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Oak Cliff Welcomes Back Streetcars -- After A Nearly 60-Year Absence

Two modern streetcars open the new Oak Cliff Streetcar line. Each seats 34 people with standing room.

Streetcars return to Oak Cliff late Monday morning – a sound not heard in half a century. The new Oak Cliff streetcar line is making its inaugural run -- and it’s not your grandmother’s trolley.

Two $4.5 million modern, air conditioned streetcars make the 1.7-mile trip from Union Station in downtown Dallas, across the Houston Street Bridge, to Methodist Hospital at Colorado and Beckley Avenues. They are the first battery powered streetcars built in the US.  The batteries get them over the river. Elsewhere, they use overhead electrical wires.

Bringing streetcars back to Oak Cliff after a nearly 60-year absence was a dream of neighborhood activist Jason Roberts.

“Back in 2006, we created an advocacy organization which is a faux authority called the Oak Cliff Transit Authority," Roberts said. "We developed this hair-brained idea to bring the streetcar back to Oak Cliff.”

The city owns the line. DART operates it.

Getting the streetcars rolling again is expensive: about $50 million. A federal stimulus grant of $23 million jumpstarted the project, with other regional transportation funds to follow.

“Fortunately, we found additional funds since the project started to extend it to Bishop Arts," Roberts said.  "That’s going to be happening here very shortly. And, of course, my goal is to get it back in the neighborhood once again.”

Long term, Roberts wants to see streetcars running up and down Jefferson Boulevard as they once did, making Jefferson a vibrant, happening corridor.

Plans are for the track to run along Zang Boulevard to the Bishop Arts District by early next year. Phase three is a link to the Omni Hotel.  Long-term plans call for the streetcar line to link with the McKinney Avenue Trolley in Uptown. Roberts says with only a mile or so of track laid, developers are already making inquiries and even buying property along the line.

“So businesses that see the rail in the ground say this is actually showing that there is commitment to bringing business to my door," Roberts said. "A bus can be picked up and moved at any time. And even as riders we like to look down the rail and say okay this is where this is going.”  

Roberts is excited. He says everybody loves a streetcar.  

“Whenever I saw them testing them the other night, I think I was just in a state of shock. Thinking like 'wow.' It’s been over 50 years and the streetcar is back in Oak Cliff again.”

Initial service runs Monday through Friday, 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. Roberts says that’s all they can afford right now, and it’s a good start. He says fares will be phased in later. For the time being, rides are free. 

Former KERA reporter BJ Austin spent more than 25 years in broadcast journalism, anchoring and reporting in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans and Dallas. Along the way, she covered Atlanta City Hall, the Georgia Legislature and the corruption trials of Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards.