A new light rail extension, which runs from the Ledbetter Station in South Dallas to the University of North Texas Dallas campus, had its first test run.
The blue-line extension adds another three miles to the DART system. That's 93 miles in all of light rail in North Texas — over the course of just 20 years. And for those two decades, Faraz Wood has overseen the buildout of DART rail and has trained almost every operator. That includes Thursday’s driver, Jerome Watts, and the dozen or so men in reflective vests walking along the track.
"They’re really trying to get a bird’s eye view of what it’s going to look like. Will the train fit through the area? Is everything safe? So that’s exciting for us to know that after all this hard work, everything is completed and everything is done safely and correctly," Wood said.
The train car was packed with DART personnel and dignitaries. It creeped along at about 3 mph, which gave those on board plenty of time to admire the greenery outside.
This part of Dallas, near Interstates 35 and 20, is nothing like the bustling downtown. State Senator Royce West believes this rail line could change that. West led the push to open the UNT campus in Dallas — which aims to ultimately host 30,000 students. He sees the train not only as a way to provide access to education across North Texas, but also as a catalyst for economic development.
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"You’re going to begin to see more and more businesses locating in proximity to the university in order to serve the student body," West said. "You’re going to begin to see more and more housing developments coming here in order to provide housing opportunities for the staff. So it’s going to have a synergistic effect."
With the extension, all schools in the UNT system are connected by public transportation. Students can take the A train from the main campus in Denton and transfer in Carrollton onto the green line to the law school downtown. They can take the blue line to the UNT Dallas campus, and they can take the Trinity Railway Express to the medical school in Fort Worth. DART President Gary Thomas said it’s been fun watching the light rail evolve.
"When you think of public transportation, North Texas isn’t the first place you might think of. But we’re the ones that are kind of sneaking up," Thomas said. "We’ve got the longest light rail system in North America."
The extension from Ledbetter Station to UNT Dallas will open on Oct. 24 — three years ahead of schedule and a few miles per hour faster than the test run.