DFW AIRPORT — A new era of regional connectivity kicked off Monday when Dallas Area Rapid Transit officially launched its light-rail service to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.The DART trains, with their signature yellow paint scheme, began arriving at 3:50 a.m. Monday and continued with three to four arrivals hourly throughout the day.Each train carried a smattering of riders, including airport employees, travelers and even a few curiosity seekers.“It was very comfortable, and there weren’t too many people on board,” said Kelly McDuffie, who works at Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles and was returning home after visiting Dallas over the weekend.About 1,200 riders per day are expected to use DART’s Orange Line to DFW, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said. The Orange Line offers service to Irving’s Las Colinas area, downtown Dallas, Southern Methodist University and Plano.Riders may also transfer to any of DART’s other passenger lines at various points, providing travelers at DFW Airport essentially a connection to the entire 90-mile-plus rail system in the Metroplex.“I just wanted to see what we’re putting our money into, and it’s real nice,” said Wiley Taylor, a retiree who rode DART rail Monday to the airport from Dallas’ Buckner Station.North Texas is among a handful of U.S. cities with a direct light-rail connection to a major airport. About 60,000 people work at or near DFW Airport.A similar connection is being planned from downtown Fort Worth to DFW. Officials with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, are aiming to get TEX Rail service up and running by 2018.The TEX Rail line would ferry passengers from the Intermodal Transportation Center at 1001 Jones St. in downtown Fort Worth to the Stockyards area, Grapevine and DFW’s Terminal B. At the airport, a small walkway would connect TEX Rail’s platform with DART’s Orange Line, which operates from a platform on the ground level of Terminal A.Last month, the T’s board gave President Paul Ballard authority to sign agreements to use railroad tracks and right of way owned by DART and frequently used by Fort Worth & Western Railroad. That’s considered a crucial step in getting TEX Rail service operating.The other issue is securing roughly $405 million in federal new-starts transit funding to build TEX Rail.Although DART and the T are regional partners, their services differ drastically. DART’s light-rail system is electrified and offers frequent service, with trains running roughly every few minutes during peak periods in downtown Dallas.The T, on the other hand, is trying to build a regional network of commuter rail lines such as the Trinity Railway Express, which already runs from downtown Fort Worth to Dallas. The commuter trains would be powered by diesel and would operate once or twice an hour during peak weekday periods and less frequently during middays and on Saturdays.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson