Streetcars, Trolleys, Curbliners, and Buses in Des Moines

The D-Line downtown shuttle begun by DART (Des Moines Area Regional Transit) in May 2008 is just the latest chapter in the history of public transportation in Des Moines.  Here’s a timeline of past events:

1867 – The Des Moines Street Railway is established by Dr. M.P. Turner.

December 19, 1888 – The first electric streetcar (a converted horse car) made its first trip. It was operated by the Broad Gauge Street Railway Company, in direct competition with the Des Moines Street Railway.

1889 – Jefferson Polk consolidated the Des Moines Street Railway, the Broad Gauge Street Railway, the Rapid Transit Company, and the Sevastopol Street Railway into a new company, the Des Moines City Railway. This company used a variety of equipment.

1911 – After several years of operation, the Des Moines City Railway declared bankruptcy.

1921 – A strike kept the trolleys off the streets for four months.

1929 – The Des Moines system was acquired by a syndicate headed by Walter J. Cummings and it became the Des Moines Railway Company.

1920s-1930s – Gasoline-powered buses began to be used in Des Moines.

October 8, 1938 – The first “curbliners” (trolley buses) made their appearance in Des Moines. A Des Moines resident won $500.00 in a contest to name this new type of trolley bus.

1940 – By this year, Des Moines Railway operated 100 street cars, 31 trolley buses, and 37 gas buses.

March 5, 1951 – The last street car using tracks made its final run. It was a street car named Retire.

January 25, 1964 – This date marked the end of electric curbliner service. Curbliner No. 249 was taken on a special run made by a group of trolley enthusiasts.

The construction of the MacVicar Freeway in the mid-1960s forced the removal of the electric power system that served the curbliners. The transit company converted to all gas-powered vehicles and commuters were able to drive their own cars to work quickly and conveniently. It was the end of an era.

Iowa Trolleys, by Norman Carson, ed. Bulletin 114 of the
Central Electric Railfans’ Association, 1975.

Central Iowa Commuter, February 24, 1982.

Des Moines Register, January 27, 1993.

Des Moines Register, July 24, 1995.

Republished from the DMPL Website.

5 Responses

  1. Marci…Good analysis of the DM Trolley Era…The only thing I see wrong is the last curbliner number was 259…You did good! Earl Short, Des Moines Streetcar Friends

  2. I wish I could take credit for this post, but I can’t. It was written a while back by a different staff member and I posted it here. Thanks for the comment and I’ll update the post.

  3. Thanks anyway for the post…Its always nice to see “anything” that pertains to the DM Streetcar Era…

  4. Where can I get 2016 does moies trolley car calendar?

  5. Mark Smith…I still have a few of my 2016 DM Trolley Days Calendars left…If you are interested, send me an email at

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