DART Celebrates 25 Years of Light Rail Service in Irving

By Stacey Doud | DFW Newsflash | June 2021

Irving – Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) celebrated its 25th anniversary of providing light rail service in North Texas on June 14, as the rail system has been in operation since 1996. DART has been providing bus services since 1989. Both modes of transit have expanded over the years, but in the beginning, DART did not have a smooth start.

“We started out with the first election [to form DART] in 1982, and it did not pass, so they decided they couldn’t go forward,” Councilman John Danish said. “It wasn’t until 1983 when they actually won the vote. Then it became a transit system with 13 member cities. It’s become a great system.”

“At one time, it must have been in 1996 or something like that, this young girl from Dallas called,” Mary Higbie, administrator of the Irving Heritage Society, said. “She was in tears. She worked in Irving, and she had no way to get here other than public transportation. And if we did not continue DART, she couldn’t get to her job and make her livelihood. Sometimes there were people who really didn’t know how to speak out and let that message get out to the public.

“If I worked in downtown Dallas, there is no way I would drive to downtown Dallas. The Trinity Railway Express has been wonderful for those of us who can make the choice whether we drive somewhere or ride a train or a bus. We are an individual, automobile-focused society, and we fail to remember that not everyone has that option. The DART system has provided the workers who come into Irving to work an option and a way to get here to fill those jobs that are needed for us to have a successful city.

“We have had really strong and good leadership representing Irving on the DART Board with John Danish and Rick Stopfer. We have had strong voices for Irving with our representatives.”

Gordon Shattles, the external relations representative for DART, gave a brief history on the actual opening of the DART light rail system.

“On June 14, 1996, we opened the light rail system,” Shattles said. “The starter system was 11.2 miles. Actually, at the time we only had two lines: the Red Line and the Blue. The Red Line went from the Pearl Arts District all the way down to Westmoreland Station. And then the Blue Line went from again, the Pearl Arts District all the way down to Illinois, which is now where the DART Police Department is based.

“It’s been amazing to watch it grow. We started with 11.2 miles, and we’re at 93 miles and 65 stations. The latest is in Hidden Ridge, which is our 65th station. In December, we’ll be celebrating 25 years of the Trinity Railway Express [TRE] as well. That’s the one that goes from downtown Fort Worth. The launch of light rail and then the TRE were both in December, so they were pretty much right on each other’s heels.

“There’s always been some form of public transit in Dallas, but we were able to have that all brought under one umbrella, which is DART. There was a bus service, which is the driving force for any public transit. But once we started building out the light rail network, we used what we call Transit Oriented Development. And we see an increase in ridership every time we add a new line or expand the service to add a new station. We’re expecting more riders with the Silver Line, which we’re aiming to open in 2024. Over the past 25 years, we’ve had 500 million riders.”

“If you look at the Silver Line, it will link all the suburbs in the northern part of the county going into DFW,” Danish said. “The reason that is so important for Irving is when you come in across the north, it opens up the Burlington Northern Railroad, which goes from the South Irving Transit Center to Las Colinas to the Carrollton Transit Center, actually goes all the way up to Frisco and into Oklahoma. It’s a big deal to open up all of the north, going down.”

The three big transit agencies in North Texas are DART, Trinity Metro in Ft. Worth and DCTA, which is the Denton County Transit Authority. While DART is not affiliated with the two other authorities or Amtrak, their collaboration helps riders get from other parts of Texas and other states to the DFW area.

“[DART and Amtrak] are kissing cousins,” Shattles said. “Somebody can hop on DART, get to Union Station and then hop on Amtrak and go somewhere else. I got a call just last week from someone who was coming down from St. Louis and needed to go to Fort Worth. It was nice to be able to say, ‘Once you’re on the Amtrak down there, you get to Union, hop off and get on the TRE to Ft. Worth.’”

DART allows riders a choice of transportation modes for getting to work, shopping, going to doctor visits, and everything in between.

“One of the most important services we offer is our paratransit service,” Shattles said. “They take disabled folks or seniors wherever they need to go. We added DART Mobility Management Services. When we get everything for a customer signed up, they can call a day in advance or even that day, and we can pick them up from their house.

“They tailor the vehicle to what you need. If you’re mobile and just need a little bit of help, we’ll take one kind of car to come pick you up. It might be a taxi, or it might be an Uber. A lot of the trips are to the doctor’s office or to the senior centers or to a DART rail station or a bus station or wherever they need to go. The Mobility Management System does a fantastic job.

“This was especially important in the depths of the pandemic. We realized a lot of folks, even if they were going to go to the senior center or go see family or go grocery shopping, they couldn’t, because [stores] were closed or they were not safe. We had the bus operators and the buses, so we started picking up groceries for folks and delivering them. If you called [a store] or did the online order thing, you gave us the number and our operators would pick up the groceries and drop them off for you.”

Mary Higbie used the Paratransit Service.

“I had a broken leg one time, and I used Paratransit,” Higbie said. “It was the first time I had gone anywhere independently from my husband taking me. I felt so liberated. It was a nice feeling.”