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Susan Pantell With Light Rail Now Project Team · December 2009
The first major new rail line to open in Dallas in more than a decade began revenue service on 14 September 2009.
The initial section of the new light rail Green Line of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) was officially opened by a light rail train breaking through a ribbon across the tracks at the new Fair Park station (see photo at right).
The new route runs from Victory Station, just west of downtown, southward 1.2 miles (1.9 km), then east through downtown along existing track, and finally 2.7 miles (4.3 km) southeast from downtown, serving four new stations – Deep Ellum, Baylor
University Medical Center, Fair Park, and Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Boulevard.
The new line shares track downtown with the Red and Blue lines, with stops at the West End, Akard, St. Paul, and Pearl stations.
At Victory Station, which opened in November 2004 but only for special events, passengers can transfer to the Trinity Railway Express.
According to DART Board Chairman Randall Chrisman, the project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget.
[Dallas Morning News, 2 Sept. 2009]
DART operates 115 light rail vehicles (LRVs) – i.e., electric light railway cars – manufactured by Kinki Sharyo of Osaka, Japan. Beginning in 2008, trains were converted to "super" LRVs by adding new center lowfloor sections that allow for level boarding and provide 25 moee seats, for a seating capacity of 100 and total capacity of 150. The inserts add 31 feet (9 meters) to the cars for a total of 123 feet (37 meters).
DART is modifying its LRT stations to facilitate level boarding, and increasing the size of the downtown stations to accommodate three-car trains. The rolling stock conversions cost approximately $1.6 million per vehicle, not including the station upgrades. [DART Fact Sheet, 2009]
DART increased its fares on September 14th, with the base fare increasing from $1.50 to $1.75, and the fare for one zone increasing to $2.50 and two zones to $3.75.
Growing rail transit traffic
Green Line trains currently run every 10 minutes during weekday peak hours, every 20 minutes during midday and evenings, and every 30 minutes in late evening and early morning hours, and on weekend evenings. To improve throughput capacity downtown, DART has been testing a new signal priority system for its trains, which will allow them to make the trip downtown from Pearl Station to Union Station in about six minutes, on average, instead of seven. This section of the Green line is expected to generate nearly 2,000 daily round-trip riders in the first couple of years. [Dallas Morning News, 14 Sept. 2009]
LRT train speeds along new Green Line on outskirts of Dallas CBD.
The opening of the Green line initially resulted in a serious bottleneck downtown that led to delays, but these delays were reduced during the first week. Every ten minutes during the morning peak, four trains from the Red, Green, and Blue lines pass the southeast junction just east of Pearl Station, at the eastern edge of downtown. DART has been holding each train in the tunnel south of Cityplace Station for up to 10 minutes in the mornings to make sure all the trains ahead of it have moved safely through the junction. If operators experience any delays at the stations, the schedule is thrown off, resulting in delays of 5 to 10 minutes.
The Blue and Green lines run every 10 minutes, and the Red line runs every 5 minutes. DART may reduce the frequency of Red line trains to reduce the congestion, but because those trains are full during peak hours, this could result in greater crowding (track "congestion") for passengers.
DART anticipated this track-capacity congestion, and is planning to build a second rail route downtown, which is scheduled to open in 2016. This other line was originally scheduled to open in 2014, but the Dallas City Council pressured for an alternative route that will go past the new convention center hotel but is more costly, so more time is required to raise the funds. [Dallas Morning News, 15 Sept. 2009]
The completed Green Line will extend 27.7 miles (44.6 km), expanding northwest from Victory Station to Carrollton and south from the MLK Station to Pleasant Grove. Sixteen more stations and a new rail operating facility will be constructed. The new segments are scheduled to begin revenue service in December 2010.
The total projected cost for the Green Line is $1.8 billion. [Dallas Morning News, 2 Sept. 2009] To help fund this, the US Federal Transit Administration has approved a $700 million Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for 50% of the construction cost of the Green Line between Farmers Branch and Pleasant Grove. The remaining 50% of the construction costs and the full cost of the segment between Pleasant Grove and Carrollton will be paid for with local funding, provided by a one-percent sales tax collected in DART's 13 member cities. In mid-2009, the project received a $78.4 million allocation under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), comprising part of the project's Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA).
