Special Report—On the Front Line: DART makes the best of COVID-19 situation

Written by Bill Wilson, Editor-in-Chief
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Transit agencies across the country continue to struggle during the COVID-19 pandemic.
DART

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) spokesperson Gordon Shattles sees the good in the decline in ridership.

Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, DART has suffered between a 55 percent and 65 percent drop in commuters. Shattles, however, is not going to sulk over the numbers.

“The counties and the cities that are in the dark service area have shelter-in-place for a reason and we are really happy if people have the opportunity to work from home; if they have the ability to work in different locations and practice social distancing that is a great thing,” Shattles told RT&S. “Although the numbers are down we are going to continue to provide service.”

Financial preparedness is helping put DART in a happy place, at least for the time being. Shattles said DART can handle the drop in ridership. The agency, which uses a portion of fares and a one-cent sales tax to help pay for maintenance and projects, has enough money set aside for track maintenance.

“Our finance group has done a fantastic job of preparing us for worst-case scenarios,” said Shattles. “We rarely have an issue on tracks because we do such a great job of maintaining our existing tracks.”

On April 6, DART modified service similar to its Saturday schedule. Trains were running on a 20-minute headway. Sanitation service was expanded weeks ago. DART has always done a night cleaning of its trains and stations, but added wipe downs after morning and evening peak commute times. Contractors are at the end points of DART’s four rail lines and are dealing with high-touch areas like hanger straps, poles, seating areas and windows. Shattles said crews are using EPA-qualified cleaning solutions. DART’s facilities team also is taking care of 64 stations across the network.

DART has one major project in motion. The agency’s Silver Line project is a 26-mile commuter line that connects Plano, Texas, with the Dallas Fort Worth Airport. Activity has slowed down a bit due to COVID-19. DART staff is out at the jobsite to make sure workers have what they need to prevent the spread of the virus.
“Drinking water is a big deal,” Shattles said. “[The federal government] wants to make sure everyone has their own individual drinking water as opposed to a communal drinking area.”

As for the $2 trillion stimulus package approved by federal lawmakers last week, which includes almost $25 billion for transit, Shattles said even though DART is better prepared than other agencies, the money is going to keep the agency on track.

“[The funding] is going to be fantastic,” he said. “The goal of that one is to make sure we keep our operators, buses and rail, paid, and our mechanics. Part of the funding will go to the state of good repair for our rail.”

Four DART employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but all are in stable condition. In the beginning DART was following the Centers for Disease Control guideline that stated masks were not effective for people who were not showing symptoms from the virus, but now masks are available for workers. A donation of 1,700 masks were passed on to train and bus operators.

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Categories: Commuter/Regional, Passenger, Rail News, Railroad News, Rapid Transit/Light Rail, Safety/Training, Track Construction, Track Maintenance
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