DART riders deserve better

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Analysts for the Dallas Area Rapid Transit system can be painstakingly thorough in vetting questions about policy or purchases.

Why buy this vehicle over that vehicle, and what are the long-term implications? Why plot the new route this way vs. that way? How many people live and work near that potential stop vs. the other?

Yet that same thoroughness has been oddly missing when it comes to a basic question involving the system’s showcase light-rail system. That is, how should the agency gird for winter weather and keep the trains moving in the face of an ice storm?

Last month’s immobilization of the light-rail system showed DART to be groping for an answer. That might be pardonable had it not been a repeat weather-related failure of the multibillion-dollar rail network.

The first mass outage struck during 2011’s Super Bowl week. In the hue and cry afterward, the agency issued an apology to the 13 member cities, along with a pledge by DART President Gary Thomas to review options for improving performance.

One option Thomas mentioned in 2011 was de-icing technology, including installation of devices on a rail car’s overhead apparatus to clear ice from power lines. Those are used more often in Northern cities and come with a cost that may not make sense for DART, officials said at the time. Some board members questioned the expense of stormproofing DART’s rail system, saying debilitating ice storms strike rarely, every 15 to 20 years or so.

It’s now only two winters later, not two decades, and DART is fresh from the longest service interruption in its history, an outage that spanned five days in places. So much for rarity.

And one other thing is clear as DART goes about reviewing last month’s light-rail failure: The agency never fully analyzed de-icing technology after the 2011 breakdown. Worse, DART officials cannot explain why and seem to have been guided by gut instinct on the need for certain cold-weather technology in North Texas winters.

The agency’s tens of thousands of daily rail riders deserve better. The DART board should be doing now what it should have been doing in 2011 — asking staff for a thorough analysis of de-icing systems, including costs.

The agency should then make a careful determination, based on facts, on whether it’s wise to spend the money.

The most recent outage has also generated talk from DART that it is done with overpromising the reliability of its light rail. The electrified system is vulnerable to the elements, officials say, and there will be times that it succumbs.

Please. We know weather complicates our mechanized world. Ice grounds planes, closes highways, brings down tree limbs and cuts power. DART will not be immune from headaches.

But what we’d prefer not to hear is lowered expectations from the agency before all options have been systematically explored. Gut instinct is not enough.

— The Dallas Morning News


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