On Dec. 30, 1996, the first Trinity Railway Express commuter train pulled out of Dallas — and in doing so showed that it was possible to get around North Texas without a car.
TRE was billed as the first commuter rail service to operate in the southwestern United States. It started small, with only weekday passenger service in Dallas and Irving, but by 1998 Saturday service was added. By 2000, TRE extended to the Fort Worth/Hurst area and Richland Hills and by 2001 it arrived in downtown Fort Worth.
The first time we rode it, we were hooked.
Ann Kelley, 81, of Colleyville
Along the way, it has brought riders to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, Dallas’ Medical/Market Center and many points in between.
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The ride has been mostly smooth, with a few bumps along the way.
So, to celebrate the 20th anniversary, the Star-Telegram offers 20 Things We Love and Don’t Love about TRE:
1. Good (and bad) eats
We love being able to eat on the train. Even though eating on public transportation is typically frowned upon, it’s not against the rules to bring food on TRE. Train employees recognize that in many cases the hour-long train ride is sometimes commuters’ only chance to grab a bite.
We don’t love when someone leaves their empty burger wrapper and uneaten fries on the seat.
2. Music to everyone’s ears
We love riding TRE with people heading to a concert. They’re dressed up and excited about the night ahead.
We don’t love riding TRE with people heading home from a concert, especially if they’ve had too much fun.
3. Two-wheel friends
We love being able to take a bicycle on the train. In most cases, there’s plenty of room near the handicap seats for a cyclist to sit next to his or her bike.
We don’t love people bringing a bike onto a full train.
4. Balls and pucks
We love riding the train to Dallas Mavericks and Stars games. Not only is a round trip fare to Victory Station cheaper than the $15 to $30 it can cost to park near American Airlines Center, but the ride is hassle-free and offers an alternate way home for fans who have had too much to drink.
“The first time we rode it, we were hooked,” said Ann Kelley, 81, a retired executive secretary and Colleyville resident who has ridden the train to Mavs games for 11 years. “It was comfortable. The bathrooms were immaculate. You could sit and watch as the train rides by all that traffic.”
7,383 Passengers per day on average aboard the Trinity Railway Express
We don’t love the loss of game trains. When TRE changed its schedule in late October, it did away with the trains that would wait outside Victory Station until 20 minutes after the game ended. Now, there are trains running as late as 12:05 a.m., but fans must wait outside in the elements for the rail cars to arrive.
5. Security (or lack thereof)
We love the feeling of safety on board the train. The double-deck, Bombardier rail cars are clean. They (usually) smell nice. The seats are comfy.
We don’t love that, every now and then, an intoxicated or disruptive person gets on the train. On a recent ride, Kelley said a passenger who looked like he had just been in a fight was yelling and scaring passengers. A TRE employee eventually got him off the train at a station and met with police, but Kelley believes the situation could have been avoided if Fort Worth and Dallas police more frequently rode the entire length of the TRE line.
Bob Baulsir, Fort Worth Transportation Authority VP for commuter rail, said the agency is looking into broadening the training of TRE ticket checkers to help them respond to disruptive passengers.
6. No free rides
Speaking of ticket checkers …
We love that passengers don’t have to go through turnstiles to get on a train. Most riders hold monthly or annual passes, and therefore have ID cards that get them on the trains. For less frequent riders, there are ticket machines on all station platforms, and they take most credit cards as well as cash.
We don’t love that many people on TRE appear to be riding for free. Regulars say it irks them that they sometimes go for weeks without seeing a ticket checker on their train. Baulsir said TRE recognizes the need to increase ticket checking.
7. Any given Sunday
We love that TRE is experimenting with running some Sunday trains, including one that took revelers to the recent Parade of Lights in downtown Fort Worth.
We don’t love that it will likely be years before TRE adopts a permanent Sunday schedule. Come on, man! This is the 21st century. Give us Sunday service.
