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Three Trolley Tours in August. Sign Up Now!

The two streetcars scheduled to be used on August Trolley Tours: PCC No. 1050 (left) and venerable Muni Car No. 1.  Peter Ehrlich photo.

The two streetcars scheduled to be used on August Trolley Tours: PCC No. 1050 (left) and venerable Muni Car No. 1. Peter Ehrlich photo.

August will be the busiest month Market Street Railway has ever had for our private Trolley Tours on Muni’s vintage streetcars. Three very different excursions, but equally interesting events.

Let’s cut to the chase: click this link and sign up for one or more of them now!

The first excursion is Saturday, August 1. It features venerable Muni Car No. 1, built in 1912, and goes from our San Francisco Railway Museum all the way to the San Francisco Zoo and back via the F, J, K, and L lines. This just so happens to be the very first day of E-Embarcadero line service (the charter was scheduled before the E-line date was set), but hey, as they say in Silicon Valley, that’s not a fault, it’s a feature.  Now you can do both with one trip. (Have to issue a caveat on this one: that’s also a day that BART Transbay Service is down — again, happened after we scheduled the charter — so  keep that in mind if you’re coming from the East Bay.  Or, try one of the others!)

The second is Saturday, August 22 at 12 Noon, again from our museum, and co-sponsored with the Exploratorium, one of the world’s great interactive science facilities. You’ll ride the new E-line and then switch onto the T-line for a trip through the fast-developing Mission Bay and Dogpatch neighborhoods, plus the rare opportunity to ride through Muni’s Metro East rail storage and maintenance facility.  When you return, you’ll get admission to the Exploratorium included.  It all happens on one of Muni’s streamlined PCC streetcars. This is a great deal for families with kids (of any age).

The next day, Sunday, August 23, is an excursion distinctly not for kids — in fact, it’s 21 and over only.  It’s our second “Night Train” event, leaving our museum at 7:00 p.m. aboard Car 1. There’ll be libations and live music; good times with good people.

Market Street Railway Members get 25% on up to two tickets for each tour.  You can even join when you sign up and get the discount applied. Instructions are all on our Trolley Tours page.

No need to scroll back up.  Here’s the link to our Trolley Tours page again.

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Charlotte Trolley Collision

Charlotte replica streetcar No. 91, the one involved in the July 19 accident, when new in 2005. These streetcars operated briefly on a demonstration line before being stored until the new downtown line opened recently. Rick Laubscher photo.

Charlotte replica streetcar No. 91, the one involved in the July 19 accident, when new in 2005. These streetcars operated briefly on a demonstration line before being stored until the new downtown line opened recently. Rick Laubscher photo.

There was a collision July 19 on the new streetcar line in Downtown Charlotte, which just opened. Here is a must-see video taken from the streetcar’s security camera, published by the Charlotte Observer as part of an article on the investigation.  (By the way, Muni’s vintage streetcars now have these cameras, too.)

The Observer story quotes transit agency officials in Charlotte as saying the operator neglected to switch the controls from one end of the car to the other at the terminal. (The cars can be operated from both ends.)  They said he somehow released the brake on the car while the controls were still activated for the opposite end.  The transit agency said that’s why the so-called emergency brake, electromechanical track brakes, wouldn’t activate, nor would the regular brakes.

However, these Charlotte replica streetcars, built by Gomaco Trolley Company and modeled on the double-truck Birney design from the 1920s, also include a third braking system, manually applied brakes not dependent on electricity or control location, activated by the large wheel visible to the operator’s right in the video.  The agency says central control told him over the radio to activate that handbrake (we see the operator talking on his microphone as the video begins), but that the operator never did that.  And indeed, we can see in the video that he never touches the handbrake wheel either before or after the streetcar clips an SUV from behind.  (The car finally stopped when it ran out of downhill.)

The Charlotte handbrake appears very similar to the ones on the Milan and Melbourne cars do Muni. Muni trains its streetcar operators to stop streetcars from speeds of 25 mph with the handbrake alone. They also receive extensive training in all the systems of the historic cars. (The handbrake is a reliable, proven, mechanical mechanism. It remains a mystery why the Charlotte operator didn’t use it, unless he was not trained to do so.)

