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Antique Boston trolleys are wanted by Dallas -- again

With the strike by the nation's air traffic controllers dominating the headlines, you may have missed the latest old- fashioned horse-trading between "Big D" here and "Big B" (Boston).

You might call it "The strange case of the long-distance trolleys."

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The story goes like this:

Dallas officials want to reinstate a trolley line for a historic district under renovation. Riding the rails of the past sounds to many like a perfect way to enshrine nostalgic trolleys -- that is, if you don't already commute to work daily in New York, Chicago, or Boston on such "nostalgia" and sigh for brand-new trains.

The ironic twist is that the same old trolleys seem to be shuttling back and forth from Boston to Dallas almost like they were long-distance footballs.

Dozens of 50-foot-long "double ender" trolleys -- with controls at both ends of the car -- were first sent to Dallas in 1935 from Pullman-Standard Inc. in Worcester, Mass. In the late 1950s, when Dallas was tearing up its trolley tracks, Boston was anxious to get the trolley back. Dallas gleefully unloaded them at a price tag of $3,500 a piece.

At the time, some Boston politicians were dumbfounded by the purchase and accused the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the predecessor of today's Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), of gross fiscal irresponsibility.

"Most people thought they were junk at the time," says Paul DiNatale, chief spokesman for the MBTA.

Now the trolleys have turned -- toward Dallas again. The MBTA has 13 of these red double-enders running regularily on its Mattapan to Ashmont trolley line; a few others of the original 25 are used for spare parts, still others have been scrapped.

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Dallas officials are conducting preliminary bargaining with the MBTA to buy back some of the working trolleys.

But this time around, it may find some competition for the cars. Other parties reportedly are expressing an interest in what some have dubbed "the trolleys nobody wanted."

The Dallas City council must make the final decision to attempt to get the electric trolleys back from Boston, and this decision is not expected to come until later this month.

Dallas city officials are exploring the possibility of buying back up to all of the 13 trolleys remaining from the 25 they sold to Boston in the late '50s. Close observers say that the city's burgeoning downtown "went end" historic district may be the eventual home of the well-traveled vehicles.

Thus, Dallas officials are desiring the street cars they didn't want 20 years ago. Boston officials, however, assuming they give the green light for such a purchase, say that they will be asking a great deal more for the trolleys than the Hub paid for them back in 1958 and $:959, although they say they have not entered into price negotiations as yet. With the added historical significant of the streetcars, and with at least one museum showing an active interest in having one, MBTA officials say its no telling how much the c ars are worth today.

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