Honkin' Mad

Starting today, TEXRail is no longer free. Are people riding the trains anyway?

Will TEXRail riders put their money where their mouth is?

On Friday, the new 27-mile commuter train service from downtown Fort Worth to DFW Airport began charging fares to its customers. Since the passenger rail line opened Jan. 10, it had been available to the public at no charge as a way to encourage North Texans to try it out.

The rail line has been extremely popular, with nearly 5,000 riders per day during the free period.

And early Friday morning at Smithfield Station in North Richland HIlls, even though the rides were no longer gratis, plenty of commuters were seen waiting on the platform — most huddling under a canopy as a light mist fell.

A westbound train arriving from DFW Airport pulled up to Smithfield Station on time at 7:16 a.m. About 30 people were already on the train, and about another eight people boarded from the platform, as the train headed for downtown Fort Worth.

Ryan Bledsoe was among the riders who boarded at the next stop, North Richland Hills Iron Horse Station.

“I love this train. It’s awesome,” Bledsoe said as he settled into a seat with a table, which he used to work on his laptop.

Bledsoe said he bought a day pass at Iron Horse Station, although he plans to start using a monthly pass.

Ryan Bledsoe rides each work day from North Richland Hills Smithfield Station to downtown Fort Worth, where he works for a solar panel company. Gordon Dickson

Fares are $2.50 per ride, or $5 for a day pass that allows unlimited use of trains and buses in Tarrant County. For those who also want access to all trains and buses in Dallas, a regional day pass is $12.

But most regular riders like Bledsoe probably will prefer a monthly pass for $80, or an annual pass for $800.

On Friday, ticket checkers were on each train to make sure riders were paying. And at each station, employees of Trinity Metro, the transit agency that built the line, were stationed at ticket machines to help riders submit their payments by cash or credit card.

However, there were some problems with some of the ticket machines.

At Smithfield Station, the ticket machine froze when a customer tried to pay with a credit card, and a handful of passengers were told it would be OK to board without tickets.

Earlier, that same machine had been dispensing tickets for those who paid with cash bills, but the coin slot wasn’t working properly, an employee said.

A few minutes later, at North Side Station, workers were seen cutting power to the ticket machines and attempting to repair them.

Despite those glitches on the first day of fare collection, TEXRail was luring a steady stream of commuters.

The scene at each platform was nothing like the crowds during the free period in January, when throngs of curious residents came out to experience the trains. But none of the platforms was empty, either.

Through Jan. 27, TEXRail carried 82,733 riders, according to Trinity Metro, the Fort Worth transit agency that built the line. That’s an average of 4,866 riders per day.

But those weren’t paying customers.

Now that the fares are being charged, Trinity Metro will get a much better idea in the coming months of how much daily traffic to expect. Trinity Metro officials have said they expected smaller crowds to take the train once fares are enforced, and they hope that throughout 2019 those crowds will consistently grow.

When TEXRail was being planned, computer-aided modeling conducted by the North Central Texas Council of Governments projected that the rail line would average 8,000 riders per day by the end of its first year of service.

That would make it a more popular commuter rail line than the Trinity Railway Express, another North Texas train service that opened in 1996 and connects Fort Worth to downtown Dallas.

Gordon Dickson joined the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 1997. He is passionate about hard news reporting, and his beats include transportation, growth, urban planning, aviation, real estate, jobs, business trends. He is originally from El Paso, and loves food, soccer and long drives.