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The Streetcar Renaissance in Dallas

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New Electric Railway Journal – Summer 1995

The Streetcar Renaissance in Dallas

Jim Cumbie

From despair to triumph, the saga of a heritage trolley line that achieved success despite formidable odds. This is a story of survival and of an even more promising future.

The McKinney Avenue Transit Authority (MATA) in Dallas, Texas, is a little railroad that lives by the philosophy “never give up!” The line has overcome numerous obstacles during its lifetime-including a crisis that almost shut it down in 1991. Chairman Phil Cobb called the staff and volunteers together in September of that year to announce that, because of dwindling revenues and the delay of a $200,000 federal grant, the company was just about out of money. He said that he would have to lay off most of the paid employees and restrict operations to weekends only just to keep the streetcars running as long as possible.

Anticipating trouble, the volunteers had quietly organized a few months before. They offered to step in and save the company by taking over all of the day-to-day activities. The volunteers believed they could maintain a reduced operating schedule that would still keep MATA running seven days a week.

Birney 636, fondly named "Petunia", trundles down McKinney Avenue past the Hard Rock Cafe.

Map showing the McKinney Avenue line and the DART light rail lines.

North Texas traction 332 undergoes a lengthy and complex restoration as it rests on the center track in MATA's carbarn.

Turnaround, and Dreams of Extension

The plan succeeded. Thanks to their dedication and hard work, MATA’s fortunes gradually began to take a turn for the better. The volunteers set up a management team, promoted and increased the charter business, initiated special events to attract more riders, and finally returned the line to a full-time schedule in 1992. Revenues gradually increased and the company started to work itself out of debt. Three and a half years later, the streetcar line is still volunteer-managed and operated.

As MATA became stronger, the Board of Directors turned its attention to a long-held dream, that of extending the tracks to the West End Historic District, an area popular with tourists and locals alike. About the same time, the Cityplace Corporation announced plans for a low and mid-rise retail and residential development west of the Central Expressway (US 75). Part of the plan envisioned trolley tracks on a new Blackburn Street Mall and a branch to the Cityplace DART subway station under Central. Now MATA had two destinations to aim for, but no money to spend to get there. This all changed when the Texas State Transportation Commission announced that it would be disbursing $17.4 million in ISTEA funds in May of 1994.

The MATA staff believed it stood a good chance to get full funding. The North Central Texas Council of Governments ranked the company’s $10 million request as the top priority among the 116 local projects submitted for its consideration. City leaders had finally come to realize what a great asset the streetcars were to Dallas and they considered the route extensions crucial to the revitalization of downtown.

Another Obstacle, Another Triumph

But when the commission disbursed the money; MATA only received one million dollars. Dallas-Fort Worth officials, already irate over what they considered unfair allocations of highway fluids to the area, accused the commission of “pork barrel” politics and protested to the governor, but without success. The commission maintained that the approved projects had the best chances of stimulating new jobs and would help spur economic development in many rural areas of Texas.

Although stung by the defeat, MATA had no time to lie down and lick its wounds, for the state announced it would disburse an additional $30 million in the fall. With the backing of the Dallas City Council, the Central Dallas Association and several influential members of the business community the MATA board resubmitted another request to the NCTCOG by the July is deadline. This time, MATA’s request (for $4.6 million) was ranked second overall in the Metroplex, but the grant application was better prepared and worded.

Having learned from its mistakes, the city mounted an intensive lobbying campaign. These efforts paid off, because the commission awarded MATA $4.59 million on November 30-the largest single appropriation in that round of grants. At last, in Phil Cobb’s words, the company was in a “go-ahead mode.” City Council Member Craig McDaniel echoed MATA’s excitement when he stated, “This is a big piece of a dream come true. The vision of the trolley was more than just a tourist attraction.”

1994: A Good Year

Although the grant was the high point of the year, many other significant events occurred in 1994. On January 10, MATA took possession of a pair of ex-Dallas Stone and Webster car bodies, Nos. 183 and 189. The bodies are in excellent condition, as they had been part of a building in Lewisville, just north of Dallas. MATA volunteers rescued them just thirty minutes before a wrecking crew arrived to demolish the property. The cars were initially placed in temporary storage. In March, MATA moved the cars to a donated warehouse in a vacant Texas Instruments manufacturing plant in Denton for safekeeping.

Both MATA and DART implemented a free transfer program between the streetcars and the Hop-A-Bus downtown circulator system in April. MATA celebrated five years of operation in July, dedicating the milestone to the volunteers, benefactors, and staff who made it possible.

