008 oil price shock, before the recession both undermined the high oil prices and reduced the numbers of people commuting.

              To the extent that alternatives are available, people take increasing advantage of them when oil prices rise. Of course, in areas where there are no alternatives available, what we saw instead in the 2007/2008 oil price shocks is a more rapid drop in property value in the more car dependent of the outer suburban developments.

              • Andrew

                Yes, it is true that increases in gas prices lead to increases in transit ridership. But to a large degree, most Americans (or at least ones in the suburbs) tend to find it easier to go out and buy a more fuel efficient car than to politically gather together to enact some new tax to fund a transit line. That’s fine to a degree, and especially so in exurban and rural areas where transit has the worst odds of succeeding. But for developed suburbs and urban areas, transit lines tend to make a bigger difference than everyone buying a Prius or electric car, due to transit’s ability to encourage denser, less car-dependent developments.

            • Nathanael

              Essentially Al S. is wrong and Bruce McF is right. People can look up the history of gas prices and mass transit use for themselves.

      • J B

        Is there any evidence that these rail lines are leading to development, or that Dallas (or Denton) are even trying to create TOD? Somehow I just don’t see this line doing for Denton what the Queens Boulevard and Flushing lines did for Queens.

    • saxman

      That’s really all DART has to work with in the past, using abandoned rail lines that they smartly bought up. Many of those old rail lines do go through more industrial areas. The first line to open up not on old ROW will be the Orange Line. Plus the fact that DART has 13 member cities to please. They pretty much had to build the lines to the far flung suburbs so the cities wouldn’t leave them.

    • I do agree that Dallas’ system is somewhat of a failure, but I hate when people make the argument of “the stops are in places people aren’t and they travel to far-flung places”.

      Because, what were they supposed to do? Knock down thousands of houses and buildings, and put tracks over existing well-traveled roads? That doesn’t make sense.

      Personally, I’d love to see a rail along Preston Road or Dallas North Tollway, and another along 635. But like I said, they’d have to demolish so much stuff that it’s not feasible.

  • AlexB

    The A Train runs in both directions all day long, although there are gaps in service that are as big as 2 hours. During peak hours, in peak directions, trains run 20-30 minutes apart. That’s way better than the train in Austin.

    From downtown Denton to Downtown Dallas, the whole trip takes 80-90 minutes. Driving in traffic according to google takes up to 80 minutes. The connecting times to the green line are listed on the schedule, and can range from 1 to 20 minutes. They tell you on the schedule what the delay will be, so I imagine you can choose the best layover time if there is some flexibility in your schedule. The longest layover pushes the overall trip to close to 2 hours, which is a problem.

    It seems that if the two agencies work together, they could minimize the transfer time and create a sort of “express” setup where a couple stops are skipped on the A Train and a few stops are skipped on the green line, as discussed in this post. I imagine they could get the end to end travel time down to closer to 70 minutes, which would certainly capture a larger share of the rush hour commuters going between the downtowns. This would especially be true if it were reliable and consistent every day.

    In terms of fares, I got this from the A Train website: “As of December 1, Regional Passes are valid on Connect, Connect RSVP, UNT Shuttle Commuter Express and the A-train as well as DART, TRE and The T….Passengers may transfer to another service within the Regional System at no additional charge by obtaining a transfer slip from the bus operator.” This regional pass costs $120 monthly. At about 80 miles round trip, that’s about $10 a day in gas alone or over $200 a month for that commute depending on your gas mileage, not counting the maintenance for all those car miles.

    Although a bus running in HOV lanes could provide an equivalent service for less cost (like Houston), it will never be as reliable as a train schedule, and maintenance costs per passenger for well used rail services are less than those for bus services. Houston has spent over a billion dollars on it’s impressive HOV system, which is great, but these lanes aren’t inexpensive either. A bus would not be able to make the large number of local stops the A Train and Green Line make and maintain a decent schedule. It also will never have the same sense of permanence that a train has. For $320 million, I don’t think the A Train is a bad deal, all things considered, but it could use a little work.

    • Walter

      The new diesel MUs coming in 2012 will probably shave off a couple minutes, no? A locomotive hauled train takes much longer after each stop to regain speed, and I believe the diesel MUs pick up speed much quicker; it’s not much, but can add up to 5 or more minutes saved.

      • Adirondacker12800

        They aren’t using locomotive hauled trains, they borrowed 60-ish year old RDCs from TriMet.

      • Ocean Railroader

        Amtrak should replace some of their big bulky locomtive hauled trains with Diesel MU’s on some of the lightly used rail lines to cut down on repairs and other costs.

        • Andre L.

          They can only do that in tracks they own.

          • Adirondacker12800

            They have tried, not too hard, but they have tried. Amtrak wanted Vermont to use them. On tracks neither Amtrak or Vermont owned.

