Report and Photos by Russ Jackson, Dallas
As relief from the heavy rail news, all the local and national budget crises, and the summer Amtrak train-delaying floods and heat, there was good rail news: the June 18 startup of the “A Train” (to the appropriate tune) commuter rail line operated by the line owner Denton County Transit Authority here in Texas.
Denton is located 40 miles northwest of Dallas. This 21 mile project’s problems are very similar to the truncated SMART line to be built in the North Bay in California, except here it runs its full route while SMART, if built, is unfortunately going to run only between Santa Rosa and San Rafael.
The route goes from Denton southeast to Carrollton on a restored MKT line. The A Train is now open for revenue business for passengers to ride within Denton County or wanting to transfer to DART’s Green Line in Carrollton to go to Dallas, which is the biggest commuter attraction to the service.
I had not ridden it until Saturday, July 30, (yeah, my railfan credentials will be revoked) but have spent some weekday time on the platform at the Highland Village-Lake Lewisville station, one of four intermediate stations and the one nearest my home. A staff member there came up with plenty of time to chat, as it was 10:30 AM and no trains would be running again until 3:00. Yes, here is a true commuter line that runs only during commuter hours due to “financial shortfalls.” Oh, they do have service on the hour from 11:00 to 2:00, but it is by “motorcoaches,” which make all stops and take longer than the 37 minutes by train between end points.
Initially the last two southbound trips in the morning went only half way, as the operations people wanted the two trainsets back in the maintenance base just south of the Lewisville station. That decision boomeranged on the DCTA when people on those last two trains found they could not connect with DART at Carrollton and were stuck on the platform at the station in downtown Lewisville.
Yes, the timetable showed that schedule, but when people have not had service like this before how do they know to look at the nuances of a timetable? As a result, DCTA has restored one of the “shorts” to full length service. The last morning train to depart Denton going south is at 8:25 AM. There is Saturday service. It doesn’t start until noon, but is available until midnight!
On Friday nights there is A Train service until midnight. A family, like the one in the photo below did, can ride to the Downtown Denton Transit Center and walk from the station to the shops and restaurants at the downtown Courthouse Square. They found that the ticket machines will not issue family tickets, though, as only one person’s ticket at a time can be processed. That is a “commuter” design, of course. When I rode I found the ticket machine rejected my cash, so I had to pay with a credit card for a “Regional Reduced” (Senior) $2 all-day pass! 4,000 riders per day rode the trains in the introductory first week, and now we know that when revenue service started they are averaging 1,100 with Saturdays their biggest day! When I rode it on Saturday, July 30, a very large number of riders boarded at the Downtown Denton station and almost all of them rode south to the transfer station to the DART Green Line.
The A Train is now using leased former TRE-owned Budd RDC cars until their delivery of eleven new Swiss-built cars arrive starting this Fall. Those cars are GTW 2-6 DMUs, which seat 96 passengers, from Stadler Bussnag AG and reportedly cost $7 million each. These new 70 percent low floor vehicles also run on the New Jersey Riverline and the Austin, Texas Capitol Metro.