Thursday, September 13, 2007

Trolley Buff

End of the line: West Village at City Place, car 636, a former Dallas Railway car built by Brill, is reflected in a puddle of rainwater.

Perhaps no two words are more derisive to the hard-core railfan than to be called a "Trolley Buff." Maybe "Fan Living With Mother (or 'flim')" is just as damning, but not by much.

My experience trackside the past 30 years is that those of us heavy-haul "true believers" dismiss railfans who have an interest in trolleys, trolley systems, and light rail as being lower on the railfan caste as those whose primary interest is big-time freight railroading. Trolley fans? Ha, they sniff. Somewhere between tourist line buffs and bus fans. What a bunch of poofters!

Back in the barn: Car 369, a Melbourne, Australia car named "Matilda" ties up for the night at the trolley barn on Bowen street.

Melbourne car Matilda on Bowen Street. Lights from a nearby Shell Mini-Mart seem to be quite well balanced for daylight temperature!

I can see their point. Standing trackside alongside a mountain railroad as 18,000 horsepower of SD45's digging for all they're worth up the grade, sanders wide open, turbochargers wailing in pain is an experience tough to match. Certainly it's got it hands down over trolley cars. But there's something to be said for being open-minded about all forms of rail transportation. In the coming years, it will likely be the need to haul people that will drive much of the development of our nation's rail system, and on a most basic level, people hauling will come down to a proliferation of light rail systems. It's happened in cities like Los Angeles, Portland, Denver, and even Dallas. And they all owe a tip of the pantograph to their predecessor systems, the streetcars.

In Dallas, a small group of largely volunteers keep alive the tradition with the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority, a heritage trolley operation in the streets of Dallas's Uptown district. The 3.9 mile system has gradually expanded over the past decade, drawing support from local businesses who find neighborhood trolley service is good for business. A big chunk of the MATA's funding comes from DART, who subsidises service on the line 7-days a week, from at least 10am to 10pm daily. During peak periods, three vintage streetcars roam the line; during off-hours, at least two cars operate. And there are plans to expand the railroad further, into Dallas' rapidly-developing West End.

Motorman lowers the trolley on the 636 car at the Bowen St. carbarn.

Cars 369 and 636 inside the Bowen St. carbarn.

I hauled out-of-town visitors Steven and Joe--both of whom had spent considerable time living in the DFW area previously, and neither of whom would confess to having photographed the operation before--downtown last night to take some night photographs of the operation. Now, I'm not sure I convinced either one of these chaps about the legitimacy of trolley photography as a portion of their railfanning diet, but I do know they kept pretty busy photographing the two cars operating as they returned to the carbarn and were put to bed.

I'd been wanting to get back to Dallas for night shots most of the summer, and I'm damned glad I had the opportunity to do so. The cars are photogenic, the ambient lighting is quite nice, and the volunteer operators are most accommodating. It's definately worth the couple of hours investment in the experience, if only to get an idea of how people once got around the big and not-so-big cities in our country.

Meanwhile, I'll try to keep it our little secret that Joe and Steven spent a late night photographing. . .trolleys!

Motormen and car 369 at the Trolley Barn.

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