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Sunday Train: Yet Another Airport Terminal Station Opens on Dallas's Orange Line

BruceMcF's picture

YAATS (Yet Another Airport Terminal Station) has opened in Dallas for the "orange line" in the Dallas Area Regional Transit light rail system. This is not at the regional airport Love Field, even though the Orange Line runs directly past Love Field, but at the Dallas / Fort Worth International airport, following completion of a five-mile extension to the western end of the Orange line.

The Dallas Morning News reports:

“Strategically, this is a major accomplishment,” said Mayor Mike Rawlings.

It is undoubtedly DART’s biggest accomplishment in its 31-year history. The way officials and regional leaders see it, the airport-rail link brims with promise. They say it will dramatically bolster North Texas transit options, attract more conventions and provide a smooth welcome to international visitors.

So lets take the Sunday Train to the airport, below the fold.

 
But First, a Brief Disclaimer

I do want to reiterate a point from when the Sunday Train considered Rail Airport connections in 2010:

Disclaimer: Nothing said here should be taken to imply that airport/train connections are the primary transport task for either light rail, mass transit, conventional intercity rail, or high speed intercity rail. In other words, the focus of an essay in a regular weekly series on one particular topic does not imply anything along the lines of "most important thing".

 
Conventions & Tourism, Oh My!

The Dallas Morning News are not the only one persuaded to raise the conventions angle, with the Airline Business blog relaying that:

The new line will likely produce benefits for Dallas. A recent American Public Transit Association (APTA) and US Travel Association report [pdf] found that cities with airport-rail links attracted more large meetings and events, with hotels near rail able to charge nearly 11% more for rooms and reporting nearly 13% higher occupancy compared to cities that lack rail connections. This in turn creates benefits for the regional economy.

“We found that cities with airport-rail connections have a competitive advantage in generating revenues for the private sector and the overall city tax base compared to similar cities that do not have direct rail connection to the airport,” said Darnell Grisby, director of research and policy at APTA, in an interview with CNBC.

However, that last was in an article titled "Is DFW’s new rail link the best option?" which leaves the question open. On the opposite side, they point to the argument of transport blogger Alon Levy in Airport Connectors, which points out that smaller regional airports have a smaller catchment area, serving a larger share of passengers within the reach of an urban transport system, while larger international hub airports tend to have a larger catchment area.

This suggested that the ideal airport connector for a larger international hub airport may be mainline or high speed intercity passenger train systems, while it is smaller regional airports where a light rail terminus may be the best connection to offer.

As the Airline Business blog points out, if the preferable options for Dallas / Fort Worth International are mainline and high speed intercity passenger rail services, that is a notional preference rather than an available choice: "However, lack of passenger rail service through much of the triangle makes such a connection only a long-term possibility." ... as noted here in Sunday Train: HSR from Houston to Dallas one step closer to reality, any level of regional rail service above the level of the one-per-day long haul Amtrak routes to Chicago, corridor route to Oklahoma City and three per week connection to Los Angeles is in the planning stages at best.

Of course, as covered quite a while ago in the Sunday Train, there is a problem with rail connectors to regional mainline and high speed rail trains to major hub airports ... which is that the way we have organized funding of airports stations discourages the most effective airport station for regional passenger rail connections.

 
The Difference Between a Train Going To and Through an Airport

When we consider the Orange Line light rail extension to Dallas / Fort Worth airport, it seems natural that the line ends at the airport, since the line had to be extended by five miles to reach the airport.

However, looking at some other airport stations, and a pattern emerges. Consider stations that have a convenient walking access to a terminal. That includes this new DART station at DFW Terminal A. It includes the Atlanta MARTA station just past the luggage retrieval at the main Atlanta terminal. These are normally terminal stations: the airport is the end of the line.

And consider through stations providing service to airports. This includes the BART connection to Oakland airport, the Amtrak connections to Newark and Baltimore-Washington International. The station is not at the terminal, but instead is connected to the terminal by a shuttle bus or people mover.

Now, when I was in Australia, I would catch the Cityrail Train to the underground Airport station for the international terminal ... there was also a domestic terminal ... and since it was a through station, as I was getting off at the airport southbound other passengers were getting on the train to go further along that route. I would then exit the station riding a quite long escalator and at the top of the escalator I was in the main international terminal ... closer than someone being dropped off at the terminal by car.

