DART: The Cheap Way to Get Around D/FW, Part II

In this exciting episode of D/FW and Me, we’ll talk about the spiffy new DART trains we’ve got down here. Back in the mid-1990s, when I was still an archeologist, we caught wind of an interesting project called DART — Dallas Area Rapid Transit. The idea was to put rail-lines into service connecting all the major towns and cities of the Metroplex. It sounded like a good idea, but we weren’t sure how well it would go over with the public. We Texans do like our cars.

Eventually, we ended up surveying many miles of existing railroad track for the proposed DART lines. My ex (who was also an archeologist then) did several long stretches, and years later, I did a few miles myself. An archeological survey is different from a land survey: you use very few instruments, and basically just dig holes (“shovel tests”) here and there and look for sites. You’d think it would be easy to survey a rail line, and in some ways, it is: you usually don’t have to worry about much digging, because when the railroad was built, they disturbed the hell out of the surrounding area. In other words, most existing sites were already destroyed. All you have to do is walk along and keep your eyes open and try not to get hit by a train. There are some difficulties, though: it’s usually broiling hot, and it’s hard to walk along the middle of the track, because the sleepers (or ties) get in the way. It’s OK if your stride exactly matches their spacing, but otherwise it’s kind of a pain dealing with ’em, and if you’re like me you stumble a lot.  Oh, and there were those trains you had to worry about.

Needless to say, we didn’t find many sites along the railroad tracks, although there were a few. It was an interesting experience, and hopefully I’ll never have to do it again.

Nowadays, DART rail reaches out to all the closer outlying cities, and it’s still expanding. Here are a couple of views of one of their trains.

 

Da Train!

 

Da Other Train!

 

The stations, with very few exceptions, are open-air stations, and they’re all nicely decorated. The one exception that jumps to mind is the Citiplace station in downtown Dallas, and it’s just plain neat-o. I’ll probably do a special entry on that one sometime soon, a soon as I can get some pictures. It’s the only station that can be considered a subway, and among other things it has huge escalators and the oddest elevator I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t just go up — it goes up at a 45° angle.

 

The DART trains cost the same as the buses: $40 for a month’s pass, $1.25 for a one-way trip, $2.50 for a day pass. That’s a real bargain, when you want to go someplace like the zoo and you don’t want to deal with all the stinkin’ traffic. The trains are all air-conditioned and clean. If anyone’s tried to graffiti them, it hasn’t stayed on long.

 

At this time, DART serves the east side of the Metroplex; it doesn’t really extend to Fort Worth. There are stops all over Oak Cliff, Dallas, Richardson, Plano, Garland, etc., and it’s a great way to hit some good shopping destinations. You can’t take the regular DART train to Fort Worth, but you can take something called the Trinity Railway Express for the tidy sum of $4.50 straight from Dallas to Fort Worth. It takes about 45 minutes. I’m planning to take a little trip by the TRE soon, and I’ll let you know how it went when I do. I hear they even have a dining car.

 

If you’ll recall, I mentioned earlier that a number of the small outlying cities, like Plano, fought the extension of the DART train through their towns — the idiots. A very vocal minority was worried about the expense, how it would affect business, how they’d have to shut down busy roads on a regular basis as the trains passed, etc. etc. They basically forced their city councils to set up a series of referenda to give the voters a chance to trashcan the idea. They were confident we would.

 

Boy, were they ever wrong. As it turned out, all that vocal minority did was make it extraordinarily clear how much people absolutely loved the idea of DART trains connecting their communities. All the referenda passed resoundingly, and DART was here to stay. My take on the situations is that, at the time, residents of Dallas/Fort Worth were sick to death of all the construction projects tying up the major roadways. In any sanely-run urban area, the city planners wouldn’t put more than one major roadway out of service at a time. That way people would have a detour route to use that would let them get where they were going without too much of a delay. Oh, but this kind of logic didn’t cut any ice with the people who planned the much-needed I-75 expansion from McKinney down to South Dallas. At first, you could live without I-75 if you had to: you could use the 635 Loop and a few other ancillary roads to avoid the worst of the construction as it crept south from McKinney. This worked OK for a while — until they decided they needed to work on the detour routes while they still had I-75 shut down. No telling what they were thinking; they probably had some use-it-or-lose-it funds to get rid of. Morons.

 

In any case, the great majority of us welcomed the new DART lines with open arms, and that shut the DART opponents up right quick. Yes, a few major streets get shut down as the trains go through a few times an hour, but that’s no more troublesome than another red light. Sure, a couple of fools have thinned the herd by going around the safety barriers and getting creamed by a train (you see, when the bar is down it means a train is coming, folks). By and large, however, the cities are no less safe or less rich because of DART, and if anything, business has picked up. If nothing else, the train’s a nice clean ride (and the novelty still hasn’t worn off for some of us), and it’s a lot cheaper than a cab.