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The Lost Streetcars of Dallas

by
Feb 12th, 2020

If you’ve ever spent any time in downtown Dallas, you’ve probably seen the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) Streetcar or M-Line Trolley roll around every 20 minutes or so. These two streetcars service the Arts District and Uptown via the M-Line and the Bishop Arts District via the Dallas Streetcar. 

However, this is not Dallas’s first streetcar rodeo. At one point, Dallas was home to a vast network of streetcars, which wound throughout the city and into Oak Cliff, Highland Park, Dolphin Heights and Northeast Dallas. 

As Dallas begins to establish more light rail transportation routes in the city, we decided to take a look back at the short-lived glory days of the old Dallas streetcar system that was derailed (pardon the pun) just 84 years after being established.

The lost streetcars of Dallas

The golden age of streetcars

The earliest streetcars in Dallas date back to 1872. 

Back then, Dallas was not much more than a dusty Texas town that was home to just over 3,000 people. That same year, the Houston and Central Texas Railroad finally finished its north-south tracks through the town, causing traffic and commercial activity to grow immensely. In order to keep up with the incoming visitors and relocators, a man named Capt George M. Swink purchased and ran a single carriage through the town, pulled by his horse, Sam. This was Dallas’s first streetcar.

When the Texas and Pacific Railway’s east-west tracks intersected the north-south tracks in 1873, Dallas was established as a large commercial hub for Texas. As a result, the population soared. Because of the increase in people and traffic through the city, the streetcar system upgraded to nine cars and 18 mules by 1886. 

The arrival of electric streetcars two years later in 1889 kicked off an exponential growth in Dallas’s streetcar system. Over 20 lines were running through the city by 1910, and by 1936 there was a total of 300 streetcars running through the city. 

The slow decline

The golden age of streetcars in Dallas began to fade away in 1936 with the arrival of the streetcars’ biggest competitors: buses. 

This is where it gets a little more complicated. Many of the streetcar companies were owned by real estate developers who would make their money by selling houses close to a rail line. They would buy cheap land, build houses and a streetcar rail, then sell the houses, which were oh-so-conveniently close to their own public transportation. 

With the Great Depression in full swing by the mid-1930s, people couldn’t afford to buy houses at the same rate as before, so the streetcars began to see fewer and fewer profits. The city of Dallas realized that the streetcar system was just not a profitable enough program to keep alive, so cheaper buses slowly began to replace the streetcars.

The streetcars were officially sentenced to shutdown in 1954, and by January 1956 all the streetcars and rails were out of order.

graphic of a gravestone with a bus and the words old dallas streetcar 1872-1956

The Dallas streetcar today

The old streetcar faded away because residents began to move out of the expensive city and into cheaper suburban areas. Now, the new Dallas streetcar has returned because of another population shift: people moving out of the suburbs and back into the city.

Fifty-nine years after the old streetcars were replaced by city buses, the Dallas streetcar returned once again as a single line from Union Station to Methodist Dallas Medical Center in 2015. In 2017, an extension to the streetcar’s track was added from the Medical Center to the Bishop Arts District, extending the line to run a total of 4.45 miles through Dallas.

The 2.5-mile streetcar route runs over the Trinity River, north over Oak Cliff Founders Park, around the western side of Lake Cliff Park and into the Bishop Arts District with six stops in total.

Planning and construction for the new streetcar began in 2010 after the city of Dallas received a $23 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the the Federal Transit Administration. 

Another current streetcar line is the 4.6-mile M-Line, which services the downtown Dallas Arts District and Uptown area. The historic trolley began operation in 1989 after rails were discovered on the original brick pavement under McKinney Avenue. Streetcar 112, affectionately called “Rosie,” led the wave of historic trolleys on the M-Line in 1989 and turned 110 years old in 2019. There are currently seven cars operating on the M-Line, the names of which are Rosie, Green Dragon, Matilda, Petunia, Betty, Margaret and Emma. Learn about each of the M-Line cars here.

The M-Line runs right past our Uptown Dallas apartments and many popular Dallas attractions, such as the AT&T Performing Center, the NorthPark Shopping Center, the West End Historic District and Southern Methodist University, as well as dining locations at Mockingbird Station, Uptown, West Village and Crescent Court. 

Both the M-Line and the Dallas Streetcar trolleys are free to ride for all passengers. The Dallas Streetcar runs every 20 minutes from 5:30 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week. The M-Line is less frequent and has a more complicated schedule which you can find and access here.

The streetcars of the future

After the expansion to the Dallas streetcar line was completed in 2017, new proposals for an additional streetcar extension and a new downtown subway system were approved by Dallas City Council. The new streetcar line, of which a decent portion will run along Commerce Avenue, will connect the M-line in Uptown Dallas to the streetcar line at Union Station. The $92 million Central Link will connect over 10,000 residents and 180,000 jobs within a quarter-mile of the new line. The projected service date is sometime in 2022.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little more about your Dallas streetcars, both old and new. Next time you ride on one, remember the very first streetcar in Dallas: a little yellow car pulled by a single white horse named Sam. Look how far we’ve come!

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The lost streetcars of Dallas Pinterest graphic

Featured photo courtesy Pixabay/Free-Photos

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

View All Posts by Colleen Ford
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