[as of June-2005]
The line is a part of the Minnesota Streetcar Museum (MSM), which is a newly formed establishment. It used to be operated by the Minnesota Transportation Museum (MTM), an organization that operates several heritage transportation sites in Minnesota and just across the border in Wisconsin. The organization was first formed to save a streetcar that had been built and operated by Twin City Rapid Transit (TCRT) in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region of Minnesota. The museum was officially organized in 1962, and followed in the footsteps of the Minnesota Railfans Association, which had organized railfan trips in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s.
The Como-Harriet Streetcar Line is the museum's primary site in Minneapolis. A private right-of-way runs alongside Lake Harriet up to Lake Calhoun. Three different vehicles currently operate on the track, although only one or two are running at any given time. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (along with two arches over the route), and is operated in conjunction with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. Rides are given during the warmer months of the year.
In XIX century the lakes near the city were a popular tourist and resort destination. The Lyndale Railway Co. operated a narrow-gauge 3 ft line from Minneapolis to Lake Calhoun along Nicollet Avenue since 1879. Trains were pulled by small steam engines built to resemble streetcars. In 1880 the line was extended to Lake Harriet, and in July 1882 to the town of Excelsior and Lake Minnetonka. The company was renamed to the Minneapolis, Lyndale & Minnetonka Railway Co. It ran into financial trouble and was sold in 1886 to St. Paul, Minneapolis & Manitoba Railroad. The track was widened to standard gage, but service beyond Lake Harriet was discontinued. In 1887 the line was leased to the Minneapolis Street Railway. Service was cut back again, this time to Lake Calhoun, which briefly left the existing Como-Harriet Line's trackage abandoned. Steam engines had seen a decline in popularity as urban form of transport and in 1889 first streetcars ran in the Twin Cities. In 1891 the line was electrified to Lake Harriet, where a loop and a station were built, called Linden Hills. The initial station pavilion burned down, and was replaced by a structure which was later replicated by the museum. From 1904 on TCRT set up to develop the area of Lake Minnetonka as a recreational destination. The former railway right-of-way to Excelsior was doubletracked and rebuilt for interurban style streetcar operation. The line became unprofitable during the Great Depression and was abandoned beyond Hopkins. The stretch of the line from Brookside Avenue to Hopkins was abandoned in 1951. The streetcar system in the Twine Cities was converted to buses by 1954. The right-of-way between Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun was operated until the end of streetcar service.
The Minneapolis Park Board had acquired the former right-of-way, so in 1970 a lease was arranged for use of the land by the MTM museum. Track was laid and a small car barn was constructed to house the trains. The first streetcar (#1300) ran on this track in 1971 operating on one block between W 42nd St. and the car barn. No overhead wires had been strung to provide electricity to power the vehicle, so an electrical generator was mounted on a small trailer towed behind the streetcar until the overhead electrical system was completed in 1973. Service was extended to the William Berry Parkway Bridge in 1972, and further up the line to Lake Calhoun in 1973. The current northern terminal was reached 1977.
The first vehicle to be restored was Twin City Rapid Transit streetcar number 1300. The car, which now appears much like it did in the 1930s, was built as a fast interurban streetcar in 1908, with a top speed of about 65 miles per hour (105 km/h). TCRT #1300 typically went on routes between cities, often going between Minneapolis and St. Paul along University Avenue or along a path that took it past Minneapolis's western lakes and into the suburbs.
As Twin City Rapid Transit dismantled its street railway system in the 1950s, TCRT #1300 was donated to the Minnesota Railfans Association. It was stored outside for several years until MTM acquired it in 1962. The streetcar was restored to operational status with in 1963, but there was not much track available to run it on. It first ran along track at a roundhouse in St. Paul owned by the Minnesota Transfer Railway Company. Over a period of several days when the public was able to view the streetcar, more than 10,000 people mobbed the site.
A streetcar once operated in the TCRT-owned Duluth rail system was put in service after nine years of restoration work as Duluth #265 in 1982. It had originally been built in 1915 by Twin City Rapid Transit and numbered TCRT #1791, but was moved to Duluth the next year. It operated there until the line closed down in 1939.
The car had been turned into a summer cabin, a fate that was not unusual for old wooden streetcars that managed to escape being burned up as rail lines were torn down. The interior had been removed, so important pieces like the railroad trucks, the electric wiring, and other parts had to be scavenged from other old streetcars or rebuilt from scratch.
TCRT PCC #322
Twin City Lines had built most of its own streetcars throughout the company's history, but a number of faster streamlined vehicles were purchased in the late 1940s to better compete with the popularity of the automobile. TCRT #322 was a PCC car built by the St. Louis Car Company in 1946. It served in the Twin Cities until it was sold in 1953 in a batch of 30 streetcars that was sent to the Newark City Subway. It later became one of two cars sold by Newark to Shaker Heights Rapid Transit in Ohio in 1978. After the car was acquired by the museum, it underwent ten years of restoration, finally entering service in 2000.
A few buses from the 1940s and 1950s are also operated at the Lake Harriet site. Most of the buses in the collection were built by the GMC division of General Motors, and represent the vehicles that replaced the streetcars in the Twin Cities. There is also a Mack-built bus, and a Yellow Coach dating to 1935 that once operated in Rochester, Minnesota, but it has not been restored.