What’s also unexplained to this point, at least in public, is how it could be possible for an operator to release the brake on a streetcar, whether accidentally or on purpose, before the controls at that end of the car have been fully activated.  If that’s what actually happened, it’s a stunning design flaw.  (To be clear, Muni does not have any replica streetcars or streetcars that allow this kind of thing to happen.)

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the Charlotte accident.  Yet we’re seeing rantings from some folks there that one accident, in which no one was hurt, and whose cause is under investigation, is cause to shut the whole system down.  But many of these ranters were clearly opposed to the new streetcar line on other grounds,  One commenter on the video page linked above wrote that on the new streetcar route,

“you can see a whole lot of ‘ghetto’ and ‘little Mexico’ . None of our rail systems do anything for the middle or upper-class residents that payed [sic] for them (unwillingly) with our taxes.”

(U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, a former mayor of Charlotte, calls opinions like this racist and noted that it was precisely to reach underserved communities that he championed the streetcar as mayor.)

In Atlanta, a new streetcar line using modern streetcars debuted earlier this year and drew terrified comments in various forums from automobile drivers about how dangerous the streetcars were, without saying why.

As kids, native San Franciscans used to be taught to respect the streetcars because of their size but not to be afraid because, unlike a bus or automobile, they followed an exact course — where the rails are.

Any public transit vehicle, like any vehicle on a roadway, will eventually become involved in accidents. You need strong public policy, like the Safer Market Street plan, supported by Market Street Railway, the Bicycle Coalition, and WalkSF, among other advocacy groups, that would have prevented accidents like this one on Market Street the other day. You also need a transit agency that either already deeply understands rail transit, as Muni does, or makes sure it hires people who do.

Most of all, when new streetcar lines start up, you need extensive public education campaigns to teach drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians that steel wheels on steel rails simply cannot stop as fast as rubber tires on asphalt, and that trying to cut off a streetcar in traffic as though it was an automobile isn’t a smart idea — no matter how capable and well trained the streetcar operator is.

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New Development Fee Could Benefit Streetcars

Streetcar No. 1055, wearing its original 1946 Philadelphia livery, passes new condos on Market at Buchanan. Michael Macor photo for the Chronicle.

Streetcar No. 1055, wearing its original 1946 Philadelphia livery, passes new condos on Market at Buchanan. Michael Macor photo for the Chronicle.

The City of San Francisco is proposing a new fee on new market rate condo and apartment construction that will raise an extra $14 million per year for transit.

The Chronicle used an F-line streetcar passing a new upper Market development to illustrate the article about the fee. More than fitting, since every single new proposed residential development along Market for the past few years has used F-line streetcars in the illustrations of their proposed project.

Clearly, the developers think the historic streetcars are a valuable amenity.  Now they get to put some money where their artists’ conceptions are.

The article quotes a long-time supporter of Market Street Railway, Oz Erickson of Emerald Fund (who serves on our advisory council) as saying, “…for the whole city to work, everybody has to pay their fair share.”

Thanks to this legislation, carried at the Board of Supervisors by strong F-line (and Muni) supporter Scott Wiener and widely expected to pass, it looks like everybody will indeed pay more of a fair share.

The money that comes in from the new fee will be spread around a variety of areas at Muni to improve and expand service. It would be logical to apply some of it to expand streetcar service along Market in congested times, given the thousands of new units now under construction or planned along the F-line.

Though it will take a couple of years before the money starts coming in, this is a new long-term funding source for Muni, which is always welcome.

We thank Scott, the Mayor’s Office, the Planning Department, and SFMTA, which the article says worked together for an extended period to pull together this plan.

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Driver Takes Stupid Pills

Kendall Willets photo via SFist.

Kendall Willets photo via SFist.

We get that driving an automobile in San Francisco is not easy, but c’mon!

From our friends at SFist comes this photo taken last Thursday by Kendall Willets. Willets reports that the driver of the SUV tried an illegal left turn from the right lane from westbound Market onto southbound Tenth Street.  No injuries, no damage to the streetcar, which has been back on the road.

As San Franciscans know, left turns off Market throughout downtown (except onto Drumm Street) have been banned for decades for any vehicles except Muni. Even though every intersection is well-signed in this regard, we still regularly see dumb (or scofflaw) drivers hanging lefties in front of oncoming traffic (largely Muni buses and streetcars and bicyclists these days) that aren’t expecting that. Nor are pedestrians who aren’t looking for left-turning drivers.  A recipe for danger.

Market Street Railway is one of many transit, bicycle, and pedestrian advocacy groups supporting SFMTA’s plan to ban automobiles from Market outright between Third and Tenth Streets, for safety reasons.

It’s supposed to start in August.  Wish it were in effect already.

[Okay, transit nerd content: one city famous for streetcars actually has a rule of the road for automobiles that requires them to pull to the curb lane to turn across traffic.  It’s so they won’t block the streetcars, er, trams. It’s Melbourne, Australia, and it’s an unnerving practice to see, but Melburnians understand the rule, and it seems to work. There.  Not here.]

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Great E-line Startup Piece in The Examiner

Right after this shot was snapped, Mayor Dianne Feinstein (left) took the controls of Muni Car No.1 and personally piloted it down Market Street to open the first Trolley Festival in June 1983. That success led to the permanent F-line, and now the E-line.

Right after this shot was snapped, Mayor Dianne Feinstein (left) took the controls of Muni Car No.1 and personally piloted it down Market Street to open the first Trolley Festival in June 1983. That success led to the permanent F-line, and now the E-line.

 

The Examiner’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez gave us a ring in the morning, asking for the history behind the E-line. Among other things, he was curious why the line is named E when it’s starting service 20 years after the F.  We explained that the E-Embarcadero was originally given that letter in 1979, when Muni Planning first included it in its Long Range Transit Plan (very long range, as it turned out). It was envisioned to run from Fort Mason to the Caltrain Depot along the waterfront, following the old State Belt freight railroad route, an idea first proposed a decade earlier by San Francisco Tomorrow. The following year, they included the F-Market in their plan from the Ferry to Castro.

We explained to Joe that the Market line was dubbed F, simply because it followed E in the alphabet.  (Both had originally belonged to vanished Muni streetcar lines, the E-Union (now the 41 bus) and F-Stockton (now the 30 bus)). We also told him that some believed the “F” was for Feinstein, since then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein made the F-line a reality by personally championing the summer demonstration Trolley Festivals of the 1980s on Market.  (And by the way, we would be the first to sign up by making the F-for-Feinstein line official!)

Still, we were blown away to see such a strong endorsement of Market Street Railway’s advocacy for the E-line from now-Senator Feinstein in the Examiner article.

The story accurately portrays SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin’s role in bringing the E-line to reality.  We also pointed out the roles of his team in supporting the E-line startup, noting that bringing any new transit line into service is a complex task. And we singled out other community leaders, such as key waterfront businesses and neighborhood groups, and Dr. Mimi Silbert, President of Delancey Street Foundation, who have been staunch E-line supporters.

We also mentioned the key roles of Mayor Art Agnos and the late Doug Wright, his transportation deputy mayor (and later Market Street Railway board chair), in ensuring that the F-line tracks were connected to the extension of the Muni Metro subway along the Southern Embarcadero, completing that physical connection for the E-line. Those things, though, like the origin of the E and F designations, didn’t make the story, but understandably so, given its impressive length already.

We were also pleased to see that the Ex highlighted our call for volunteer docents to work the first few weekends of the E-line, starting August 1. You can sign up at volunteer@streetcar.org.  We thank MSR Board Chair Bruce Agid and Board Member Katie Haverkamp for their leadership in organizing our support for SFMTA in conjunction with the E-line’s opening.

Watch this space, and the SFMTA website, for more information on E-line startup activities.

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Great Photos in Chron’s “Our SF”

Twin hill climber and Cal Cable 1947

The Chronicle has been running long stories with lots of photos recently in the Sunday paper and on sfchronicle.com (a pay site) called “Our SF,” focusing on aspects of the city’s 150+ year history. Peter Hartlaub, a strong writer with an eye for good visuals, has been scouring the paper’s photo archives and has unearthed some gems.

July 12 was transportation’s turn, and the 20+ photos published online (vs. only a few in the print edition) include many we’d never seen before.

