Thursday, April 16, 2009
I went to Ft. Worth, Texas, this week and decided, as I often do on travel, to check out the public transportation, both for the adventure of it and to assess the nation’s commitment, or lack thereof, to alternatives to the car. It is often an eye-opening experience.
Finding online, before leaving, that the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) runs from the huge DFW airport to downtown Ft. Worth, just blocks from my hotel, I decide to take the plunge, with visions of a train pulling right up to my terminal, as in Washington, DC, or many European cities. Although I’m scheduled to arrive after dark, the online schedule indicates that a few trains run late into the evening. Upon arriving at the DFW terminal, I look for signs to the train. Seeing only a sign for “Ground Transportation,” I follow the arrows. I’m quickly dumped outside along a lonely service road, surrounded by acres of concrete (like much from the 1970s, the mighty DFW airport has not aged well). I see arrows heading to a taxi stand and rental cars, but no train. After a little wandering around, I find a phone for information, supposedly reached by dialing single digits. I pick up the phone, get a welcome message, and then notice a sign that says to dial “0” for “public transportation.” I dial “0,” but then receive the same welcome message. I try again, with the same results. Stymied, I then try “8,” for “Remote” (what’s this?) and am connected to a human being. I ask how to locate the TRE train. I’m told to take a bus to “Remote South,” and then another bus for the TRE. I sigh, wait for the “Remote South” bus (which arrives with no indication that this is the way to get to the TRE) and, many miles and a half hour of travel across the north Texas prairie, finally arrive at a nearly deserted rural train stop. No building; no employee; no working Snickers machine (and dang, by then I was hungry).
After a brief panic that I have only a lone single and 20 dollar bills for what I expect will be a few-buck ride (it’s $2.50), I’m thrilled that the outside ticket machine both accepts credit cards and actually works. The double-decked(!) train arrives on-time. The nearly deserted conveyance is clean and gets me to Ft. Worth on-time. Over the next two days, I hop on the TRE for a round trip to Dallas – it’s also on-time, busier, and holds a more diverse array of customers than on my first night – and then successfully use it get back to DFW at dawn today.
I return home to news that President Obama (story and video here) wants to have the government fund more high-speed rail lines, including one through the self-proclaimed cow town of Ft. Worth.
My conclusions? We spend, and probably will spend, much money on rail lines that work fairly well, as far as they go. But the option of public transportation, especially extra-urban rail, still has not worked its way into our nation’s consciousness, and we do not do the little things that would facilitate its use. Until then, the United States will not join countries such as Japan and those of western Europe (see Obama’s speech) as a nation in which rail is once again an integral part of the nation’s land use fabric …
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