But that was Australia, which does not operate under the US regulatory system. As I noted in 2010 in Sunday Train: Taking the Train to the Airport (NB: as author of the original, I give permission to myself to quote myself at length):

Defending Aviation's Market Share

How do we fund airport stations? You might think that since there is an Aviation Trust Fund that we regularly dip into for capital improvements, and since an airport HSR station is an obvious improvement in terms of offering transport alternatives to air passengers, that one way to fund the airport station itself, and in particular the extra capital cost of integrating into the passenger terminal rather than having a station "in the vicinity of" the airport, could apply for funding as a capital improvement to the airport.

Except the ideal is an intermodal through station, the HSR accesses the airport terminal, and where local transport accesses both the airport terminal and the HSR station. Which runs smack dab into the FAA regulations (pdf):

To be AIP and PFC eligible, the airport ground access transportation project must meet the following conditions: (1) The road or facility may only extend to the nearest public highway or facility of sufficient capacity to accommodate airport traffic; (2) the access road or facility must be located on the airport or within a right-of-way acquired by the public agency; and (3) the access road or facility must exclusively serve airport traffic.

There's nothing in the first two that interferes with applying for these funds to cover the incremental capital cost of integrating the HSR station with an airport terminal: the problem is, of course, the third section. This is why so many light rail and other rail projects that go to airports terminate at the airport, since that is the easiest way to guarantee that the infrastructure on the airport property never, ever commits the unpardonable efficiency of serving multiple transport needs at the same time.

Indeed, if you press the point - and as far as I understand it, the FAA does indeed press the point - any through rail corridor must be automatically ineligible, since the passengers that are taking the train through and not using the airport station are automatically receiving service from the road that is not "exclusively for the airport".

This is a national policy that could well be changed. Whether it could be changed by executive order, or requires new Congressional language, I do not know - I am not, after all, a lawyer, not even in the sense of playing on on the Internet - but whichever it is, that is a change that ought to be pursued.

The thing about this regulation is that it doesn't matter how much of the use of the facility is to serve the airport, nor what the cost efficiency of the system is in terms of serving passengers to and from the airport ... the simple fact that another use may be made of the facility is used to rule the project ineligible, so the usefulness and cost-effectiveness of the service to air passengers is never assessed.

A preferable limit for through rail services would be to the incremental capital cost of providing service to a passenger station directly integrated with an airport passenger terminal, restricted to infrastructure located on the airport property itself.

Until this regulation is brought into best practices for the late 20th century (I was tempted to say "brought into the 21st century", but that is being too kind to how outdated the rule is), we will continue to see airports that ought to have through stations instead be served by terminal stations.

And that includes Dallas / Fort Worth in particular. I already discussed in the context of the Dallas / Houston HSR corridor proposal the appeal of continuing the corridor through DFW Airport, and then on to Fort Worth ... and, clearly, a through terminal is the preferable way to accomplish that.

Instead, what we can expect are two routes approaching the airport from opposite direction, but both of them terminating at the airport. That is, returning to the post from the Airport Business blog:

The airport station for the proposed TEX Rail line from DFW’s other namesake city Fort Worth will similarly be located at the northern end of the airport’s terminal complex adjacent to terminal B and the DART station. The line is tentatively scheduled to open in 2018, however, construction has yet to begin.

A viaduct or subway could have a through HSR corridor connect to both of the terminal light rail stations, as well as to the range of other ground transport options at the airport, as well as to the Sky Link people mover. But under our current system of funding rail connections to airports, it would be more likely to have a station integrated with some parking garage somewhere, sharing its connections to the collection of DFW terminals.

 
Conclusions and Conversations

So, if you are in a situation where you have to fly (and this presses on my mind since I may be faced with a cross-Pacific trip, for which sadly we have not yet provided passenger rail connections), what are your preferences for getting to the airport?

And, of course, the Sunday Train has not truly left the station until the conversation starts. Any topic in Sustainable Energy and Transport is on topic for a conversation in any week's Sunday Train.

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