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Support for Fort Mason Extension

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The long-proposed historic streetcar extension west from Fisherman’s Wharf to Fort Mason Center is gaining momentum.

What you see above is how the terminal inside Fort Mason could look. The streetcars in the photo would turn left just before that wall at top and enter the historic 1914 railroad tunnel to reach Aquatic Park and Fisherman’s Wharf, then on to the Ferry Building and beyond.

Yesterday, the Citizens’ Advisory Committee to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency presented a unanimous resolution to the SFMTA Board of Directors supporting the extension. SFMTA Board Chair Tom Nolan responded with his own strong support for the extension.

Several members of the public added their public endorsement, including Marina District resident Mike Wilmar. Fort Mason Center Board Chair Jim Chappell recounted how the lack of direct Muni connections to regional transit such as BART and Caltrain makes it hard for many non-profit groups to base themselves at Fort Mason. Market Street Railway President Rick Laubscher offered his opinion that the project may have been slow to take root within SFMTA staff because the environmental work, now complete, was performed by the National Park Service, whose property forms half the extension’s 0.85 miles. Now, though, with various obstacles cleared away, it’s time to move forward, he said.

The photo above is taken from the National Park Service’s Environmental Impact Statement. It’s a huge document, but you can download individual chapters, or the whole thing, here.

There is much more to this story, and we will have it for our Members in the next issue of our quarterly newsletter, Inside Track. (If you’re not a member, you can join now and get the current issue sent to you, or request it electronically.)  We will also post further developments in the story here. Also, there is a new Facebook group, independent of Market Street Railway, that also supports the extension. On Facebook, search for “@fortmasonstreetcar” or “Bring Streetcars to Fort Mason Project” and Like that page. Visible public support, especially from those who work and live along the route, in the Marina District, at Fort Mason, or in Fisherman’s Wharf, is critical to its success.

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Reincarnation in PCC Cities

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Muni’s PCC streetcars are painted in tribute to most of the 30+ North American cities that once operated them. Streetcars had disappeared long ago from all but seven of those PCC cities: Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, Newark, Pittsburgh, Shaker Heights, Ohio, and San Francisco itself. Now, though, there is a real renaissance of streetcar operation among former PCC cities. Enterprising preservationists in Dallas started the McKinney Avenue Transit Authority in 1983 and El Paso is now restoring PCCs for a downtown line. And there’s a spate of former PCC cities turning to modern streetcars to revitalize neighborhoods. MSR President Rick Laubscher was just in Cincinnati, where their new line is testing in advance of a planned September opening. (Note they kept a shade of yellow, as used on their PCCs, and they started numbering them from where their PCCs stopped.)

Cincinnati_-_last_month_of_streetcar_service_(1951)This renaissance of streetcars in PCC cities is a great story, and we’ll have it, with great details, exclusively for our Members in the next Inside Track, our quarterly member letter, due out in September. Join Market Street Railway now, and you’ll get our just-released newsletter with a colorful story on the vintage Powell Street cable car liveries, which we helped Muni bring back onto the line…and a story on a transformative time for transit in San Francisco 75 years ago, in 1941. If you’re intrigued by historic transit, you really need to join Market Street Railway.

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Did we mention that Muni’s Cincinnati tribute PCC, the 1057, known locally as “the bumblebee” for its stripes and yellow body,  is one of the most photographed cars in the fleet?  Join now!


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Celebrate 99 Years of the J-Church July 10


How about a Sunday excursion on a 102-year streetcar along a 99-year old streetcar line?  How about growling up through Dolores Park while all the techies and friends in the park stare with mouths agape, asking “how’d I miss THAT?”

It’s the latest Market Street Railway Trolley Tour, Sunday, July 10 from 1:30-3:30, starting and ending at our San Francisco Railway Museum. You’ll roll up Market Street, then out the J-line all the way to Cameron Beach Yard, where the historic streetcars are kept, and back to town.  Great views, beautiful wood paneling and seats on the streetcar, and new friends to make.

Sign up here!  Remember Market Street Railway Members get 25% off, so for them it’s $40.  For non-members, $50.  (But you non-members can join here first and get the discount.)

Join us for the preview of the J-line Centennial and just a plain swell ride on July 10!


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First Videos of “White Front” Powell Cable Car 12

Right on schedule, Powell Cable Car 12 returned to service at 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 15, 2016. For the first time in 72 years (back when it was numbered 512), it was wearing the “White Front” livery of our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, which merged with Muni in 1944. The video above shows the 12 leaving the Washington-Mason car barn for the first time in revenue service since its restoration.

The photograph below, taken just few blocks away at Powell and California by the great rail photographer Will Whittaker,, shows how the car looked in service the first time it was in this livery, in 1944. We wrote more about this car, and our initiative to restore historic liveries to the Powell Street cable car fleet here.

