The old record for ridership on the Trinity Railway Express has gone down in defeat – like LeBron James and the Miami Heat. Boosted by thousands of people flocking to a parade for the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, the Trinity Railway Express on Thursday carried a record 27,499 passengers – more than triple the 8,250 riders who normally take trains from Fort Worth to Dallas on a weekday. The previous one-day TRE record was 17,005 riders on July 18, 2006, when rail cars were filled with people motivated to ride for free on an ozone awareness day. On Thursday, rail riders were motivated to be part of the historical moment in downtown Dallas, where an estimated 250,000 people watched the beloved basketball team parade down the streets, then gathered for a late-morning party at American Airlines Center.
To cope with the whopping crowd Thursday, transit officials brought in extra trains and buses to get basketball fans – as well as the usual workday commuters – from Tarrant County stations to downtown Dallas. Officials say they’re proud of how the crush of humanity was handled, but some passengers complained of being left on the platform as trains filled to the brim.
“It was like a war zone — every man for himself,” said Aaron Shockey, who arrived with four friends at Richland Hills station shortly after 7:30 a.m., but couldn’t squeeze onto a train until 9 a.m. Shockey, a Haltom City resident, said crowds were even worse as people began to leave the parade, and tried to catch trains home. “People were jumping across the tracks,” he said.
Commuter rail services are typically built to handle a predictable number of people, mostly during peak weekday periods, but special events often tax the capacity of the system. In 2009, Dallas Area Rapid Transit was embarrassed when officials underestimated how many fans wanted to ride a new light-rail service to Fair Park for the annual Texas-OU football game. Thousands of faithful missed the kickoff. Many people who ride trains to special events are unfamiliar with schedules, and unsure how to buy tickets, which can cause stress and delays. It’s a challenge public transportation advocates continue to deal with as they try to make rail and bus services more attractive to new riders.
“We had every single car out there. We were running continuously. We ran without any layovers for normal cleaning and fueling,” said Joan Hunter, spokeswoman for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (the T), which co-owns the TRE. “Our crews worked two 12-hour shifts.”
The TRE, which normally runs 47 trains a day, added 13 unscheduled trains to the mix and increased the number of rail cars on each train. In addition to the 27,499 riders who took TRE, another 850 passengers boarded T buses that were sent to TRE stations to pick up those who couldn’t get aboard a train, Hunter said. TRE’s normal weekday ridership is 8,250 passengers, although the actual number of humans using the service is probably closer to 4,125 per day. Transit agencies typically count each time a person boards a train as a single passenger trip, so a worker who rides the train roundtrip to and from work would be counted twice.
“By 6:10 (a.m.), the second train coming at CentrePort was already at capacity ... and there were already people there to board. By that time, we were just trying to run as many trains as we could,” said Morgan Lyons, spokesman for Dallas Area Rapid Transit, which co-owns TRE along with the T. Workers were staged on train platforms, to help newbies with directions and to sell tickets to riders when the lines at the ticket machines got too long.
Many fans took the chaos in stride. Blake Lopez, who rode to Dallas from Richland Hills, said the parade site had “more people than I’ve ever seen in my life. I got separated from my friends and I didn’t see them again until we got on the train.” Patti Bartholomew of Fort Worth said she got up at 4:30 a.m. to make sure she would catch a train to Dallas at the Trinity Railway Express station in Richland Hills. She caught the second train and it was running right on time. “It was standing room only on the train,” she said. “So many people got on that by ...CentrePort, they couldn’t get anyone else aboard.”
Terry Evans and Susan McFarland contributed to this report.
-- Gordon Dickson, firstname.lastname@example.org