Return of a Classic

In the fall, the MATA Board of Directors agreed to lease John Landrum’s interurban for ten years. The car, ex-North Texas Traction box motor No. 332, was built in 1912. MATA volunteers moved it from Granbury; Texas to the carbarn in 1992 and it has occupied the center track there ever since.

Thanks to visitors’ cash donations, the staff started some preliminary restoration work, but there is a long way to go before No. 332 is ready to roll. MATA wants to rebuild it into an air-conditioned parlor car complete with a permanent bar, a rest room and perhaps also a dance floor.

The car’s color scheme will make a bold statement. It will wear the old Texas Electric Bluebonnet colors, blue and cream with red trim and a silver roof. Although No. 332 will make an excellent charter car, it can also be used in sightseeing and regular service as well. Restoration work can begin in earnest once a corporate sponsor has been found.

And Another...

On December 17, Ben Carpenter (son of John Carpenter, president of Dallas Railway and Terminal company from 1927 to 1935) donated ex-Dallas car No.754 to MATA. This is one of the many Peter Witt cars that Dallas Railway rebuilt to one-man operation by removing the center entrance. Old 754 spent its retirement years on Mr. Carpenter’s ranch in Irving, Texas, surrounded by a miniature town. It served as a playhouse for his children. The car is in fabulous condition, considering all the years it sat unprotected in every kind of weather.

MATA has another car, ex-Dallas Stone and Webster No. 323, but its long wheelbase dictates that maximum traction trucks must be used with it. So far, the company has not found any acceptable trucks. Although No. 323 must wait its turn, plans call for sending cars 183, 189 and 754 to Gomaco in Iowa for restoration; the cars will be shipped there in March of 1995. Gomaco believes that it can complete the job in nine to twelve months.

More cars will require more storage space. The expansion committee is reviewing several options. One proposal would close Bowen Street and extend the existing carbarn over the street. Another idea is to buy a new building to be used as a second barn. At this writing, the committee had not reached a firm decision.

Expansion Plan:

In addition to the grant money, Cityplace pledged one million dollars toward the expansion project. A Spring city bond election included a $2.5 million appropriation for street work along the new route, which passed by a heavy margin. If the city requires that utility companies live up to their franchise agreements and bear the cost of moving their lines on those streets, the additional $2.5 million should be enough.

MATA is wasting no time with its plans. Barring any unforeseen difficulties, engineering studies should be completed in June of 1995. Construction would then start in July or August and the new route could be in operation by the end of 1996.

By providing a cross-town link between DART’s Cityplace station and its West End Transfer Station, MATA expects to become a true transit system. The expansion will just about double the current route, but this may be only the start of more extensions. A twenty-five year master plan dratted by the city envisions an expanded role for MATA as a key element in the downtown people-mover system. Phil Cobb predicts, “You're going to be able to leave the Oak Lawn area, get in a streetcar and go to downtown Dallas and get dinner and see a movie.”

For a company that almost failed in 1991, MATA now seems assured of success, and the railroad can look forward to a future of exciting possibilities. Ironically, the city that once removed streetcars in the name mobility and progress is working hard to bring them back again for the very same reasons. What a marvelous legacy for the children of the 21st century!

MATA is a privately owned, non-profit corporation under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The company was founded in 1983. Operations began on July22, 1989. Except for brief shutdowns for wire or track work the line has operated daily since that time. Memberships are available and contributions are welcomed. For information, write to: McKinney Avenue Transit Authority, 3153 Oak Grove Avenue; Dallas TX 75204

Jim Cumbie is one of MATA’s volunteers. He was Manager of Administrative Services from April 1992 to August 1993 and is currently Managing Editor of Trolley Stop, MATA’s quarterly newsletter. He also serves on executive committees and helps with special events.

Table 1: McKinney Avenue Roster                                Copyright 1995 by Jim Cumbie

Car No

Popular Name



Former Operator






Oporto, Portugal




St. Louis


Dallas Railway & Terminal



"Green Dragon'

St. Louis


Dallas Railway & Terminal




St. Louis


Dallas Railway & Terminal






Dallas Railway & Terminal




Co. Shops


North Texas Traction




Co. Shops








Dallas Railway & Terminal






Dallas Railway & Terminal



1.   Currently operating in the McKinney Avenue system

2.   Birney

3.   Stone and Webster "turtle roof"

4.   To be restored at Gomaco, Ida Grove, Iowa

5.   Now in storage, awaiting restoration

6.   Interurban

7.   Being rebuilt at MATA

8.   Modified for a more American appearance

9.   Ex-Peter Witt rebuilt by Dallas Railway & Terminal


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