DART fails us when we need it most

Posted on 02 Feb 2011 at 12:19pm
DART — running in good weather

Even people who don’t usually ride DART should be able to use it as a fallback during inclement weather. During the current winter weather, DART has been a complete failure.

On Tuesday, the train lines did not begin running until 2:30 p.m. DART was completely unprepared as switching signals froze and ice formed on overhead cables.

Subways in Chicago and New York run with power supplied by a third rail. Ice is not a problem. But in cold-weather cities like Denver, light rail runs despite snow and sleet and cold. The trolleys in Boston run with an overhead power supply despite ice and wind.

In those cities, the transportation systems run the trains through the night to keep the power lines defrosted — and keep the trains running during normal operating hours.

DART failed to keep their riders informed. This morning at Hampton Station, a number of riders arrived by 7:30 a.m. They checked DART’s web page and Facebook page on their mobile devices. DART said trains were running at 20-minute intervals and a Green Line train was stuck downtown because of a switching problem.

Station monitors had no information for riders. The only help offered was calling DART four times to tell them ticket machines weren’t working and conductors shouldn’t fine riders who claimed they boarded at Hampton Station.

Those same riders who arrived at 7:30 a.m. finally boarded a train at 8:45.

The only explanation on DART’s website was rolling blackouts that could delay trains up to an additional 15 minutes. Rolling blackouts hit various parts of Dallas and all of Texas to conserve electricity, but hospitals and nursing homes are exempted. Why is power to public transportation systems not exempt also? DART should be seen as a vital service — something we can rely on.

The trains proceeded slowly with frequent stops between stations. Some of those stops were to make sure crossing signals were down. Another was on the bridge over the Trinity River — no explanation, but certainly no cross traffic. Another was at a DART service yard where a workman came running toward the train with a small can of … WD40? De-icer? Pretty small can for such a big train.

The Green Line train reported stuck downtown before 9 a.m. was still stalled at Akard Station at 10:30. (Or maybe it was a different disabled train, in which case DART has an even bigger problem with its cars). DART has little contingency for a disabled train, it seems. And if that train gets stuck somewhere between the West End and Akard, all DART service on every line grinds to a halt. And apparently grinds to a halt without any warning or explanation to passengers. And passengers may be left sitting on a train for an hour or more without the option of getting off, even if their train is safely stopped along a sidewalk.

For a city trying to put its best face forward to visiting business executives this week who might bring a convention to the city or even their headquarters, DART added a big fat red “F” to the city’s report card.

And another complaint: Super Bowl visitors aren’t staying in Oak Cliff, so — as usual — screw Oak Cliff! Not a single street there has been sanded, including Interstate 35E south of the Trinity River.

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