Growing up, I really don't remember much positive talk regarding passenger service, whether general system or transit. Certainly, the idea of inaugurals was practically unheard of. When passenger trains made the news, it was almost always due to the "disappearing railroad blues," untempered by faith or hope. Depots were closed, not opened. Trackage was abandoned; rolling stock scrapped.
It wasn't pretty.
I must admit, that's one thing which has changed for the better. Over the years, with increased taxpayer involvement and a renewed emphasis upon things like environmental stewardship and energy efficiency, we're actually seeing far more starts than ends - and I'm glad.
Yesterday, the Denton County Transit Authority began operation of what they call the "A-train" (although, apart from the obvious nod toward New York City's subway system and Duke Ellington, I'm not sure why). It's a new shuttle service of sorts, primarily in place to ferry passengers between a connection with DART's Green Line in Carrollton and several local D.C.T.A. stations, including the Downtown Denton Transit Center terminus.
I was a passenger (actually the passenger!) aboard the A-train's first regularly scheduled trip. Train numbers aren't shown on the rudimentary public timetable currently available, but it was the 4:17 a.m. departure (northward) out of the Old Town Station (downtown Lewisville).
Historically, I've been able to wangle my way aboard inaugural runs/special trains commemorating the start of service along new intercity routes; however, I've never been adept at doing so with local transit operations. There are always far too many V.I.P.s and political types in attendance. Therefore, beginning with the DART L.R.T. openings in June of '96, I've simply boarded the initial revenue run at its first passenger stop out of the yard. I've found that routine to be eminently satisfying - especially because it's only the diehards who're willing to be up and at 'em at dark-thirty! To date, I haven't missed an opening trip on DART's light rail system or their Trinity Railway Express commuter operation. I feel quite blessed that my unblemished (and unique) record now includes the D.C.T.A.!
As the sun rose over Lewisville Lake and I considered the long-term implications of Denton County's accomplishment, three somewhat off-topic questions came to mind. They were, perhaps, more profound while in my sleep-deprived state; still, definitive answers remain elusive.
First of all, why does it seem that infrastructure on new start systems is so dramatically overbuilt? I qualify my query with the word "seem," since I don't wish to be disrespectful - and because the correct answer may actually make perfect sense!
D.C.T.A.'s former Katy main has been resurrected using new 112-pound ribbon rail, concrete crossties, and deep granite ballast. To be honest, it has every appearance of Class 6 track! So, why am I seeing this on a line where the majority of route miles will never know anything but R.D.C.s and D.M.U.s operating at relatively slow speeds (currently 60 m/h max)? My guess is that it's easier to get money - especially federal grants - for construction capital than for ongoing maintenance; therefore, a transit agency is better off if they initially overbuild...presuming their investment actually reduces future M-of-W budgets.
I'm looking forward to visiting with a few of the players involved.
Secondly, why must we constantly struggle with adequate passenger communication? This is most frustrating when considering the needs of neophytes.
A knowledge of schedules, layout and marketing, along with a firm grasp of transport history, should adequately prepare an operating company for the creation of user-friendly public timecards, yet some mistakes are consistently repeated. Sadly, the first try is often so ill-conceived that people are left stranded on deserted platforms or show up to ride non-existent trains.
Initial impressions are vitally important. I wish the word "proactive" meant more to us.
Finally, I wonder if the press will ever "get it"?!
Both today's Denton Record-Chronicle and Dallas Morning News reported that the first A-train "chugged" away from the station. It's a silly little point - and things like that don't bother me nearly as much as they used to. Nonetheless, I can hardly imagine such an error remaining in an article reporting the latest in air or road technology. When will railroading receive the respect it deserves?
Maybe it's the Record-Chronicle's lead which should give us more reason to pause:
"Viable transportation option or expensive novelty item?"
As long as people are seriously asking such questions, it proves how much work remains to be done.
I'm just glad the question was asked regarding a service inauguration instead of a discontinuance!
Pehaps it's time for someone - I don't know who, just "someone" - to explain some things about rail to the reporters of the two papers you cite, Garl. Reporters are not born knowing the things on which you comment. DART surely must have a public relations (communications) specialist who can do the job. If he or she cannot, then he or she should not continue to hold his or her position.
I believe a similar issue was raised by you, Garl, sometime ago about public awareness/interest in railroads because the intimate, daily connection between the public and railroads has been lost for quite some time. As I have gotten older, I have come to believe that the majority of human decisions are made because of emotional aspects rather then rational/factual aspects of an issue. Marketing and political people seem to know this but many business people do not accept this. I am disappointed in AAR current ad campaign which shows up on many web sites stressing the power of freight railroads to deliver the goods but it has little appeal to the "regular" ad viewer who could care less about how their food or tv got to the store. Rail is rail regardless of whether it carries freight or people but people identify with people and that means something to a viewer. "Tough" Chevy truck ads show tough guys doing tough jobs therefore, Chevy cars must be well built as well, at least that is what advertising folks believe. Freight rail industry execs could learn a few of these skills to promote the generic industry to the public: it would benefit them as well as various passenger segments of the industry.
A splendid comment, oamundsen, to which I can add nothing of substance.
And it is rare that Larry does not have something very worth while to add!
Can't say the same growing up in Chicago Garl. Taking the L Train was a way of life. The passenger cars where not very comfortable. They didn't have air conditioning and some of the windows wouldn't open in the hot weather, while others wouldn't shut in the bitter cold. But we moved around the city much quicker on the L then we did by bus and everyone seemed happy for that.
On the train one morning I remember a couple gents talking about the high speed trains abroad reching speeds over 100+ mph. At that point I was looking out the windw as we where going around the bend,d the train making all it's sqealing and grinding type noises...and thinking to myself. I sure hope they don't bring them here!!!
When we wanted to go to Indiana we rode the South Shore. Talk about speed.. Compared to the L it felt like we where flying. I know we really wheren't, but you could actually smell the electricity burning over your head. At night was even more fun. When you past a building and seen your reflections in the windows it looked like firecracker going off on the roof.
The real treat came when you rode the "diesel power" Rock Island train to Joliet. When the Rock started using double deck cars with air conditioning and even tinted windows we thought "it just can't get any better than this".
And you know what? It hasn't. But without it there would be a whole lot of people not going anywhere.