The DART light rail system opened in June 1996 and comprises 48 miles (77.2 km) on the Red, Blue and Green lines. As of First Quarter 2009, daily ridership was 61,100. DART is also extending the Blue Line to downtown Rowlett, and building a new Orange Line through Irving to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, which they plan to open in 2013. With all three lines, the expansion will add 45 miles (72.4 kms) and 28 stations, and cost about $3.3 billion. About 60,000 additional weekday trips are projected, for a total of 120,000 by 2013. This light rail expansion is the largest and fastest in North America. [Dallas Morning News, 14 Sept. 2009]
When DART was formed in 1983, the plan was to have 160 miles (257.5 km) of rail, but when three cities opted out, the plan was pared down to 147 miles (236.6 km). In 1988, there was a $1 billion bond package ballot measure for Dallas and the 15 suburbs that were then part of DART, which included a proposal for 93 miles (149.7 km) of rail. After this measure was defeated, DART again cut the proposal, to 84 total miles, but current plans call for 93 miles, with a couple of additional extensions being considered. [Dallas Morning News, 14 Sept. 2009, and Wikipedia]
Most of DART's new rail stations now have bike racks and lockers, but public parking is only available at the MLK Station, with 200 spaces.
South Dallas and Exposition Park, where the new line runs, are lower-income, traditionally black neighborhoods. Dallas last year created special taxing districts around existing and planned rail stations to attract high-density development – transit-oriented development (TOD) – that planners hope will boost property values and add jobs. [Dallas Morning News, 14 Sept. 2009]
At the Baylor University Medical Center Station, a plaza was built on two acres featuring extensive landscaping and a giant fingerprint with five paths radiating out from it. A 325-unit apartment tower with ground-floor retail shops a few yards from the rail station opened a year ago and is 90 percent full. Nancy Trejo, a manager at the apartment complex, told the Dallas Morning News (2 Sept. 2009), "It's very exciting. To see the fences come down and the trains moving – I can't wait to see what kind of crowds it brings. They tell us [they] moved here because of the transportation. I can live here and work downtown and not have to pay for parking."
The Deep Ellum Station is a couple of blocks north of Deep Ellum in the middle of a busy intersection.
While the station has already attracted some TOD, it's mainly surrounded by parking spaces and vacant lots, but real estate broker Barry Annino,
president of the Deep Ellum Foundation, told the News (Sept. 2) that that will change
with time, predicting, "There are just acres of land here, and you'll see it all change hands."
The city commissioned a major art project – – the "Traveling Man" series of three
statues at the Deep Ellum Station, the most prominent of which is the 38-foot (11.6-meter) Traveling Man — Walking Tall sculpture.
The Fair Park Station is located across the street from Exposition Park, a six-block area which has 1920s industrial buildings, some small professional businesses, galleries and shops; a couple of bars; a restaurant; and Fair Park, where the State Fair of Texas is held. In its past, Dallas was once served by an extensive streetcar system that operated between 1871 and 1956. One line ran along Fair Park on the same route as the Green Line. The Fair Park Station is designed to replicate the style of the streetcar stations that originally were located at the main entrance to Fair Park.
On the first Saturday of the State Fair, an event which is held for three weeks beginning in the end of
September, there were nearly 20,000 riders on the DART rail line, far higher than the previous
average Saturday previously had ridership levels of about 3,000.
[WFAA-TV, 3 Oct. 2009]
The city is planning to hold events year-round at Fair Park, since the new train service will greatly ease transportation to and from the venue.
A number of businesses in the area folded as a result of the economy, other start-up problems, and construction of DART and city streets. The area is expected to have new development on the Parry Avenue commercial strip and continued housing redevelopment. [Dallas Morning News, 2 Sept. 2009 and 11 Sept. 2009]
At the MLK Jr. Station, there is residential and retail development that provides a core for future investment.
"I love it. I love it" enthused 75-year-old South Dallas resident Willie Mae Coleman to a Dallas Morning News reporter. "When we started talking about it 10 years ago, I said, 'I want to live to see this.' It's a blessing for me to live in this time and see this." [11 Sept. 2009]
Original research and narrative for thse articles were provided by LRN Research Associate Susan Pantell; additional information and analysis were provided by others on the Light Rail Now Project team.
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