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The A-Train: What Happens When Transit Becomes Priority

While Jacksonville can study with the best, Denton County, Texas turns a 2005 concept into an operational mass transit reality by 2011. Today, Metro Jacksonville takes a ride on the A-Train.

Published January 14, 2013 in Transit      12 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


About The A-Train

The A-train is a 21 mile commuter rail line in Denton County, Texas that parallels Interstate 35E and acts as an extension with the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Green Line at Trinity Mills Station in Carrollton. It is operated by the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA) and serves Denton County. It opened June 20, 2011.


A formal Alternatives Analysis study conducted in 2004-2005, which included extensive community and citizen involvement, identified the proposed rail line as the best and most cost-effective mobility solution for Denton County and the region. It cited the impacts of projected population growth, growing safety, traffic congestion and air quality concerns, as well as the need to improve access to Denton County’s vital health care facilities and three major college and university campuses.

In May 2005, the DCTA Board of Directors approved the study’s recommendation to construct the rail alignment on east side of I-35E using an existing railroad corridor. DCTA is working closely with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to accommodate all necessary Federal and local regulatory requirements. In March 2008, the DCTA Board of Directors approved the Final Environmental Impact Determination which details proposed measures to mitigate the environmental impacts of the rail project. In August 2008, the Regional Transportation Council approved funding of this project. Because of this, federal funds were not used in the construction of the train.

On 4 April 2011, the DCTA began tests of railcars, communications systems and signals on track between Carrollton and Lewisville Lake, with tests on the remainder of the route projected to begin later in the month, though this date was later pushed back to mid-May.

The train was opened on 20 June 2011 with celebrations at five train stations.

Lesson Learned For Jacksonville

The A-Train illustrates that it doesn't take long to implement significant transit projects when the political and local will is there. Previous Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) commuter rail studies have indicated that a service similar to the A-Train may be feasible to connect downtown Jacksonville to the airport area. We've been planning bus rapid transit for over a decade and commuter rail since the mid 2000s.  However, in less time, the A-Train concept went from Jacksonville style discussion and studies to full implementation and operation.

Images by Robert Mann



January 14, 2013, 08:56:20 AM
Personal opinion: JTA is placating rail enthusiasts with these studies, until they become less enthusiastic and "go away"...Really don't think JTA as an entity gives a shit about rail transit.


January 14, 2013, 09:19:33 AM
If they really cared, it would have already been done.  All I see is promotion of BRT, as a feel good measure to show they are doing "something".  There are plenty of good example of good transportation. 


January 14, 2013, 10:26:43 AM
a "sea change" may be occurring at JTA....nevertheless, the agency will need support/pressure from local govt/business leaders...believe me, if some of them say do something, JTA usually does.

Bike Jax

January 14, 2013, 11:42:06 AM
Until JTA is restricted from road building they will not be putting any focus on actual transit solutions.


January 14, 2013, 11:45:09 AM
^ Not sure I completely agree with this.....that said, once again it comes down to priorities....if leaders tell JTA what they want and how to pay for it, JTA will likely build/provide it


January 14, 2013, 02:42:57 PM
It's interesting how they paid for this:

"A half-cent Denton County sales tax paid for only 20% of the cost to build the A-train. The remaining 80% came from a new Regional Toll Revenue funding initiative, which was a result of the Texas Legislature enabling the Texas Department of Transportation to consider public- and private-sector partnerships to finance roadways.

The first agreement to generate Regional Toll Revenue funds was with the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA). In exchange for the opportunity to construct, operate and maintain a 26-mile toll road for 52 years, NTTA paid the region $3.2 billion. The Regional Transportation Council (RTC) used these funds to expedite about 200 transportation projects, one of which was DCTA’s A-train. In April 2008, the RTC approved funds for the purchase of railcars, and in August 2008, $190.2 million was approved for the completion of DCTA’s A-train."


January 14, 2013, 02:49:58 PM
Texans do not mind paying for building up their transit infrastrucutre. Here we are turning off streetlights, saw them doing it today on Myrtle Ave. Sad.


January 14, 2013, 03:10:22 PM
In Texas they're super Conservative, yet they're open minded enough to build big cities with infrastructure and all! Why the Hell can't Jacksonville leaders (or least some of them) try harder to achieve some of the same?


January 14, 2013, 03:44:14 PM
because they are afraid of the anti-tax backlash. Texans dont seem to mind taxing themselves to build better cities.


January 14, 2013, 11:12:11 PM
Economics in Texas are much different than in Florida. It's interesting because Texans really do love the ex-urban lifestyle, but they are realistic about it and support surrounding infrastructure pretty well.

But I agree with fsujax, they have no qualms in paying taxes to support general transit initiatives.

I have ridden both DART & TRE in and out of Dallas. I like TRE better because its heavy rail and you have more room in your seat. DART was very good, but the Plano Line was extremely crowded by the time it reached downtown.

Most cities look to ramp up densities before they will support transit, in this case the reverse is true, they are building it with the idea of planning the densities around it. It's forward thinking and strategic.

If only we could get off the visioning and planning toilet seat.


January 14, 2013, 11:25:22 PM
I have ridden both DART & TRE in and out of Dallas. I like TRE better because its heavy rail and you have more room in your seat. DART was very good, but the Plano Line was extremely crowded by the time it reached downtown.

Actually TRE is NOT heavy rail, it's commuter rail IE: Standard trains on regular railroad track. Heavy rail is generally Subway or Elevated and usually powered by a 3rd rail, though some use overhead wires such as the system in Medellin.


January 14, 2013, 11:34:43 PM
Most cities look to ramp up densities before they will support transit...

What US cities have done this with fixed rail?  From what I can tell, every US city that has added fixed transit in recent decades already had density (more pre-1950 most cases) dating back to the streetcar/industrial revolution era.  Maybe I'm overlooking something but I haven't come across a city that added rail based after reaching a goal of building to a certain density level. 
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