Such as the one above by Bill Young, a Chronicle staff photographer, showing one of Muni’s newly purchased Twin Coach “hill climber” gasoline buses posed next to a California Street cable car in 1947. The story doesn’t explain this odd juxtaposition, since the “hill climbers” were bought by Muni specifically to replace the city-owned Powell cable lines, not those of the then privately-owned California Street company.

Moscow 106_legs_1986There are small factual glitches here and there in the story and captions, probably the result of misinformation included in the archives when the photos were filed. For example, the classic photo to the left, taken by the Chronicle’s Tom Levy, showing the “Streetcar Named Desire for Peace,” given to San Francisco by the Soviet Union in 1986. (It ran in the final Trolley Festival of 1987, but has not yet been restored, in part because it does not fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act adopted after the Festivals.) The caption says the car came from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), when it in fact ran first in Moscow, and then Orel. (The legs, which made the photo a popular greeting card for a time, belong to a Muni shop worker.)

Despite the inaccuracies, it’s a great read. We especially like Hartlaub’s turn of phrase about how the city has embraced ” the lovely and functional F-line heritage streetcars.” And the online photos are wonderful, including some obscure streetcar and bus images (love the 1955 shot of a new Mack diesel bus on a railroad flatcar signed “7-Haight/via Freeway” — were city officials trying to promote the never-built Panhandle Freeway, perhaps?).

Here’s the whole story. Let us know your observations by leaving comments on our site, below.

 

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E-line Opening Now August 1

PCC Streetcar No. 1006, training on the E-line June 30, 2015, joins the light rail tracks that emerge from the Market Street Subway at Folsom Street.

PCC Streetcar No. 1006, training on the E-line June 30, 2015, joins the light rail tracks that emerge from the Market Street Subway at Folsom Street.

The opening of weekend service on the E-Embarcadero line has been rescheduled for Saturday, August 1, one week later than originally planned.

At a meeting between SFMTA and Market Street Railway representatives on Thursday, July 1, it was agreed that the San Francisco Marathon, which will clog the entire Embarcadero on Sunday, July 26, made it prudent to defer the E-line opening.

SFMTA had decided to substitute buses for streetcars on the F-line on Marathon day already, due to the difficulty of keeping schedules.

“We support the new August 1 opening date,” said Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher. “The rollout will go smoother for operators, inspectors, and riders if they don’t have to deal with the extreme circumstances caused by the Marathon.”

Besides the start date, the meeting focused on creating clear signage for the cars and stops to explain the difference between the E-line and the F-line to unfamiliar riders.  The two lines run together from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Ferry Building, but while the F-line turns inland and heads out Market Street to Castro, the E-line will continue along The Embarcadero and King Street to AT&T Park and the Caltrain Depot.  It will share tracks with the N- and T-line light rail vehicles south of Folsom Street, and has its own low-level boarding platforms and accessibility ramps at one end of each light rail station.

Market Street Railway is looking for volunteer docents to be stationed at key stops along the E-line during its 10 a.m.-7 p.m. operating hours during the first several weekends, starting August 1-2.  Shifts will run about two hours. You’ll help guide riders to the correct location, hand out brochures explaining the E-line, and answer questions. You can sign up by emailing volunteer@streetcar.org.

Seven-day service on the E-line is still slated for early 2016.

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Training for E-line Under Way

Vintage 1948 double-end PCC streetcars Nos. 1006 (left) and 1011 pass just south of the Ferry Building during E-line training, July 1, 2015

Vintage 1948 double-end PCC streetcars Nos. 1006 (left) and 1011 pass just south of the Ferry Building during E-line training, July 1, 2015

Think of it as a dress rehearsal: double-ended historic streetcars cruising the length of The Embarcadero, running along both the F-line tracks (from the Wharf to the Ferry Building) and the N- and T-line tracks (from Folsom Street past AT&T Park and on to the Caltrain Depot at Fourth and King Streets.

With only an operator and Muni training staff on board.

These streetcars are getting ready for the formal launch of the long-awaited E-Embarcadero vintage streetcar line, which begins weekend operation on Saturday, July 25 August 1, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m.  Seven-day operation will follow early in 2016.

PCC No. 1006 makes a practice stop at the low-level E-line platform at Harrison Street northbound, July 1, 2015

PCC No. 1006 makes a practice stop at the low-level E-line platform at Harrison Street northbound, July 1, 2015

So if you see these historic streetcars with the “Training Car” or “Not In Service” signs along The Embarcadero, now you know why.

