Will they show up? That was a question being asked by North Texas leaders as the train started rolling on the first Fort Worth to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport run on Jan. 10.
Show up they did. More than 11,000 riders checked it out during its opening weekend, Jan. 12-13. Ridership on Jan. 12 reached 6,489 and the next day 4,625 people rode the train.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the ridership numbers,” said Trinity Metro President/CEO Paul J Ballard. “We anticipated a strong turnout, but the number of riders exceeded our expectations.”
A few weeks earlier, on Dec. 31, North Texas transportation officials threw a party and they weren’t celebrating the New Year. They were toasting Trinity Metro’s new 27-mile TEXRail commuter rail line that was set to begin service on Jan. 5.
“The city deserves and will have innovate and progressive transportation,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price as the train prepared to leave from the North Side station, headed to Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.
“This will give us a golden opportunity to look at expanding the rail going south toward the Medical District, where there are nearly 40,000 jobs.”
Area dignitaries toasted the completion of the $1 billion project, which was split evenly between federal and local funding sources. Michael Lee, a former contestant from The Voice who lives in the area, along with his band, entertained the crowd that gathered after a ride on the train that ended at the airport’s Terminal B.
Plans were for the rail line to be ready to roll on Jan. 5 with free service through the first of February.
But the smiles and good spirits turned to grimaces a few days later when word came down the wire that things were being delayed.
“Clearance has not been granted from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for TEXRail to operate along the entire 27-mile corridor,” a city news release said.
It was all stop.
There had been a few complications. First, there was a signal issue caused by a hardware installation problem that needed to be corrected. Then there was that pesky federal government shutdown. A key inspection from the Federal Railroad Administration was not completed as the agency was not at full strength.
But finally there was a green light, approvals were made and trains started rolling Jan. 11.
This line, served by nine stations, is projected to carry more than 8,000 daily riders by the end of the first year of operation. By 2035, nearly 14,000 daily riders are projected.
Owned and operated by Trinity Metro, TEXRail features the FLIRT 3 (Fast Light Innovative Regional Train) built by Stadler USA. Switzerland-based Stadler built the exterior of the vehicles in Hungary, and the final production and assembly were completed in Utah as part of the Buy America program. TEXRail is the first commuter line in the United States to feature the FLIRT 3.
While the line itself is expected to bring more visitors, increase area transit options and give economic development officials another bragging point, it will also be key to spurring development around the stations.
The North Side station, at 2829 Decatur Ave. near the Samuels Avenue and NE 28th Street area, comes online just as Fort Worth is looking to invest in that area.
Until Feb. 1, passengers can ride for free; after that a one-way trip will cost $2.50. A $5 day pass is good for all rail and buses in Tarrant County.
“TEXRail is a premium service, and we want to give everyone an opportunity to ride,” said Trinity Metro Senior Vice President Bob Baulsir. “From the day we open on Jan. 5 until the end of January, we won’t charge a fare.”
TEXRail will run hourly from the Texas & Pacific Station in downtown Fort Worth across northeast Tarrant County, through North Richland Hills and Grapevine, and into the airport, providing a daily commuting option for regional employees and travelers.
The first train departs Fort Worth at 3:25 a.m. and arrives at the airport at 4:17 a.m. The first train from the airport departs Terminal B at 4:55 a.m. and arrives at T&P Station at 5:56 a.m.
“TEXRail’s extended hourly schedule is perfect for airport employees or travelers with early flights,” Baulsir said. “By operating 365 days a year for the majority of hours each day, we are offering riders the opportunity to avoid the hassles of driving while knowing what time they will arrive.”
Numbers from that first weekend showed that some of the most popular places to board were the Fort Worth Texas & Pacific (T&P) Station, Grapevine/Main Street Station and DFW Airport Terminal B Station. The Downtown ITC/Fort Worth Station and North Richland Hills/Smithfield Station also reflected strong ridership
On Jan. 12, 220 riders boarded one train leaving the Fort Worth T&P Station. At Grapevine, 170 riders boarded a morning train. An afternoon train had 236 riders board at the airport. On one of the Jan. 13 trains, 201 passengers boarded at the T&P Station. On the other end of the line, 167 riders boarded the train at the airport.
“From the feedback we received, riders were trying TEXRail for a number of reasons,” Ballard said. “Some were taking day trips with their families, and others were testing out the route in anticipation of commuting to work during the week. We also saw travelers with luggage going to or from the airport.”
It was a long time coming, but it was worth it, said Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes, who serves as chair of the 44-member Regional Transportation Council.
“We are proud to be a region where transportation challenges are being met. This wouldn’t be possible without teamwork,” he said “The Texas Department of Transportation, cities, public transit and other transportation partners are helping to keep Dallas-Fort Worth drivers moving, despite historic population growth across the region.”