The Tandy Subway was a privately owned rapid transit line operating as a free shuttle between Radio Shack headquarters in downtown Fort Worth, Texas and three stations located in a remote parking lot several blocks away, next to the Trinity River. The name was somewhat of a misnomer, since it was actually a light rail system that ran off overhead trolley wire, and only part of the line was underground.
The parking lot actually predated the subway. Built for what was then the Leonards department store in Fort Worth, customers initially had to ride to the store on buses. But then Leonards owners Marvin and Obie Leonard had a tunnel dug into the basement of the store and laid some track from there to the end of the parking lot. Automated people mover technology might have been a better solution, but it was unavailable in the early 1960s, so the Leonard brothers went the human-operated route, buying used PCC trolley cars from Capital Transit in Washington, D.C.; the cars were cheap since many cities had either finished or were in the process of replacing their trolley lines with buses, and so there was little demand for Washington’s castoff equipment. The PCC cars were modified with plush longitudinal seating and wider doors, both to increase passenger capacity and make it easier and quicker for passengers to enter and exit the vehicles.
The line opened as the M&O Subway on February 12, 1963, beginning its workmanlike operation on a 7-day-a-week schedule, with cars running as often as every three minutes. Not only shoppers used the subway, but also Leonards employees and people having business at the nearby courthouse.
In the late 1960s, the cars received “Leonards Metro Liner” emblems, and then, several years later, a change in ownership of the department store made the cars into the “Dillards Metro Liner.”
The Tandy Corporation bought the department store and the subway in 1967, and in the mid-1970s, renovated the area, incorporating the store into a shopping mall/office building/headquarters complex known as the Tandy Center.
The subway didn’t escape the renovation. Instead of the corrugated metal bodies that belied their city streetcar origins, the cars were given boxy, sleek, ultramodern bodies that matched the look of many of the electronic products being sold at Radio Shack stores in the mid-1970’s. However, the cars kept their original mechanical systems beneath the floorboards, invisible to passengers.
Despite the attraction of the subway, the Tandy Center mall had trouble competing against the bigger malls in the suburbs. Dillards left in 1995, and the mall became an outlet mall in 1996.
The Tandy Subway made its last run on the evening of August 30, 2002 in order to make way for a new Radio Shack headquarters campus, scheduled to open in 2005 and being partially built on the site of the parking lot that had been served by the subway. (Other portions of that parking lot are being used as a staging area for the construction.) Several parking garages are part of the project, rendering the parking lot and the subway superfluous.
The cars are for sale, although they’re likely to be bought solely to be cannibalized for parts by museums that own and operate PCC trolley cars that still have their original bodies.
But the Tandy Subway lives on, on film (or videotape or DVD): in the first half or so of the 1980 made-for-PBS version of "The Lathe of Heaven," it makes a couple of brief appearances disguised as the Portland subway of the near future. (Later in the film, Portland's rapid transit needs in a different reality are taken care of by some people mover somewhere, perhaps at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport.)