The new passenger train cars being built for the planned TEX Rail commuter line are modern and airy.
And although they appear to be much lighter than freight trains that normally run on the tracks, the manufacturer is redistributing the weight to address a problem that has nagged a previous model.
Train cars made by Stadler Rail of Bussnang, Switzerland, and operated on the Denton County A-train commuter line came under scrutiny in 2012 after some had trouble keeping a crucial electrical connection with the tracks.
The newer Stadler cars built for TEX Rail are designed to better ensure that an electrical connection is maintained to the rails at all times, so that dispatchers always know where the trains are and crossing gates are properly activated when a train is coming.
The TEX Rail line, which will run from downtown Fort Worth to Grapevine and DFW Airport, is scheduled to open in December 2018. Workers have begun laying new track on the route and construction of several stations is underway.
“These cars will have more axles and more weight,” said Dieter Hofacker, senior technical project manager for Stadler, during a preview of the first TEX Rail car this week in Grapevine. He added that the TEX Rail cars have 12 axles, whereas the cars in Denton have six, “and it is driven by axles in front.”
The Stadler cars are powered by diesel engines, but rely upon electrical signals to trigger crossing arms and flashing red lights. The lack of a connection — or “shunting” as it is called in the industry — can also allow a train to disappear from a railroad dispatcher’s computer screen, raising the possibility of a collision if two trains are cleared to travel on the same tracks.
In August 2012, a dispatcher lost track of a Denton A-train for about 10 seconds near Lewisville’s Hebron Station — an incident blamed on shunting that alarmed a Federal Railroad Administration inspector. It was determined that rust and other build-up had appeared on the tracks, and most likely interrupted the connection between the steel wheels and rails.
Officials from several transit agencies say the problem has since been fixed and is no longer a major concern.
Jim Cline, Denton County Transportation Authority president, said the agency intensified its efforts to keep the tracks clean, and spent about $800,000 upgrading its signal system to ensure the location of the trains could be detected at all times.
Differences at TEX Rail
Stadler is one of the world leaders in the manufacture of an emerging new style of rail car, particularly in the United States — passenger cars that are modern and comfortable like a streetcar, but also safe enough to operate on shared rail lines that also carry freight trains.
The TEX Rail line will feature a model known as a Stadler FLIRT. The trains will operate in sets of five rail cars — including four passenger cars with a special fifth car in the middle housing its diesel engines. TEX Rail will operate with eight five-car sets of Stadler vehicles.
The commuter rail service is being built by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, which recently took delivery of the first of eight sets of Stadler cars.
Stadler opened a facility in Salt Lake City to build the TEX Rail cars and to fill orders from a growing number of commuter rail lines across the U.S.
The cars are known as diesel multiple units. They are self-propelled, meaning no locomotive is required to push or pull them. They can be operated from the front or back, so the trains don’t have to be turned around to switch directions between Fort Worth and DFW.
Of the 12 axles on each set of rail cars, the axles on the front and rear will serve as the drive axles, which will help distribute the weight to each end of the trains (rather than the middle) and maintain a good electrical connection with the tracks, Hofacker said.
Diesel multiple units also offer a smooth, quiet ride with panoramic windows and low floors that make it easier for seniors, parents with strollers and people with disabilities to climb aboard.
The TEX Rail car sets will weigh about 385,000 pounds, about double the weight of the A-train cars in Denton, which will also help keep the cars firmly connected to the tracks.
They will travel a maximum 79 mph.
This report includes information from the Star-Telegram archives.