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Hop aboard the A-train!

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On Saturday, June 18, 2011, the Denton County Transportation Authority will begin service on the A-train commuter rail system.

This would not have been made possible without the local support of the Denton County voters, community leaders, and the hard word and diligence of the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) board and staff.

As the DCTA begins this next chapter in the transportation history of Denton County, I would like to provide an overview of the history and milestones of the DCTA.

Since being formed and funded in 2003, the DCTA has worked quickly to establish service and meet the transportation needs of Denton County.

Recognizing the importance of public transportation to a small urban county facing tremendous population and employment growth, DCTA pushed an aggressive schedule for the launch of a new path for North Texas – the A-train.

Critical to keeping the North Texas region moving, the A-train is 21 miles of rail stretching from Denton to Carrollton and connecting with Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s (DART) Green Line. The regional rail line also will provide an alternative to I-35E during its planned expansion.

DCTA’s commitment to their aggressive A-train implementation schedule is illustrated by the strategic moves that the staff and Board of Directors made to keep the agency on schedule and under budget. Realizing that the federal New Starts process threatened to delay the project, the DCTA board directed staff to forgo the federal process and seek additional funding resources.

To move the A-train from idea to implementation, DCTA required more than the initial half-cent sales tax, which only accounts for 20% of the cost to build the A-train. For the remaining 80%, the agency looked to the new Regional Toll Revenue funding initiative. The Texas Legislature enabled the Texas Department of Transportation to consider public and private sector partnerships to finance roadways. The result is a completed project with a toll component and revenue for other non-toll transportation projects.

The first agreement to generate Regional Toll Revenue funds was with the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA). In exchange for the opportunity to construct, operate and maintain a 26-mile toll road for 52 years, NTTA paid the region $3.2 billion. The Regional Transportation Council (RTC) used these funds to expedite about 200 transportation projects, one of which was DCTA’s A-train. In April 2008, the RTC approved funds for the purchase of rail cars and in August 2008, $190.2 million was approved for the completion of DCTA’s A-train.

June 18, 2011, will mark a major milestone for DCTA and Denton County residents, as service will begin on the much-anticipated A-train with a public celebration beginning at 11:30 am at the Downtown Denton Transit Center. Residents can ride the rails for free that day, and revenue service will begin on Monday, June 20th.

The initial A-train service will start with one element left to refine – the rail vehicles. A phased vehicle implementation plan has been developed and the A-train service will launch with the use of Rail Diesel Cars previously operated by the Trinity Railway Express (TRE). Due to manufacturing and delivery time, the A-train will transition by September 2012 to the new generation GTW 2/6 Diesel Multiple Units (DMU), manufactured by Switzerland-based Stadler Bussnang AG.

Purchased in May 2009, the DMU construction process began in September 2010, and vehicle deliveries are scheduled for August 2011 through April 2012. Testing of the new vehicles will continue through August 2012, and complete transition to the fleet of 11 DMUs is planned for September 2012.

Ultimately, the A-train DMUs will offer floor-level boarding, luggage and bike racks, and space for wheelchairs. Each vehicle will seat 96 passengers and have a total capacity of 200. The A-train fleet will run in couples, for a total of 192 seats and capacity of 400 people per train.

Recognizing that passenger rail is the future for North Texas, DCTA wants to ensure that its vehicle has application in other rail corridors and can operate concurrently with freight.  DCTA and Stadler have worked closely with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) through the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee (RSAC) to develop safety standard criteria for Alternative Vehicle Technology (AVT) using Crash Energy Management (CEM) Systems.

DCTA is currently working with Stadler to be the first transportation agency and car builder in the United States to make necessary changes to accommodate the new safety measures.

Like many rail transit systems across the United States, the A-train promises to enhance economic development activities near its rail stations through transit-oriented development. This is already being illustrated in South Lewisville near the Hebron Station where a $212.7 million mixed use development has broken ground.

When the A-train pulls into the station this month, it will be less than ten years since the idea of regional rail in Denton County was first conceived.  Local champions, regional and statewide relationships, and broad public support have been critical to DCTA’s timely implementation. Another component pivotal to the process is the true grit and determination shown by the young agency to bring this project to fruition.

 

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