Gliding across a row of brand-new concrete ties, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit light-rail line zipped into Dallas/Fort Worth Airport at nearly 65 mph.
The train ride Wednesday morning was just a test run for the newest feature of DART’s elaborate light-rail system. But when DART’s Orange Line to DFW Airport, as the service is known, opens to the public Aug. 18, it will usher in a new era for the world’s fourth busiest airport — and the Metroplex at large.
In just a few weeks, it will be possible for visitors to fly into DFW, collect their bags and board a train for Dallas.
“We join the ranks of Atlanta as well as Chicago as the third airport that has rail service from the airport to its city center,” said Jim Crites, DFW Airport executive vice president for operations.
“We join the ranks of 17 global superhubs where international customers have direct rail service down to the city center.”
Eventually, travelers from downtown Fort Worth also could be able to take the train directly into the airport. The Fort Worth Transportation Authority, also known as the T, hopes to open its TEX Rail commuter line by 2018 — and that service will arrive at the airport at a station planned near Terminal B.
The T has completed its portion of an environmental study for TEX Rail and is competing with other metro areas for federal transit funding, spokeswoman Joan Hunter said.
On Wednesday, DART conducted a test run of the Orange Line to DFW and invited the media to go along. During the roughly 10-minute trip from Irving’s Belt Line Station, the train reached a top speed near 65 mph, whizzing past traffic on nearby Texas 114.
Two planes with landing gear down flew just over the train, which entered the airport property near the north end of the runways.
The train slowed considerably as it pulled into an outdoor airport station sheltered by tent-like canopies over the platform. From there, passengers walk about 100 yards to Terminal A checkpoints.
Within a few years, about 1,200 people daily are expected to use DART’s Orange Line to DFW, DART spokesman Morgan Lyons said.
By extending the rail line into the airport, DART is tapping into a job center with 60,000 employees.
“We see a lot of people who work at the airport or around the airport taking the train to and from” their jobs,” said Gary Thomas, DART president.
“But we think this connection is so convenient for the traveling public we’ll see a high volume of folks who just want to get off an airplane, get on a train and take it where they want to go.”
Edgar Perez, a Tyler resident who was flying from DFW to Los Angeles on Wednesday, said he preferred to drive to the airport but could see light rail becoming a popular option for travelers.
“It’s very difficult trying to get from the city to the airport. It’s just a struggle,” he said. “This will definitely make things more convenient.”
Rubin Lowder, who has worked for DART for 12 years and operated the Orange Line test run on Wednesday, agreed.
“We’re going to get a lot of ridership,” he said.