Dissecting a rail recovery effort

While we continue working to restore some level of DART Rail service Monday morning, we thought it helpful to take a moment and address some of the questions we’ve received over the past couple of days about our operations and the decision to suspend light rail.

As an aside, we’ve observed a number of major transit properties across the nation (New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Washington, etc.) have made the decision to suspend rail service during severe winter weather in order to minimize the risk of stranding customers if a train breaks down, or to protect the rail assets to bring full service back online sooner. There’s no one-size-fits all approach to this, just as there are no two rail systems exactly alike. People in the transit industry learn from the experiences of others and try to apply what they learn for the next time.

The background

DART became a victim of an ice storm that swept through the area overnight Thursday to Friday. Like many of the businesses and transportation operations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we made the decision to suspend some service indefinitely for the safety of employees, passengers and public alike. In our case we halted DART Rail just before 7 a.m. Friday morning.

To support our rail customers DART launched a bus shuttle system connecting the rail stations. At one of its highest points, there were 44 extra buses operating to serve the rail stations.

How did this happen?

Despite taking early efforts (pre-treating the tracks, operating trains overnight, etc.) to prevent it from happening, trains were stalling across the system late Thursday night because of excessive ice buildup. This left trains stranded in potentially dangerous areas like bridges and overpasses.

Ice on the power DART light rail power lines.

Ice on the power DART light rail power lines.

Problems encountered:
• Ice buildup on overhead power lines
• Damage to the overhead power lines from downed trees
• Frozen rail switches (the devices that points your Red Line train to Plano or Blue Line trains to Garland)
• Downed or low-hanging trees that can impede DART trains
• Inoperable gate crossings along city streets
• Damage to actual rail cars (brakes, doors, etc)

With all of these problems in play, it became too dangerous to operate the rail system Friday and Saturday while the temperatures were well below freezing.

What about Trinity Railway Express?

Generally TRE was able to operate without major problems. Since the trains are fueled by diesel, they don’t have to make a electrical connection to be powered.

What did it take to fix?

DART maintenance staff divided the service area into three sections.

Staff first ensured the track in each section was safe for operation — meaning overhead power lines were repaired, trees were trimmed or removed, and the switches on the track were cleared and functional.

With a window of higher temperatures and improved conditions Sunday afternoon, DART began sending teams out to recover the more-than-40 trains spread across the service area.

Teams initially inspected the vehicles on-site to make sure the overhead connection to the power line was operable, brakes functioned and the vehicle could move on its own. It then began a slow trip to either the central or northwest rail facilities for further inspection and repair.

More than 48 hours after DART suspended its rail service for only the second time in its history, most vehicles made it back to the rail yard and were accounted for to be safely reinstated for service.

We thank you for your patience during our rail downtime and apologize for any inconveniences you may have encountered.

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7 Responses to Dissecting a rail recovery effort

  1. Dart Customer says:

    That’s a whole lot of excuses but what it comes down to is that this is an embarrassment to DART and all of the cities that pay for DART. In other cities, people rely on rail in bad weather. Dart can’t seem to find the money to make the rail system reliable but they can find the money to run buses on icy streets? By the way, do I get a refund on what I paid for a monthly pass?

  2. Blue Line Customer says:

    I tried to take the shuttle buses on Friday, but I did not find that they ran to the train stations as stated. I needed to get from the Pearl Street station to the Rowlett station as I normally take the Blue line. I was taken by shuttle from the Pearl Street station to the East Transit station in Dallas. That was not helpful at all. I was disappointed by the misinformation that continues to be published.

  3. Alex says:

    I’d like to see you dissect the mass pandemonium that was your bus replacement service.

  4. Red Line Customer says:

    Relying on the shuttles and misinformation put out by DART resulted in a 7-1/2 hour commute to and from Downtown on Friday. Having relied on DART rail since 2003, I have never experienced service interuption in severe ice events. The shuttles were far from a safe alternative. If this becomes DART policy in inclement weather, the system is broken.

  5. Paul says:

    We spoiled Americans. There just always has to be someone to blame. I applaud DART for taking a safety first approach. This storm was terrible and everyone had to make sacrifices and tough decisions. What would have been the uproar if you had been stranded or injured? I wish more people could just roll with the punches instead of crying about poor, pitiful me. And if you think the trains in other cities do not cease operations during severe weather, you are simply misinformed.

    • Dart Customer says:

      So the safety first approach is to shut down the rail system in icy weather and use buses or force people to drive on icy roads instead? Not sure I’m following you there.

  6. Frank Vaughan says:

    On Monday, I waited 45 minutes at Trinity Mill station for a bus to go to Bachman station. The only DART employee on hand was a policeman sitting in his running car. It took 2 hours to get to Downtown. The DCTA, however, ran fine with no delays and no ice on the passenger stations. 3 train loads of DCTA passengers were dropped at trinity Mills before 1 bus showed up, stranding passengers in 20 dregeree weather with no guidance. DART can and should do better.

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