Fort Collins Municipal Railway

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Fort Collins Birney car 21 on the 1984-opened heritage streetcar line.

The Fort Collins Municipal Railway operated streetcars in Fort Collins, Colorado, from 1919 until 1951.[1] Since 1984, a section of one of the former routes has been in operation as a seasonal heritage streetcar service, under the same name, running mainly on spring and summer weekends. The heritage service is operated by volunteers from the Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society (FCMRS).[2]

History of original system[edit]

Electric streetcar service in Fort Collins began operating on December 29, 1907. The first local street railway service had actually begun on August 8, 1907, temporarily using a steam locomotive borrowed from the Colorado and Southern Railway, hauling four elderly passenger coaches, on a newly constructed single-track line along Mountain Avenue.[1] True electric trolley/streetcar service was inaugurated with the formal dedication of the new street railway system, on December 29 of the same year. Its owner and operator was the Denver and Interurban Railroad (D&I), a subsidiary of Colorado & Southern Railway.[1] Fort Collins was reportedly one of the smallest cities in the United States to operate streetcars.[citation needed] The system struggled financially, its light ridership making it no longer economically viable as a private venture, and not long after D&I itself went into receivership it abruptly ceased operation of its Fort Collins trolley system, on the night of July 10, 1918.[1] This left the town without any public transportation service at all, and it was proposed that the city purchase the system and restore service. This was approved by the city council and, in January 1919, in a vote by the citizens, and the Fort Collins Municipal Railway (FCMR) was formed. Rolling stock was not part of the deal, so four new Birney-type streetcars were purchased from the American Car Company, numbered 20–23, arriving on May 24, 1919. Within one to two weeks of that date, streetcar service in Fort Collins had been restored.[1] A fifth Birney car, No. 24, was purchased in 1920 from the Cincinnati Car Company, and in 1924 two secondhand Birneys (built in 1922 by American Car) were acquired from the Cheyenne Electric Railway Company, becoming Fort Collins cars 25–26. In the mid-1940s, cars 24 and 25 were replaced by two other Birneys, bought used from the Virginia Electric Power Company. The system operated three routes and ran on a 20-minute schedule. During its period of municipal ownership, 1919–1951, Birney-type cars made up the entire fleet, with a total of just five to seven cars (numbered in the range 20–26) on the active roster at any time. It was the last all-Birney streetcar system in North America.[3]

By the end of service in 1951, the Fort Collins Municipal Railway was the last streetcar system in the United States to be using any Birney cars,[4] and had among the lowest fare (5 cents) of any public transport system in the nation.[citation needed]

Operation came to an end on June 30, 1951,[1] after several unprofitable years. Fort Collins was the last city in Colorado to operate streetcars. Other streetcar systems in the state included the service in Pueblo, which ended in 1948, and the Denver Tramway, which terminated streetcar service in 1950.

At least five of the seven cars were preserved after the closure by individuals or groups. Car 21 was the only one to remain in Fort Collins, where it was placed on display outside the Pioneer Museum, predecessor of the Fort Collins Museum.

Restoration and heritage service[edit]

In 1977, the Fort Collins Junior Women's Club proposed giving 1919-built streetcar 21 a cosmetic restoration, as the car had become dilapidated from years of exposure. This proposal evolved into a more ambitious plan, to restore the car to operating condition and restore a section of the former streetcar system as an operating heritage railway.[1] With this goal, the non-profit Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society (FCMRS) was formed, on March 31, 1980.[5] A new carbarn was built at the west end of Mountain Avenue in 1982–1983, and car 21 was moved into it on August 21, 1983, following which volunteers from FCMRS began work restoring car 21.[5] Under an agreement signed in 1981, the city permitted FCMRS to restore a 1.5-mile (2.4 km) section of track along West Mountain Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue and eventually operate the streetcar along it. The section of route chosen for restoration was part of the city's very first streetcar line, opened in 1907.[4] A substation to provide 600Vdc electric power was purchased, and overhead wires were reinstalled along the route.

Car 21 leaving City Park

Restoration of the section of track and of 1919 Birney car 21 was completed in 1984, and the first public trips on the new heritage streetcar line took place on December 29, 1984 – the 77th anniversary of the original introduction of electric streetcar service in Fort Collins.[5] However, regular heritage service would operate only seasonally, in spring and summer months, not year-round.

The heritage line normally operates from May through September, on weekends only, from Noon to 5 p.m., half-hourly.[6]

As of 2010, car 21 is still the only streetcar that has been restored to serve the heritage line. However, since at least 1992 the society has been working to add a second car.[7] After some setbacks and delays, in 2007 FCMRS succeeded in acquiring a second streetcar, another Birney car which previously operated in Fort Collins. Number 25 was purchased by FCMRS in 2007 and was returned to Fort Collins in 2008, where work to restore it for service then began.[8] Car 25 was originally purchased for use on the Fort Collins system in 1946, having previously been Virginia Electric Power Company (Richmond, Virginia) car 1520.[1] After the 1951 system closure car 25 had been sold to a private individual in Woodland Park, Colorado. It was sold again in the early 1990s and moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and later to Charlotte, North Carolina before being acquired by FCMRS.

2010 service suspension[edit]

One of car 21's axles broke on July 25, 2010, and service was indefinitely suspended,[9] for the rest of 2010. Replacement parts were obtained, and repair work and testing were completed in April 2011.[10] Car 21 returned to service on May 1, 2011, to start the line's 2011 season,[11] and the line is still in operation as of July 2014.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Long, Raphael P. (April 1986). "Fort Collins Municipal Railway: Then and Now". Pacific RailNews, pp. 16–20. Glendale, CA: Interurban Press. ISSN 8750-8486.
  2. ^ "About the Fort Collins Municipal Railway Society". FCMRS. July 27, 2010. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  3. ^ Middleton, William D. (1967). The Time of the Trolley, p. 258. Milwaukee: Kalmbach Publishing. ISBN 0-89024-013-2.
  4. ^ a b Saitta, Joseph P. (1986). "Orlando and Fort Collins: The Belgians and the Birney". Traction Yearbook '86, pp. 110–111. Merrick, NY: Traction Slides International. ISBN 0-9610414-6-3.
  5. ^ a b c Jesson, Kenneth (1986). Trolley Cars of Fort Collins: Restoration of Car No. 21. Loveland, Colorado: JV Publication. ISBN 0-9611662-1-5.
  6. ^ "Fort Collins Overview". APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley site. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  7. ^ Young, Andrew D. (Autumn 1993). "Past is Present". The New Electric Railway Journal (archived online by APTA). Retrieved 2011-05-27. 
  8. ^ "Welcome to the Fort Collins Municipal Railway". July 27, 2010. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  9. ^ "Car 21 Out of Service Until Further Notice". FCMRS (notice on website). July 27, 2010.
  10. ^ Duggan, Kevin (April 28, 2011). "Historic trolley ready to hit the tracks in Fort Collins". Fort Collins Coloradoan. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 
  11. ^ "Fort Collins, CO — Historic Trolley Ready to Roll (from Rail Transit Online, May 2011)". APTA Streetcar and Heritage Trolley Site (Hosted by the Seashore Trolley Museum). May 2011. Retrieved 2014-07-07. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°35′6.67″N 105°6′13.58″W / 40.5851861°N 105.1037722°W / 40.5851861; -105.1037722