            • Nathanael

              Well, shortline railroads will generally agree to anything if it involves government-funded track upgrades.

              We’re watching the natural evolution of a privatized, economically deregulated system where there are natural monopolies; you end up with a cartel of large monopolies on the trunk routes and small companies ekeing out minimal profits on the branch routes. Eventually bad behavior from the cartel means they have to be nationalized.

              We’re watching this happen with Internet service, too, by the way, though it will take longer.

              If you have really stupid people running the government, you can manage to go through the whole cycle all over again by “privatizing” the nationalized system — that’s what John Major did to British Rail. Which will be back sooner or later.

        • Don

          Amtrak should not be running in places where a bus or two can handle all their traffic!

          • What does that have to do with the use of DMU’s? If an intercity motorcoach is about 54 passengers, “one or two buses” would be ~110pass max.

            Are you conflating DMU’s and railbuses?

        • Would it actually cut down on repairs? That is, would buying new loco-hauled passenger cars cost more to keep in good repair than new DMU’s?

          Or are you saying that running different rolling stock would reduce costs of maintenance of right of way?

        • Nathanael

          Ocean Railroader, there are really no candidates. Amtrak’s “lightly used rail lines” either have sleepers have enough demand to fill many cars… which makes loco-hauled coaches *cheaper* to maintain than DMUs.

          (DMUs are regulated like locomotives. Very roughly, a train of two cars is cheaper to run as a DMU; a train of three is cheaper to run as a loco and three coaches.)

          The advantage of DMUs is not cost. The advantage is in faster acceleration. There are only a few Amtrak lines with stop spacing close enough that that would actually make a difference. (Vermonter.)

  • This is another mistake made by those who think a train is like a vaccuum cleaner, as Christof Spieler once put it. Requiring reverse commuters to ride a train and then a shuttle bus, which is what this will be, is going to result in nobody with a choice actually riding.

  • dw

    You try having to drive I-35 each day and then decide if taking the train is better or worse. For me it’s a no brainer.

    DART and ther Denton County TA have knocked themselves out trying to work together while staying within the guideliness of local, state and federal laws, and they’ve done a damn good job integrating and serving their primary objective – taking care of the publc’s transportation needs.

    Extending the line downtown would be financially and logistically foolish for reasons already mentioned here by others.

  • FG

    I’m glad people mentioned that the area is polycentric. So, now, here’s my question – it seems to me that some existing and historic commuter lines have done this, either made a connection to the CBD rather than running directly, developed a new center around them, or were eventually converted to heavy rail MT or the like, but am a total loss for where. Could this eventually happen with this line if it proves a success?

  • Regarding the tram-train option and the cost of electrification for a corridor with relatively few services per day to justify the cost, Alstom had already sold a diesel/electric hybrid for a system which on one route relies primarily on the diesel and on another relies primarily on the electric with the diesel used on what would otherwise be a difficult to electrify gap.

    The real problem is the FRA regulations. The tram-trains may be buffed up trams to offer UIC level crash resistance, but they are still trams, and so would mostly still need new track to run through unless a freight time-slice was put into place.

    • Adirondacker12800

      I’m making the assumption that the Green Line in Dallas runs under FTA rules not FRA rules. If the track is up to it, no reason why they couldn’t run diesel trains on the electrified portions. If I remember correctly the reason why they don’t run through is that there isn’t enough demand to do it and if there was there isn’t capacity in the core.

      • Andre L.

        You need signaling compatibility also, or else you have to downgrade and degrade the whole line to the lowest common denominator when it comes to signaling.,

      • I was referring to running hybrid diesel/electric “light rail” (known as trams in Commonwealth English) onto the tracks used by the A-train.

    • orulz

      The A-train to Denton is not running under FRA rules, is it? They plan to buy light DMUs for it so it must not be. It seems that they should be able to buy some of these diesel/electric “tram-trains” you mention, and make it so every other train (or every third train or whatever) running on the Green Line goes all the way out to Denton. It seems that the only barrier to accomplishing this is:
      (1) The vehicles, which, as you mention, can already be purchased off-the-shelf, and
      (2) Institutional, in that A-train and DART are run by different organizations.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Having wires overhead doesn’t preclude the possibility of using diesel power under them. They could run the diesel all the way into Dallas. There’s a reason or reasons why they aren’t doing that. And no reason why they couldn’t do that in the future.

      • It’s running under FRA rules, but with a waiver with time-sharing. It’s the same as RiverLine in New Jersey.

        Another possible barrier to through-running is that the loading gauges may be incompatible.

  • Stino

    DCTA can’t run on DART tracks due to a) FRA-FTA regulation, and b) turning radii/clearances of the DMUs (neither current RDCs nor future Stadtler-builts). Plus there is no room. DART is already in a pinch fitting all its own trains through the downtown stations. The only place I could think of A-train going where it could turn around without terribly disrupting traffic is Buckner, which has three platforms. That’s maybe halfway to downtown Dallas from Carrollton.