Give them a friendly wave!

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Ride the Boat July 19 All the Way Out the J

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In the days of strong competition between our namesake, Market Street Railway, and Muni, Muni sometimes had an employee at the Ferry Building loop promoting its K and L lines by saying “ALL the way out Market” (which many San Franciscans of the day pronounced “MAH-ket”).  Of Market Street Railway’s lines, only the 8 went all the way to Castro Street..and the trolley buses that succeeded the streetcars on that route gave way to the F-line streetcars in 1995.

But that’s the past. On Sunday, July 19, you have the chance to go all the way out Market (well, to Noe Street anyway), and then ALL the way out the J-line, through newly renovated Dolores Park, over the famous “backyard route” across Dolores Heights, on Church through Noe Valley, and then along San Jose Avenue on the private right-of-way through the historic Bernal Cut, created by the Southern Pacific for steam trains!

This special charter will then loop through Cameron Beach Yard, where the historic streetcar fleet is normally housed (diverted temporarily to Metro East during construction), and then back downtown on the J and F lines.  A 13-mile round trip!

To make it even better, it’s going to take place on Muni’s famous open-top 1934 Boat Tram from Blackpool, England.

The tour runs from 1:30-3:30 pm, starting and ending at our San Francisco Railway Museum, 77 Steuart Street across from the Ferry Building.

Sign up today for $50 per person. (Market Street Railway members receive a 25% discount, so please consider joining us before you buy your tickets…you can get the discount on two tickets!) Seating capacity is limited, and the last boat tram tour, which stayed on the F-line, sold out, so move quickly.

Your ticket purchase provides the funds required to charter the streetcar from Muni, so all ticket sales must be final. All proceeds go to support Market Street Railway in its work to keep San Francisco’s transit history alive.

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E-Line Startup Looks Set for July 25

E-line car No. 1008 in 2013 Demonstration Service at its Caltrain Depot terminal.

E-line car No. 1008 in 2013 Demonstration Service at its Caltrain Depot terminal.

As readers of our member newsletter, Inside Track, learned last month, Muni’s second historic streetcar line, the long-awaited E-Embarcadero, now looks set to start up for initial weekend-only service on July 25.  Officials of SFMTA, Muni’s parent, were comfortable sharing that date with local blog Hoodline.

UPDATE: E-line startup moved to August 1.

The E-line, providing single-seat service the length of The Embarcadero, from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Giants ballpark and the Caltrain Depot, has been a goal of Market Street Railway and other advocates for more than 20 years.  It will share F-line boarding platforms between the Wharf and Ferry Building, and use separate low-level platforms and ADA ramps (built ten years ago) at the four N- and T-line stops from Folsom to Caltrain. All stops will be fully accessible.

The weekend-only service will run from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with E-line cars running every 20 minutes. It will acquaint operators with the route and optimize the sharing of the trackage with the other lines that use it, while providing time to train the additional operators needed for full-time service.  Full seven-day service is expected to begin in early 2016.

The E-line has operated in special demonstration service on numerous weekends over the past decade, most intensively during the America’s Cup races in 2013. Because there is no loop track at the south end to turn single-end streetcars around, the E will be restricted to double-end vintage streetcars only.  Muni has seven double-end PCC streamliners (Nos. 1006-1011 and 1015) as well as several older vintage cars that are expected to see service, including 1912 Muni Car No. 1, 1914 Muni Car No. 130, 1929 Melbourne tram No. 496, and 1923 New Orleans “Desire” streetcar No. 952.  (The popular Blackpool boat trams function as single-end streetcars after modifications to make them ADA-compliant, and so will not be seen on the E-line, though we are hopeful of having them operate some trips on the F-line this summer.)

Market Street Railway has pledged to assist SFMTA with signage and docents at key stops to acquaint riders with the new weekend E-line service. We welcome volunteers, so if you’re interested in helping us get the word out about this exciting new service, just email us at volunteer@streetcar.org to let us know and give us your contact information.

Market Street Railway’s non-stop advocacy played a big role in making the E-line a reality. We depend on memberships and donations to carry out our mission of Preserving Historic Transit in San Francisco.  Please consider supporting us.  Thanks.

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