Affordable Streetcar: M-Line Streetcar

March 4, 2009 12 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

If you want to bring the streetcars back to your town or city and don't have much money, the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority is a great model to follow. The 3.6 mile line was installed in late 1980s with funding from private developers and donations.

About the M-Line Streetcar

The early history of the McKinney Avenue trolley line holds some useful lessons for anyone interested in bringing back streetcars. It is worth quoting at some length:

In 1981 a Dallas area along McKinney Avenue, characterized by restaurants and specialty shops, was being redeveloped. The effort included excavation and renovation of the brick street paving. Removal of the asphalt revealed a double-track streetcar line that appeared to be in generally sound condition. A local businessman, with restaurant interests along this route, decided that trolley service on that portion of McKinney Avenue would enhance both the ambiance and commercial success of the redevelopment project. His observation that, "Wouldn't it be nice to have some old streetcars running down our street?" drew local media attention. After screening vintage Dallas trolley movies (supplied by a local VT ( Vintage Trolley) enthusiast), the businessman organized MATA as a nonprofit corporation -- Section 501(c)( 3) of the Internal Revenue Code -- to build and operate the line. Two local trolley enthusiasts joined the board to oversee technical aspects of the project.

The businessman funded a professional feasibility study that supported the concept. He arranged pro bono public relations and advertising services, conducted fund-raising events, secured local business funding pledges, achieved city support, and applied successfully for two UMTA con struction grants. MATA's early initiatives addressed mainly political hurdles. The businessman headed a small team that promoted MATA steadily before Dallas' city government for several years. This major effort finally produced the city's official endorsement and passage, in the Texas Senate, of a bill that limited the liability of city-contracted private transport firms to that of the city itself. Once these hurdles were cleared, MATA began to develop a physical plant. 13

That physical plant consisted of a 2.8 mile streetcar line, four vintage streetcars and a carbarn. The total cost was $5.5 million, and $3 million of that came from the private sector; a $2.5 million Federal grant supplied the rest. The city of Dallas spent about $200,000 for signs, pavement marking and traffic light relocation. All the antique streetcars were privately donated or funded.



M-Line Streetcar Route Map

The M-Line Streetcar follows a 3.6 mile route through the Uptown residential/entertainment/shopping district. This area caters to young professionals and is the fastest growing urban district in the downtown area.


As rail has expanded in Dallas, the streetcar line has been extended to tie in with federally funded light rail (purple) and commuter rail (green) lines.  Development has been so significant along the streetcar route that property values in Uptown Dallas now exceed those of downtown Dallas.

M-Line Streetcar Photo Tour

A streetcar passes the West Village mixed-use development.  Image by RACTOD at

A streetcar stop in a street median. Image by strangely at 

Image by StevenM 61 at 

A single bi-directional line in a street median. Image by citywalker at 

Image by lemon.grass at 

End of the line. Image by Chris Inside at 

Image by basteagow at 

The City of Dallas and MATA have expressed a desire for further expansion of the current streetcar system. The current southern terminus ends in Downtown Dallas at Saint Paul Street and Ross Avenue. The plan will add a route that splits off from the current line at McKinney and Olive Streets and travel down Olive to the light rail transit mall downtown near Pearl Station.

The agency will also have a new car barn built at the northwest corner of Olive and San Jacinto streets.  The federal government has given MATA $3.5 million for their mile expansion into downtown's Arts District. The total cost of the expansion is approximately $6.8 million dollars.

Inside a packed trolley. Image by Cali Lewis at 

Image by RACTOD at 

The M-line Streetcar is free to the public, thanks to a joint operating subsidy received from Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and the Uptown Improvement District.  The streetcar system connects with the DART light rail station at Cityplace Station on the Red and Blue lines.

More infill development on the way. Image by young and with it at 

Image by Sk8inglioness at


In the aerial above, dense development occurring after the opening of the streetcar line (red line) can be seen within walking distance of McKinney Avenue. 

In the image below (Jacksonville), more vacant plots of land and surface parking lots can be identified than actual buildings.  The establishment of a streetcar line between downtown and Five Points could attract the type of dense development that has made the M-Line Streetcar a success.

The M-Line Streetcar is an example of using creative thinking to get an affordable initial mass transit line underway without totally relying on FTA funding.  With our community sitting on $100 million for mass transit, we should find a way to use a portion of this money to implement rail immediately.  The longer we wait, the longer we withhold from our community the economic benefits and quality of life improvements that rail can bring.

Article by Ennis Davis