In a region known for its affinity for personal vehicles and large highways, another publicly funded train project is rapidly speeding toward completion.
The TEXRail is a new passenger train that will run from Fort Worth to D/FW Airport, connecting downtown to several suburbs and Terminal B at the airport. The 27-mile, 9-station route mostly follows the Cotton Belt rail line through Northeast Tarrant County. All the old Cotton Belt track is being replaced.
The majority of the construction is scheduled to be finished by September 2018, leaving a few months to test the train before starting fare service in December, said Bob Baulsir, vice president of railroads and procurement with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T).
“We’re putting down track, we’re doing grade crossings, we’re building all the elevated track," Baulsir said. “We’re working everywhere along the line."
The $1 billion TEXRail project promises a premium ride on a European-style train car. The T estimates about 10,000 riders a day will take the train when it debuts.
Instead of being powered by overhead electric lines, like DART trains, or traditional freight locomotives, the TEXRail will use Diesel Multiple Units (DMU), bi-directional trains that have motors in the center of the train car. The DMUs are made by Stadler Bussnang AG, a Swiss company. The cars themselves will be manufactured in Salt Lake City.
"You can walk from one end of the train to another without ever stepping outside," Baulsir said.
All the access points to the train cars will be at-grade with the station platforms, making it easy for wheelchairs, strollers and bicycles to roll on the train without ramps. Bicycles will be stored vertically to take up less space.
The cars are expected to be unveiled at the American Transit Expo in Atlanta in October. It will travel up to 59 mph.
TEXRail’s journey starts at the T&P Station and the Intermodal Transportation Center Station in downtown Fort Worth, which will be shared with the TRE. The line will continue to the D/FW Airport, which has two stations, one on the north side and another that connects directly into Terminal B. From the Terminal B station, passengers can get to any of the five airport terminals or follow a covered walkway to the DART station at Terminal A to catch the Orange Line.
The airport is overseeing construction of the $28.5 million Terminal B station now, said Cynthia Vega, a media relations manager for D/FW Airport.
"It's going to look very similar [to DART's Terminal A station]," Vega said. "The difference will be that it will start about 150 feet farther south."
The goal is to make D/FW Airport a central hub where buses, trains, vehicles and airplanes converge, Vega said.
"International travelers appreciate easy access to downtown for business purposes," Vega said.
TEXRail is being funded from local and federal sources. Fort Worth and Grapevine have a dedicated sales tax to fund the project. North Richland Hills will fund its participation by directed the sales tax and property tax generated by new development around the Iron Horse and Smithfield train stations to the project, according to the The T. Grapevine has been setting aside sales tax since voters approved TEXRail in that city more than a decade ago so it's been a long time coming for resident there. With the rail project in full swing, Grapevine's own transit-oriented development is popping up fast with a new hotel, parking garage and retail planned.
"The fact that we're seeing transit-oriented development along the line tells us that we're doing the right thing," Baulsir said.