8. Schedule changes … again
We love that the two agencies that co-own TRE, the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and Dallas Area Rapid Transit, have added train service. There are now 27 Dallas-bound trains leaving downtown Fort Worth each day.
We don’t love how crowded some of the trains are these days. When TRE expanded its schedule, it spread out the trains so the service was more consistent throughout the day. But in doing so, it eliminated some of the rush-hour trains that came and went every 20 minutes — and now, with 30 minutes between trains, many of the rail cars are crammed with humanity during peak periods.
“Every seat is taken,” said Paul Golightly, a paralegal who lives in Fort Worth, describing his afternoon commute. “I get on at Union Station, and by the time we hit the medical center (two stations away) it’s almost standing room only.”
9. Color me red, white and blue
We love TRE’s paint scheme. The red, white and blue Texas flag logo on the locomotives and Bombardier cars is a real eye-catcher.
We don’t love that we hardly see the old, silverish Budd Rail Diesel Cars that ran on TRE tracks in its early years. What those post-World War II-era cars lacked in color, they made up for in style. (TRE still owns the Budd cars, but they’re in storage.)
10. Toilet talk
We love that TRE has restrooms in the cab car, and appreciate that the crew makes an effort to keep them clean.
We don’t love that, on a recent trip the restroom door handle was jammed, making it impossible to lock the door. It’s hard to hold that thing shut while doing one’s business — especially while a train is in motion.
11. Bring on TEX Rail
We love that TRE has shown commuter rail can work in the Metroplex. Soon, it will connect to the region’s second commuter line, TEX Rail, which is scheduled to open in late 2018 between Fort Worth, Grapevine and DFW Airport.
We don’t love that TRE is a separate technology from DART’s light-rail system, which has much further reach into Dallas-area neighborhoods.
12. Transit-oriented development
We love that several of TRE’s stations are within walking distance of major employers, such as Bell Helicopter on the Hurst-Fort Worth border.
We don’t love the lack of transit-oriented development. TRE hasn’t been able to replicate the success of DART’s Mockingbird Station.
13. Good neighbors
We love being closer to Dallas. On the west side of the region, we like to talk smack about our larger neighbor. But the truth is, there are a lot of fun museums, restaurants and other attractions accessible by train.
Outside of the stop in CentrePort, we don’t love that TRE does little to bring Fort Worth closer to Arlington.
14. Goodbye Richland Hills
We love how popular Richland Hills Station is. The lot has 480 parking spots, and on many days they’re nearly all occupied.
We don’t love that Richland Hills voters opted out of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority Nov. 8. (Despite the election results, the TRE station will remain open.)
15. Easy riders
We love that 7,383 people ride TRE on a typical weekday.
We don’t love that that figure is actually down from TRE’s best year — 2009, when average ridership was 9,870. Of course, that was in the era of $3 to $4-per-gallon gas.
16. Two downtown stations
We love that TRE stops at both the ITC and T&P Stations in downtown Fort Worth.
We don’t love the lack of a station closer to the city’s West Seventh area.
17. More restaurants, please
We love that when TRE arrived in downtown Fort Worth the city opened up a new Intermodal Transportation Center at Ninth and Jones Streets. It’s also the home of Amtrak, Greyhound, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and all the major T bus routes.
We don’t love that there’s only one restaurant, a Subway sandwich shop, in the ITC. Subway is solid, but we need variety!
18. Working with Wi-Fi
We love that TRE experimented with offering riders Wi-fi a few years ago, before mobile phone services offered generous data plans.
We didn’t love the limited bandwidth. When the train was crowded, trying to watch video was a lost cause.
19. Park and ride
We love being able to park for free in the TRE lots.
We don’t love not being able to leave cars overnight.
20. Train with a view
We love most of the scenery that comes with riding the TRE, especially with the trees changing colors and the occasional pond with ducks.
We don’t love the seeing the Arlington landfill in between Bell and CentrePort stations. But at least the windows are closed.
Staff Writer Lee Williams contributed to this report.