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Dallas: McKinney Ave. Historic Streetcar Grows With Success

Introduction by Light Rail Progress – May 2001

You've probably heard about the phenomenal success of Dallas's famous DART modern light rail transit (LRT) system, right? But have you heard about the success of Dallas's other rail transit system?

Included in the nationwide boom in LRT development is the restoration of historic streetcar (trolley) systems (vintage trolleys or heritage trams). Historic trolleys are today playing a significant role in the LRT revival in city after city throughout North America. And once such city is Dallas, where the McKinney Avenue Trolley connects the upscale McKinney Avenue restaurant district with downtown Dallas.

Run by the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority (MATA), a private, nonprofit agency operating under a City of Dallas franchise, the historical trolley system serves actual urban travel needs while attempting to recreate how a real trolley system of the early to mid-twentieth century looked and operated. With their trolley poles sliding along an overhead trolley wire, their bells clanging, electric motors whining, air compressors thumping, and air brakes hissing, these are real working streetcars in an urban environment that have logged thousands of miles rumbling up and down the line since its opening in 1989.
[Photo: A.H. Hughes, published in Dallas Morning News]

The streetcar line has had its ups and downs, but in recent years its fortunes have blossomed as it's attracted visitors to the area and provided a viable, useful, and charming transportation service. So now, with help from both the public and private sector, the line's undergoing an ambitious expansion – even adding historic buses. Some recent developments are detailed in the following article from the Dallas Morning News.

Dallas Morning News
25 March 2001

Trolleys' role quickly changing
Agency to extend line as streetcars become more than tourist attraction

By Tony Hartzel / The Dallas Morning News

The McKinney Avenue Transit Authority is working hard to expand its mission.

Once thought of as a novelty, the area's only trolley line will extend to DART's Cityplace light-rail station by year's end. In addition, the agency has purchased 10 sleek, 1950s-vintage buses to solidify its growing role in providing transit to the Uptown area. The agency also has three streetcars awaiting renovation.

"it's becoming more than a tourist attraction, it's an alternate means of transportation," said Dallas City Council member Veletta Forsythe Lill, whose district includes the McKinney Avenue area. "it's going to be an important transportation link."

Massive reconstruction of McKinney Avenue hobbled the agency for nearly two years. Streetcars began rolling again regularly in January.

By early next year, a fleet of seven streetcars could be running every 10 minutes past every stop.

Trolley volunteer Tim Logan recently alerted the agency to a fleet of old GMC 31-passenger buses in an old storage yard in Sioux Falls, S.D. The buses, once owned and operated by Duke Power Co. In several southeastern states, made the trek to Dallas, where they will be restored and repainted in the colors of long-gone bus companies. One color scheme probably will be that which adorned the Dallas Railway Terminal buses that operated decades ago.

Mr. Logan loved the buses so much he bought a 1958 model for himself and has driven it in several public events. His bus operated in Spartanburg, S.C., until 1970.

"I've always had a special place in my heart for buses," said Mr. Logan, who rode them regularly as a child and drove them in college.

The buses' role has yet to be determined, said John Landrum, the transit authority's chief operations officer. They could make regular loops through part of downtown Dallas to connect hotel patrons with Uptown, and they could be used to connect the trolley's southern end in the Arts District with Dallas Area Rapid Transit's West End rail station, he said.

"They're going to be a neat addition to the system," Mr. Landrum said.

For now, much of the trolley company's energies are on getting the extension of its line to Cityplace by early 2002. But the unpredictable nature of construction has recently raised a few questions about that goal.

Workers found a water line in the wrong place and have to move it before tracks can be installed. But trolley enthusiasts feel confident about meeting the early-2002 deadline.

When the line gets to Cityplace, North Texans will get a treat. A turntable will turn the trolley cars around at the end of the line and send them in the other direction. The turntable is one of only a few in North America and is made from an old Southern Pacific Railway bridge near Presbyterian Hospital that crossed the historic Texas Electric Railway line.

The agency is seeking sponsors for the restoration of its three newest cars. Ten-year sponsorships cost $150,000. Two of the cars are 88 and 89 years old, and they all once ran on Dallas streets.

Rev. 2003/08/06

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