Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l Partners With Transit Authority to Bring Light Rail Service to Airport

Rebecca Kanable
Published in: 

New connections are being made since the August opening of a $36 million light rail station at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).

The country's longest light rail system - 90 miles- is now connected with the world's third-busiest airport. DFW hosts 1,850 flights per day and provides nonstop service to 147 domestic and 55 international destinations.

In what local officials are calling a "true collaborative effort," Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) added five miles of rail to its North Texas public transit system, and DFW built the new station and 300 feet of infrastructure to make the connection.

Project: Light Rail Station
Location: Dallas/Fort Worth Int'l Airport
Cost: $36 million
Location: Terminal A
Prime Design Consultant: Jacobs Engineering Group
Project Management: Lea+Elliott
Architect: Corgan Associates
Structural Engineer: Walter P. Moore
Civil Engineer: Pacheco Koch Consulting Engineers
Mechanical/Electric/Plumbing: Multatech
Landscaping: Berkenbile Landscape Architects
Information Technology/Security: Ross & Baruzzini
5-mile Rail Line Extension: Dallas Area Rapid Transit
Est. Cost: $189 million
Service Start: Aug. 2014 (4 months early)
Program Duration: 6 yrs
Recognition: Outstanding Achievement Award for Excellence in Environmental Document Preparation from Fed. Transit Administration
Key Benefits: Connects downtown Dallas to airport; provides new travel option for passengers & employees

After six years of partnering, planning and construction, the project finished early, and the new rail service began fully four months ahead of schedule. DFW finished the station and additional system infrastructure on time and within budget; and in September, DART estimated its costs to be $7 million less than its control budget.

DFW's portion of the project was part of its $2.7 billion Terminal Renewal and Improvement Program. Currently, the airport is three years into the 10-year initiative, which airport officials say will "redefine first class" for the global gateway.

With a regional mass transit rail system connecting to Terminal A, DFW is now a true intermodal airport, notes Perfecto Solis, vice president of airport development and engineering. "Not only do we move passengers and goods, we have a major highway system that runs through the airport," says Solis, noting that the new light rail connection gives the region another advantage in attracting global corporations.

David Ehrlicher, DART's assistant vice president of program delivery, notes that from an international perspective, it's common for passengers and companies to expect public transportation to the city center. "I think there's a tremendous amount of excitement right now (within North Texas)," says Ehrlicher. "Every one of the 13 cities in the DART member service area now has a way to connect to DFW."

With nearly 60,000 people working at DFW, many employees now have a new way to commute to work. "Public transit is an integral part of a real livable community, a vibrant community, a forward-thinking, growing community," Ehrlicher relates.

Solis reports good use of the light rail system by airport employees and credits a DART advertising campaign that promoted it.

The Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau recognizes the new airport/down interconnectivity as a powerful selling point for business travelers, tourists and organizations looking for convention venues.

Station of Two Nations

Design expectations for DFW's light rail station were two-fold. The facility had to meet standard system-wide DART requirements, but it couldn't appear to be just another stop on the line. DFW officials were intent on the station contributing to the overall "passenger experience" by creating a sense of arrival at the airport. Jacobs, the architectural engineering firm hired for the job, brought unique qualifications to the project. It had not only designed numerous other DART stations, but had also served DFW since its original terminal was built 40 years ago.

Jacobs used several design elements to blend DART and DFW architecture, explains Tony Loyd, vice president and managing principal of the firm's global buildings division. Rather than specifying a metal roof for the station, designers opted for tensile fabric, which is a recurring element at various DFW entry points, such as vehicle plazas, curbside areas and now the light rail station. Five canopies shaped like bullhorns provide weather protection for passengers using the aboveground station.

Inside, architectural walls contain a subtle display of lines resembling the DFW logo. Flooring patterns created by pavers interspersed with terrazzo bands resemble similar patterns inside the terminals.

Interior and exterior landscaping was used to buffer the concrete of the station, airport and nearby parking structure, adds Loyd. Drought-tolerant species were selected for minimal maintenance. Specific selections include roses, crepe myrtle trees and landscape grasses. 

A partially covered walkway protects passengers during their 400-foot walk from the train station to the airport. The structure includes seating for pedestrians to stop along the way and is much more "architecturally aesthetic" than the abandoned automated people mover guideway it replaced, notes Loyd.

DFW officials are pleased with the overall design. "I think we found a nice balance," says Solis.

Connecting with Terminals & Other Stations

DART riders enter the airport at Terminal A, where they find American Airlines' ticketing and baggage check areas, TSA security checkpoints and the airport's Skylink automated people-mover system, which links all five of DFW's terminals on the secure side of the airport. 

Passengers taking American Airlines flights from other terminals can check their bags at Terminal A, and then take Skylink to their terminals. Passengers with just carry-on luggage can use multi-airline kiosks at Terminal A to check in, and then take Skylink to the other terminals. Passengers not flying with American Airlines who need to check bags take a Terminal Link shuttle bus to terminals D and E.

Skylink and Terminal Link are both free services.

