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Rosie is the oldest trolley in MATA at 103 years old.

John Landrum is all about streetcars and trolleys; in fact, you can say that it runs in his blood. His father, Ed Landrum, collected streetcars as a hobby and eventually teamed up with Phil Cobb to form the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority (MATA) in the early 1980’s. The company, MATA, became officially incorporated in 1983.

The McKinney Avenue Trolley primarily runs up and down McKinney Avenue, which is through the heart of Uptown, and ends at Ross Avenue in downtown. For anybody who hasn’t been on it before, it’s a calm, scenic ride that gives its passengers a few, much needed moments of peace during a stressful, fast-paced day.

John Landrum, the COO of MATA, said, “Not only do we provide a free transportation service but it’s an enhancer; in a city that has very little character, the trolley provides something that’s unique (and) that’s fun. It slows the pace a little bit and let’s people slow down and see, in our case, the beautiful community we call Uptown.”

The McKinney Avenue Trolley is the only trolley company in Dallas and it currently runs four trains and has about 310,000 passengers a year. That sounds like a lot but it’s a far cry from the past when there were over 400 streetcars running on over 200 miles of track throughout the streets of Dallas. The Green Dragon – one of largest trolleys the McKinney Avenue Trolley has – used to run all the way up Hillcrest to the entrance of SMU at University.

However, the era of the streetcars effectively ended with Mayor R.L. Thornton, who believed that Dallas could never be a modern city if it was still tied to antique streetcars. Thornton’s vision brought freeways to the city, but it also heralded the end of streetcars. Today, the McKinney Avenue Trolley runs on only 4.3 miles of track.

Modernization and freeways took Dallas leaps forward in technology but it had an adverse effect on the environment. Ironically, the streetcars would have prevented this problem. All of the trolleys of MATA are run on electricity and are completely green and environmentally friendly.

The city of Dallas noticed this and DART has now teamed up with the McKinney Avenue Trolley. The MAT actually runs as one of the DART’s bus lines, ferrying commuters from downtown to the DART light rail Cityplace Station. When asked about the possibility of DART running MATA out of business one day, Landrum wasn’t the least bit worried.

“We provide a needed service in the area. We provide something that DART needs and can’t really do on their own for the cost that we do it. And, I think that there is very much a niche – and even a growing niche – in the Dallas transportation scene for MATA.”

Indeed, MATA is working on all sorts of projects to expand and improve the company. They’re adding two new trolleys to their current lineup to bring the total to six. One of the trolleys is being designed as a dining streetcar with a built in bar that will take diners on a scenic tour of the city as they eat their meals. In addition, MATA is also working on their Cityplace turntable project, which will allow the company to turn around streetcars that can only driven from one end. Both the dining streetcar and the turntable, when completed, will be the only ones of their kind in the United States.

Finally, there is an expansion in the works. The company is extending their rail line down Olive Street, which will take the trolley to the DART rail station and put them between the St. Paul and Pearl Stations; that project is expected to be finished in December 2012. Concurrent with that and about midway through that construction, MATA will begin an extension of the St. Paul line down to Federal Street where it will make a loop through the Arts District. The project is projected to finish up in the spring/summer of 2013.

While the rail extensions have projected deadlines, the dining trolley has no timetable. That’s because work on the dining trolley is done entirely by volunteers. In fact, Landrum believes that about 45-percent of all the work done at MATA is done by volunteers.

“This is a way for the younger crowd to put something back into their community and learn about community service,” Landrum said. “It’s something you can be proud of when you see the streetcar going by. You can point to it and tell your friends that you helped make it run.”

With the increasing popularity of DART and MATA, it might not be long before Landrum can witness the return of streetcars all throughout Dallas again.

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