  • Sean

    How is this project a boondoggle? It cost a measly $320 million.

    The I-35 widening project along the corridor is going to cost over TEN TIMES that amount. THAT project is the boondoggle.

    • Andre L.

      It is hard to make strictly comparisons like that. The I-35 widening will carry 1 or 2 extra lanes per direction + HOV/HOT on the southern sector, AFAIK.

      4 extra lanes mean a carrying capacity of up to 82.000 car-equivalent vehicles per one mile of 4-lane highway. Quite impressive. The problem is congestion at both ends.

    • Al S.

      ‘Boondoggle’ typically means “project I personally disapprove of”.

  • Stino

    Sorry kids, I meant Bachman station. It has three tracks.

  • George

    50 comments and none of these transit geeks has noticed the glaring error?

    DART Green Line is NOT the longest light-rail line in the country. That would be MAX Blue Line (32.7 miles>28.6 miles)

    Also, Camden-Trenton River Line is longer at 34 miles.

    And you call yourself transit geeks!

  • Michael

    The first week of operation the A-Train has beat expectations from the DCTA. http://www.dentonrc.com/sharedcontent/dws/drc/localnews/stories/DRC_A-train_0628.4026f5470.html
    More ridership on the A-Train can be potentially better for DART as well and their low numbers.

  • ThomasD

    This Dallas commuter rail project sounds similar to this Mica pet project (SunRail Commuter Rail). The $1.2 billion would have been better spent on closer-in Orlando BRT, because Orlando has such low density and already has a great BRT-capable station downtown. At least critics won’t be able to blame a Democrat for this low patronage/cost fiasco of questionable ethics by Mica, see http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/28/us/politics/28mica.html?_r=2&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=tha24

    Though I don’t blame Mica for canceling the 1st leg of Florida HSR (Tampa-Orlando), isn’t it ironic that Florida canceled the first leg of Florida HSR, yet appears likely to pass this SunRail boondoggle.

    The 1st leg when coupled with the 2nd leg (Orlando-Miami) and 3rd leg (Orlando-Jacksonville-Atlanta) as part of Interstate HSR, would have been profitable, created & sustained more jobs, and been great for Florida tourism. Makes you think bad karma is at play in Florida.

    If Orlando isn’t the best fit, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale who could make better use of that Federal Transit money.

  • KC

    I seem to remember riding the train in Montreal where we started on a rail system out in the north suburbs, then got off the train and bought a separate ticket for the subway into downtown. How is the A-train/DART system any different? Why do all trains need to go all the way into downtown?

    • Michael

      Exactly

      The DFW area has several economic areas. Downtown Dallas is one and already 3 of the 5 rail lines go to downtown Dallas. One goes to downtown Fort Worth and now one goes to downtown Denton, a city with two Universities with a combined student population >42,000 and all the faculty and other staff associated with universities. Anyone who lives in DFW or who has studied the area knows how the job centers are spread out: Downtown Dallas, downtown Fort Worth, UNT and TWU in Denton, Las Colinas, Telecom Corridor, UT Southwestern, etc.

      • JL

        As has been mentioned previously, the polycentric nature of the Metroplex is important to remember. You’ve listed most of the main areas. I’d also note the very large number of jobs in the Galleria/Addison corridor which (with the exception of the future Cotton Belt commuter line that goes suburb-to-airport) doesn’t have any rail/high-capacity transit existing or planned.

    • Canadian commuter rail systems aren’t exactly best industry practice. Montreal has a good subway, but its commuter network is ancient.

      • John W

        True. But at least they are reversing the decline that had been happening – there were only two lines left 15 years ago. As of next year, there will be six, plus there is talk of improvements on the line to the West Island in tandem with a spur to the airport.

        It’d be nice if they could through-run the north-south lines through Gare Centrale – run a more frequent RER-type service from, say, St-Hubert to Bois-Franc/Sauvé (and while they’re at it, add a station to connect to Édouard-Montpetit on the Métro blue line). And bypass that onerous detour to downtown on the St-Jérome line.

        And they’re adding new trains: http://www.amt.qc.ca/projects/trainfleet.aspx

  • saxman

    Another line the A-train could use to get to Downtown Dallas is the BNSF line from Carrollton to Irving and then join the TRE line to downtown, and there are proposals to make that part of a commuter rail line extending to Frisco. Not sure how the FRA rules might affect it though, so my idea may have been killed right there.

  • Rapidtransitman

    Ottawa’s O-Train is a Diesel MU that doesn’t go to downtown Ottawa, but connects Carleton University in the southwest, to the northwest, where it connects with the busy busway ‘TransitWay’ which goes downtown. Carleton is not that easily accessible by transit, being off the main grid of streets due to geography. The O-Train also proceeds further south from Carleton to connect with another branch of the TransitWay.
    http://www.octranspo1.com/images/files/maps/rtn_map.pdf

    This O-Train was a pilot project that used an abandonned rail line & tunnel, & started in 2001 for only $21M, mainly for simple stations.

    I didn’t think the line would be a success, with only one major traffic generator, Carleton U. However the O-Train does connect with 2 busy TransitWay routes, and a number small retail centres, some of which have grown since. So the O-Train’s added to the rapid transit grid.

    Ridership has surpassed expectations & is now 12,000 riders/day. New DMUs & passing sidings were ordered last month to increase service.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O-train

  • Rapidtransitman

    Another non-CBD line example is the London Overground North London Line. It does not enter Zone 1 of Central London, but since rebranding from a commuter line into a tube like service frequencies, distinctive roundels, and full integration with the tube network, ridership’s more than doubled.

    LO consists of 5 lines, with a 6th opening in 2012, only one of which enters (slightly) zone 1. The LO lines have occasional connections with tube & national rail commuter services. That being said, most Londoners cannot afford a car and transit modal share is quite high, so LO has increased mobility greatly, and allows suburb to suburb travel without entering congested Zone 1.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_overground

    • John W

      Don’t really see how this is comparable. It’s nothing like a US commuter rail set-up as it had (before the service improvements as the Overground) trains every 15 minutes throughout the day (half-hourly Sundays), had a lot of people using it for short hop destinations (based on my observations), and was otherwise effectively a half of an orbital line. Basically, as it was crossed radially by the various tube and rail lines going into central London, it wouldn’t be used by commuters to the centre except in the same way connecting buses are used to reach a station on one of the radial lines that’s too far to walk to otherwise.

      (I’m speaking of the North London Line. The East London Line was a tube line to New Cross. Overlapping mainline rail service south of there, which I don’t know very well)

  • stacie

    The train runs behind my house! It is ALWAYS empty! It needs to stop honking it’s horn because we live in a quiet zone. Maybe he has nothing else to do:/ Waist of money

  • Electricron

    Some answers to earlier questions……

    Is the A-Train meeting expectations (first year) ?
    Yes, daily ridership jumped 50% between August and September when both University’s fall semester began. Daily ridership is now over 1500 riders. DCTA bus ridership also jumped 50% between August and September. Additionally, the train’s ridership is easily 10 times more than the earlier express bus ridership.

    Is the A-Train regulated by the FTA or FRA?
    The A-Train is regulated by the FRA because freight trains also share the single track line. No time separation exemption is required when using the RDCs as is, but exemptions to FRA regulations will be needed when the Stadler GTWs begin service. DCTA is submitting two different basic exemption proposals to the FRA for the GTWs, the time separation exemption already approved by the FRA, and another based upon the crash energy management technology of the GTWs for simultaneous operations with freight trains, the FRA decision upon the latter is expected in 2012. The DCTA GTWs meets many more standard FRA regulations than CapMetro’s. Hopefully enough to get simultaneous operations approval.

    How was the A-Train funded?
    All A-Train funding comes from within Denton County. 80% of the capital costs came from Denton County’s share of Regional Toll funds, 20% from DCTA’s half cent sales tax. By the way, DCTA received less than 10% of Denton County’s share of Regional Toll funds, more than 90% left over for other projects, including funding for the future expansion of I-35E. Approximately 50% of the operation costs will come from DCTA sales tax and 50% from fares. No state or federal funds were used to build or operate the A-Train. Since no federal funds were used, there’s no “Buy America” regulations requirements to be met. DCTA collects sales taxes from just three cities, Denton, Highland Village, and Lewisville. DART’s participation with the A-Train is limited to corridor ownership, which DCTA leases at a level so there are no costs to DART.

    Future rail expansion possibilities for the A-Train?
    Further south another mile or two to downtown Carrolton to at least meet future “Cotton Belt” or Frisco corridor trains for transfers if and when those lines are built. Whether DCTA trains will actually run on these corridors is debatable. It will depend upon whether the Stadler GTWs get their simultaneous FRA exemption to even make that possible, and how the other new rail lines are funded, built, and operated. There may not be slots available for DCTA trains on those corridors.

    Additionally, I wish to remind everyone that the A-Train project included funding for more than 8 miles of a concrete paved bike and hiking trails within the corridor. DCTA future plans include building the trail all the way south to Hebron station in south Lewisville. Building the trail further south would have to find other funding sources.
    The trail acts to fill the gaps between stations, allowing each station to attract passengers with a larger footprint. One doesn’t necessarily have to drive and park an auto at the station, one could just as easily ride a bike to the stations.

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