One of the things Cline says DCTA brings to the table is that it may be pretty small, but it’s more flexible than a lot of the bigger agencies. “We can respond pretty quickly to changes and so we’ve been able to adapt our system to meet our customers’ needs.
“We’ve been able to move so much faster than some of the other agencies have, in terms of implementing the service and growth on our bus services.” He stresses, “We’ve been able to move to market pretty quickly and react quickly to the needs of our citizens.”
In one news story, Cline says DCTA was compared to “The Little Engine That Could.”
“We’re just a small agency doing our thing in Denton County, but it’s happening. We’re seeing the kind of success that, the kind of growth in ridership … between 2005 and 2009 we’ve had a 63 percent growth in our ridership.” And looking between 2009 and DCTA’s projections, it will go up 15 percent alone.
“We’re always going to have and we do have the same challenges everyone else has got with vehicle replacement and fuel costs, employee issues, all those things, just scaled down a little bit; but we’ve got all the same challenges,” Cline says. He adds, “The staff has been able to really take those on and deal with it.
“We’ve been able to find some real quality people to take on multiple roles.” He emphasizes, “For an agency our size, you really can’t do just one thing; you have to do multiple things.”
Getting on Track
“The first step for us is to get the A Train in operation and make that happen,” Cline declares. The authority is in the middle of a system planning process right now and is looking at what the next services ought to be.
The A Train is a 21-mile commuter rail system that extends north from Trinity Mills Station on the Green Line for DART, up to downtown Denton.
One of the challenges it is facing, is a common one — funding. “Our base of our funding is a half-cent sales tax,” Cline says. “DART does a one-cent sales tax, so we’ve got to be pretty tight with our funding.
“The way the sales tax works here in Texas, you have a one-cent option above the normal sales tax to implement transit, or in some cases, economic development.” He elaborates, “A lot of folks have chosen to implement economic development and that’s a pretty broad thing, so they’re paying police officers and firefighters. We’re doing economic incentives and economic development activities.”
DCTA is looking at June 2011 for full service. It looked at a phased opening starting at the end of this year, but after review, it looked best to open it at one time. “It will allow us to communicate to the public better, will make it less confusing and will also save us some money at the beginning, help us keep our capital numbers right,” Cline says.
For its A Train service, DCTA was looking for a car that’s a lot more like a light rail car, but can operate with mixed traffic without having to do temporal separation or visceral separation of the new tracks. Cline says they’ve been working with the Federal Railroad Administration to get the Stadler GTWs certified under the alternative compliance requirements.
He says that the point they are at, they are pretty confident they are going to be able to work that out. “Right now the biggest issue we’re facing is the seats, I mean we’re down to that level,” he says. “So it’s not a question about things like stability, is the car good, things like that; we’re past that point.
“A lot of steps between here and there, but we’re pretty confident about the ability to deliver that. It would be a great thing not only for DCTA but for the region and the nation.”
To run on a freight track, the design standards to withstand an 800,000-pound axial force results in a pretty stout car, Cline explains. It’s also a car that’s going to have higher loading platforms.
He relates a story from Europe, where one of the cars hit a semi truck that was stuck in a crossing. “It actually separated the vehicle, the truck from the trailer, and the train didn’t derail.” He elaborates, “It took a pretty good beating, but the crew compartment and the passenger compartment were not compromised so we were really impressed with that.