April 25, 2023 - TRA Newswire -
Rich Andreski, President and CEO of Trinity Metro, is seeing regional passenger rail rebounding in a post-Covid world and is optimistic about future expansion, maybe even with a unified regional rail network.
Speaking at the Southwestern Rail Conference earlier this month, the Tarrant County transportation chief said that ridership across the entire Trinity Metro system has recovered to 85% of pre-pandemic levels, citing February 2023 numbers. "Trends are very favorable here. Our focus is on growth with a lot of capital investment that has been made, TEXRail being the latest", according to Andreski. "TEXRail is growing at an eye-watering 74% year over year growth."
In 2022 Trinity Railway Express (TRE), which is a partnered service with Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and runs frequent regional rail service between Fort Worth and Dallas, carried 1,067,319 passengers. The newer TEXRail line, which is a Trinity Metro product from downtown Fort Worth to DFW International Airport, carried 530,482 passengers last year.
While home-to-office travel on TRE is down and is not rebounding as expected post-Covid until employment levels return, there is a strengthening of off-peak and leisure travel on the Fort Worth to Dallas line. In past years, office workers in downtown Dallas drove the rush hour numbers higher.
"TEXRail as a commuter railroad, not so much," according to Andreski. "Downtown Fort Worth is not a traditional office center so we were never dependent on that. What we have seen is a great response to leisure and airport travel".
On the horizon is a two-mile extension of TEXRail from the Texas & Pacific Station to the Fort Worth Medical district. A new rail station will accommodate 100 vehicles and open up opportunity for transit oriented development. "TEXRail came in $80 million under budget and we are repurposing those funds with the help of the Federal Transit Administration." The Med District station has 50,000 jobs within walking distance and is scheduled to open in late 2026.
Over on the TRE, a new Trinity Lakes Station will replace the North Richland Hills Station. That city had pulled out of a membership agreement with Trinity Metro and DART and North Richland Hills will lose all rail service. Instead, the new Trinity Lakes Station nearby will be poised near new housing and mixed-use developments and will include two more miles of double track added to the regional railroad.
Following some other work to be done on the TRE, only five miles of single track will remain on the 31 mile railroad. "Our vision is to get to a minimum of a double-track railroad which really opens up opportunities for frequency, more reliable schedules, but more importantly to elevated speeds," according to Andreski.
So what does the future hold for rail in North Texas? Once DART opens up their Silver Line, scheduled in 2026 to run between Plano and DFW International Airport, Andreski said that they would like to experiment with TEXRail/Silver Line through-trains from Fort Worth through Northern Dallas County to its terminus in Collin County. Additional TEXRail extensions to Southern Tarrant County will be looked at in the future and also relaunching TRE from the ground-up with new equipment and higher speeds.
Presently there are three transit/rail agencies in North Texas: Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA), DART and Trinity Metro. Andreski said "we all work very closely together" and the three transit agencies offer single ticketing options between all stations but you must change trains. "We have talked about what if... what if we created a rail authority to interconnect these lines and coordinate them as one railroad? I'm open to that, there are a lot of questions to be answered. As the region grows there may be a need to have that kind of focus. beyond the current boundaries of the Metroplex."
Photo credit: Southwestern Rail Conference / Texas Rail Advocates