Dallas’ first modern streetcar begins service this week and in recognition we’re taking a look back in time when streetcars were the premier method for travel across Dallas and the North Texas area.
Confessions of a Streetcar Junkie
By Don Gililland
It was “only” 59 years and three months ago today when the last streetcar rumbled over the mile-long bridge between Oak Cliff and Dallas, packed with diehard fans—young and old—most of us onboard figuring this would be our final such experience.
Like many U.S. cities following WWII, Big D had sprawled, sending residents far beyond the limits of the 65–year old electric rail system. The political atmosphere then didn’t exactly embrace the trolley, with the mayor referring to the overhead power system as “just a bunch of ugly ‘wars'” (that’s “wires” for all you non-Texans).
Buses were the far more attractive alternative, even though the replacement diesel fleet barely made it into the sixties, while 25 “obsolete” Dallas PCC cars saw three more decades of service in Boston.
Few in those days would have bet on the return of rail to the streets of Dallas. Numerous efforts by the forerunners of DART failed decisively prior to 1983. A vintage trolley on McKinney Avenue? Unthinkable at the time.
This week, history was made when the Dallas Streetcar made the first official trek between Dallas and Oak Cliff, not on the original span (that’s since become the Jefferson Bridge), but the nearby Houston Street viaduct. Another irony: the new vehicle is the first domestically to operate partially battery-powered.
Contrary to some published reports, some of the old Dallas cars actually escaped the scrap heap. Three salvaged trolleys survive as part of MATA’s active roster, while several others await restoration. Now, with the arrival of this 2015 version, what was out is suddenly in again. And they can even operate “war-less.”
Even the mayor would be proud.
Don Gililland is a publications specialist for DART. Don has been a DART employee for more than 22 years and his fascination with streetcars, and ultimately the transit business as a whole dates back to his childhood.