Streetcars in Kansas City

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At its height there were 25 streetcar routes in Kansas City, but the last 20th century route was closed in 1957.
Prior to 1908 vehicles on some routes were propelled by grasping underground cables.[1]

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Kansas City, Missouri, like most North American cities, operated streetcars in Kansas City as their primary public transit mode.[2][3]

Kansas City once had one of the most extensive streetcar systems in North America, but the last of its 25 streetcar routes was shut down in 1957.[4] Indeed, all but five North American cities – Toronto, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco and New Orleans – replaced all their streetcar networks with buses, including Kansas City; three other cities, Newark, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, operated rail lines more akin to modern light rail that are still in operation to this day.


Horsecar and cable car era[edit]

The first streetcars introduced in Kansas City in 1870 were horse-powered.[5]

On some early routes the streetcars were propelled by gripping moving underground cables, like San Francisco's cable cars.[1]

The city granted its first franchise to the Metropolitan Street Railway Company, owned by Thomas Corrigan.[6] William Rockhill Nelson, publisher of the Kansas City Star, believed Corrigan was corrupt, and used his paper to lobby against renewing his franchise.

Electrified streetcars[edit]

By 1908, all but one of the city's streetcar routes had been converted to being powered by electricity.[1]

When the Kansas City Public Service Company (KSPS) was created in 1925 it inherited over 700 streetcars that had been owned and operated by private companies.[5] The streetcar routes operated by the KSPS also served commuters across the state line in Kansas City, Kansas.[4]

The KSPS planned to replace all its older streetcars with new, state-of-the-art PCC streetcars, an order that would have required 371 vehicles. Only 24 were delivered prior to World War II, which put a hiatus on new streetcar construction. The KSPS ultimately acquired 184 PCC vehicles.

Well-known Kansas City developer Jesse C. Nichols was known for constructing streetcar lines to serve the new communities he built.[7]

Modern streetcars[edit]

A modern streetcar was installed in 2014 and opened to the public in 2016 -- KC Streetcar. It runs a similar, but shorter, route to the last line that ran when service ended in 1957.

KCPS 551[edit]

PCC #551 on static display formerly at Kansas City Union Station

Kansas City Public Service streetcar 551 is a PCC (President's Connference Committee) streetcar preserved for static display in the River Market neighborhood of Kansas City. It was built in 1947 by the St. Louis Car Company for service in Kansas City. When the city closed its streetcar service, it was sold to the Toronto Transit Commission in 1957 and became TTC 4762. In 1973, the streetcar was sold to the San Francisco Municipal Railway, renumbered as Muni 1190 and ran as a tourist attraction. In 1979, the streetcar was sold to the Western Railway Museum remaining as Muni 1190. In 2006, KC Regional Transit Alliance purchased the streetcar, restored it as KCPS 551 and put it on static display at Kansas City Union Station.[8] In 2016, the streetcar was put into storage as its Union Station site was to be repurposed. Finally, in 2017 the streetcar was moved again for display on its current River Market site next to the modern KC Streetcar line.[9]

There was some thought to restore 551 to operating condition and run it on the KC Streetcar line for special events. However, the idea was abandoned because 551 was a single-ended car, and the KC Streetcar line had no turning loops.[10]

Streetcar 551 is located on a lot at 426 Delaware Street at the corner of West Fifth Street. Denver-based Epoch Developments owns the streetcar as well as ten buildings along Delaware Street. Epoch plans to use the streetcar interior for retail and a cafe.[10]


  1. ^ a b c "Post Office". Kansas City Public Library. 1979-06-01. Archived from the original on 2013-12-25. Retrieved 2013-12-25. Some of the lines were once horse car lines, some cable lines and some electric. All are electric in 1908 except a portion of the 12th Street lines, between Washington Street and the stockyards. (There) the cable line is used pending the construction of some kind of a trafficway between the higher and lower levels of the city.
  2. ^ Lynn Horsley (2013-11-22). "Kansas City's streetcar glory days hold lessons for today". Kansas City Star. Archived from the original on 2013-12-24. Retrieved 2013-12-24. As Kansas City lays its first streetcar rail in 66 years, it is unleashing a wave of nostalgia for the days when the city had one of the nation’s most extensive streetcar systems.
  3. ^ Edward A. Conrad (2011). Kansas City Streetcars: From Hayburners to Streamliners. HeartlandRails Publishing Company. ISBN 9780976184720. Retrieved 2013-12-28. When it came to rail-based mass transit, Kansas City had it all. From the first horse car to the last streetcar, the KC transit scene was replete with every type of public transit during its 88 years of existence.
  4. ^ a b "Historic streetcars in San Francisco: Kansas City, Missouri-Kansas". Market Street Railway. 2010. Archived from the original on 2010-04-12. Retrieved 2013-12-25. Kansas City’s PCCs - 184 in all - were painted to emphasize their modern lines, with a black ‘swoosh’ on the sides to highlight the logo of Kansas City Public Service Company (KCPS), which featured Frederic Remington’s famed sculpture “The Scout” on a red heart.
  5. ^ a b Monroe Dodd (2002-01-01). "A Splendid Ride: The Streetcars of Kansas City, 1870-1957". Kansas City Star Books. ISBN 9780972273985. Retrieved 2013-12-25.
  6. ^ Jason Roe. "Wrong way Corrigan". Kansas City Public Library. Archived from the original on 2013-12-25. Retrieved 2013-12-25. On March 31, 1882, The Kansas City Star declared its opposition to the streetcar monopoly then held by Thomas Corrigan. Although William Rockhill Nelson, owner of The Star, generally preferred that the paper remain neutral in politics, he made exceptions for cases where he believed rampant corruption demanded public awareness.
  7. ^ William S. Worley (1993). "J.C. Nichols and the shaping of Kansas City : innovation in planned residential communities". University of Missouri Press. ISBN 9780826209269. Retrieved 2013-12-24.
  8. ^ "Kansas City Public Service 551". Shore Line Trolley Museum. Retrieved 2018-12-06.
  9. ^ Collison, Kevin (2017-09-11). "Historic Kansas City Streetcar Moved to its Permanent Stop as Future River Market Ice Cream Parlor". CityScene KC. Retrieved 2018-11-29.
  10. ^ a b Smith, Joyce (2018-10-30). "The River Market's vintage streetcar — Trolley Tom — to house local retail shop, cafe". The Kansas City Star. Retrieved 2018-12-06.

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