History Corner: End of the Original Dallas Streetcars

In the early hours of a bitter cold morning on January 15, 1956, a streetcar rolled along the Sunset-Hampton line that ran from Oak Cliff, crossed the Trinity River viaduct, and carried passengers through Downtown Dallas. For 66 years, the streetcar route would begin and end its day at the streetcar barns in Old East Dallas on the corner of Elm St & Peak St. 

But tonight was different. Tonight marked a turning point in both the life of this streetcar and the lives of all Dallas residents.

The era of the electric streetcar had begun in Dallas in March 1890. For workers, the streetcar offered an affordable alternative to walking long distances. For cities, it offered a cleaner form of transportation compared to horses or coal locomotives. At the height of operations, street car transportation would become so prolific that the Dallas Railway and Terminal Company boasted almost 400 streetcars and 200 miles of track in its operations that were roughly limited to the areas known today as Oak Lawn/Turtle Creek, Uptown, Downtown, Old East Dallas, and Oak Cliff.

By the late 1930s, the growing adoption of automobile and buses led cities to become more oriented towards automobile travel, which ultimately resulted in declining passenger traffic for streetcars.  High transportation demands brought by World War II breathed a few more years of life into the streetcar era in Dallas and other cities but by 1950 the end was in sight.  This would lead Dallas Mayor R.L. Thornton to declare that “Dallas will never be a modern city as long as it is tied to an antiquated, electric rail transit system”

But tonight on January 15th, 1956, the car was filled to standing room only as citizens of Dallas gathered together to say goodbye to an old friend.  They came in ones and twos and small knots of friends who boarded the streetcar as it trundled along its route, all anxious to be on the “last car”.  In fact, so many came that two cars—Nos. 776 & 772—were coupled so that almost 200 passengers could experience what they thought would be the “last trip” of streetcars in Dallas. Among those passengers were a man named Ed Landrum and his wife Paula.

33 years after that “last trip”, Ed Landrum and Phil Cobb would found the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority to run electric streetcars again along the historic red bricks of McKinney Avenue. As a result, the area around it has become one of the densest, most walkable, and most desirable locations in Dallas.

Now, 30 years later—and 64 years after that blustery January night—the M-LINE is bigger and better than ever and happy to share our history, and the history of streetcars in Dallas. We look forward to creating new history in Dallas with our many loyal fans and riders over the next 64 years and many more.

To learn more about the history of our cars, visit our Learning page