From the airport, DART's Orange Line continues to the Belt Line Station, with service to downtown Dallas and other regional destinations. DART purchased 23 additional super light rail vehicles to support the Orange Line in the Irving corridor and the Blue Line expansion in the Rowlett corridor. On average, 14 cars operate on the Orange Line each weekday.

The first Orange Line train arrives at DFW Airport Station at 3:50 a.m., and the last train leaves the airport at 1:12 a.m. on weekdays and 12:12 a.m. on weekends. Service is available every 71/2 to 15 minutes during rush hours, every 20 minutes during the midday and on weekends, and every 30 minutes late at night.

Exemplary Partnership

Solis highlights the cooperation that was necessary to bring light rail service to DFW. "Usually, when you bring two government entities together, there are more problems than there are solutions," he reflects. "This was a shining example of how two entities can work together as a unified team."

DART and DFW worked so well together that he suspects observers were probably hard-pressed to distinguish who was from which organization.

The cooperation started at the top, adds Ehrlicher: "The executive directors were committed to working together to make this project a success. There was definitely interest in customer convenience."

For example: Locating the station farther north and bussing passengers to the airport would have saved costs, but would not have been as convenient for customers, he explains. 

Both executives emphasize how the teams worked together throughout the six-year project.  

Solis, for example, was asked to help select the design-build entity for DART, and various airport officials participated in design reviews.

Solis credits the project management group, led by Lea+Elliott, for DFW finishing its portion of the program on schedule and within budget. It was important for the station to be completed six months before DART began laying new track, he notes.

Scott Kutchins, senior associate with Lea+Elliott, considered it part of his job as a program management team leader to have everyone "pulling in the right direction." Kutchins and Solis both used their previous experience from DFW's Skylink project to break down the DART project and coordinate all the work it would entail. They developed a matrix that identified which entity would be responsible for each element from a design, construction, financial, operations and maintenance perspective. A demarcation point was created for construction teams to use as a guide for who built what.

"What we found to be most effective was to include every item for the project, as if we were building the project on paper," Kutchins recalls. The detailed analysis helped eliminate "scope gap," he notes. 

"We then developed milestones for turnover between the two teams in the field, and the milestones were included in the DART design-build documents," Kutchins continues. "In the end, what probably helped us succeed the most was letting parties work items out in the field without major interference from the project offices."

It also helped that he and his project manager, Will Watkins, worked as consultants to DART prior to working for DFW. Kutchins, in fact, was a member of the program management team for the DART starter system from 1992 to 1997. "We understand how a light rail system has to be constructed and commissioned," he explains. "We tried to make sure we were getting our work done in a manner that kept DFW out ahead of DART."

In addition to the station, DFW designed and built some of the infrastructure that extends 300 feet north of the station; and DART continued the project from there. The light rail guideway exits the station to the north between a service road and International Parkway, crosses the service road on a bridge and proceeds east along the perimeter of the airport. As it runs along DFW's border, the guideway passes between taxiways to the south and a state highway to the north before it connects to the existing Belt Line Station on the eastern edge of the airport.

Constructability Challenges

Building a light rail station and guideway on an active airport required finesse and expertise, notes Solis.

Because DFW has five decentralized terminals, each with its own landside and airside, planners considered a centralized landside DART station. But routing guideway through the central terminal area would have required significant changes to airport infrastructure; and a location on the north side of the airport was ultimately selected instead.

It, however, also had drawbacks. The north side location required the station to be built between the airport's major roadway systems (International Parkway and a service road) and on top of a main utilities spine. Loyd likens putting the facility in place to feeding a slice of bread going into a toaster. "That's how tight it was between the two existing roadways," he emphasizes.

More specifically, designers and crews fit a 59-foot, 6-inch wide station into a 60-foot space.

As expected, on-site logistics were a challenge and retaining walls crucial in the extremely confined workspace. "Trades were stacked vertically, and there was generally only one way to enter and exit the site," recalls Kutchins. "We had heavy construction in and around and underneath an active taxiway system, which was maybe 350 feet away."

Adding to the mix, DFW was also renovating Terminal A, building a 7,700-space parking structure and making roadway changes while constructing the new train station. "There were a lot of unique challenges associated with the delivery of the station itself, but nothing we couldn't overcome," summarizes Kutchins.

Future Connections

With its new DART station fully operable, DFW is formally linked to Dallas via public transit. Now, the airport is working to establish a similar link to Fort Worth, the other major component of its catchment area. Toward that end, airport officials continue to meet with the Fort Worth Transportation Authority about bringing a TEX Rail commuter route from downtown Fort Worth into the airport's north entrance.

Located midway between both cities, DFW serves two separate constituencies. By establishing connections to both Dallas and Fort Worth, it could ultimately become a unifying mechanism. "We all believe we have a stake in bringing mass transit rail to the North Texas region," says Solis, referring to DFW and officials from both cities. "And we have a responsibility to make sure it's done correctly, efficiently and for the best cost possible."

While 65% of DFW's 63 million annual passengers connect through the airport, more and more of its originating and destination passengers are from the Dallas/Fort Worth area, reports Solis. "As the traffic grows at DFW, as demand grows for airport facilities and usage of the airport, I think you're going to find that the DART system and the Fort Worth system are going to move a lot of those passengers," he predicts.

Passenger Transport

2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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