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The video below shows the first time Car 12 spun the Powell-Market turntable in revenue service today.

Finally, here’s a shot of two of the many proud parents of Car 12, SFMTA’s Ed Cobean, in overall charge of cable cars, and his maintenance right-hand, Carol Wolther. The first-run gripman, Randy Dea, is ready to go in the background.


We’ll have much more about this car and our livery restoration program in the next issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, due out in July.  Meantime, welcome back, Car 12!


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“White Front” Cable Car Returns

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Powell Street cable car 12 returns to service today after an extensive rebuilding process that lasted more than two years. Its return marks the completion of a project that Market Street Railway has supported Muni on for more than 20 years. Powell 12 now proudly wears the famous “White Front” livery of our namesake, Market Street Railway Company, that all Powell cars wore from the mid-1930s until 1944, when Muni took over its private competitor, acquiring the Powell cable lines as part of the deal. The livery is very simple: all white on the ends, all green on the sides. That was deliberate. Market Street Railway Company was in increasing financial trouble and wanted to keep labor costs down wherever possible. An earlier Market Street Railway Company livery, displayed on Powell Car 9, featured red window sashes. (The company painted all its streetcars and cable cars in the simpler scheme shown above.)

Since the Powell-Mason streetcar line opened in 1888, the “halfway to the stars” cars have worn numerous liveries (paint schemes) adopted by the five companies that have owned the Powell lines over the past 128 years. From bright yellow to red to green to blue to maroon, the history of Powell liveries is a kaleidoscope of color. Generally, though, the Powell cars were only one color at a time.  (There were interesting exceptions, which we’ll address in the next issue of our newsletter for members onlyInside Track, due out in July.)

In 1973, for the centennial of the first cable car line, one car was reconstructed and painted in the original 1888 livery of the Powell Street Railway Company (a subsidiary of Ferries & Cliff House Railway), thanks to Charles Smallwood, who was then cable car superintendent. The handsome livery on Powell Car 1 was just restored to its 1973 appearance with Market Street Railway’s help.

The maroon and sky blue livery was so well liked that the rest of the fleet was painted in a simplified version of it during the cable car system rebuilding of the 1980s. However, one car, Powell 3, was left in the previous Muni green and cream livery. This gave us, and some folks at Muni, an idea. Why not share other vintage Powell liveries with today’s riders? So over the past 30 years, as Powell cars went into the carpentry and paint shops for major rebuilding, various vintage liveries were applied to them.  Here’s a look at all of them. (Scroll down to the thumbnails of the various cable cars and click on any of them for the story of that car and its livery.)

The wonderful restoration work is a tribute to Muni’s dedicated cable car crafts workers. Market Street Railway helped by researching the liveries, preparing drawings and specifications and creating and purchasing decals for the cars that replicate the original owners’ logos (which were hand-lettered in the early decades of the cable cars.

Car 12’s debut marks the last of nine different liveries worn by Powell cars. Most of them are on the street most days of the week. We are working with Ed Cobean, Muni’s current cable car boss, to have all of them out, if possible on Muni Heritage Weekend this year, September 24-25.

Welcome back to this important piece of San Francisco history, bringing the famous “White Front” livery back to Powell Street for the first time in 72 years!


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“Streetcar San Francisco” July 20

resizedimage.phpOur friends at the Western Neighborhoods Project have a dandy evening planned at the historic Balboa Theater on Wednesday, July 20.

It’s called “Streetcar San Francisco: Transit Tales of the City in Motion” The fourth annual Western Neighborhoods Project movie night at the Balboa Theatre will feature archival footage, new and original short films, highlights from the OpenSFHistory collection, and other historically-inspired surprises around the theme of San Francisco public and private transit.

Woody LaBounty and David Gallagher will host and narrate and there’ll be trivia and prizes too.

The program begins at 7:00 p.m. and they say it will sell out, so they advise to get your tickets early. You can do that here.

We’re sad to say that the B-Geary will not serve the Balboa Theater for this event. (If you tried to catch it, you’d be almost 60 years too late.) But the 31 Balboa trolley coach will take you there (just not this particular one — Muni’s vintage 1950 Marmon-Herrington  trolley coach, saved in 1977 as the very first project of Market Street Railway).

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Seriously, the Western Neighborhoods Project is a great group, one of the most active and creative history groups in the city. We’re glad to be the source of many of the film clips of San Francisco streetcars you’ll see on July 20!

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Celebrating New Buses



Right up front, we’ll say this is an unusual post for us, since we are and will continue to be a historic preservation organization. But we are also strong supporters of delivering the best possible public transit in San Francisco. That’s why we want to take a minute to congratulate the leadership of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on their stunning bus modernization program.

Led by the SFMTA Board chaired by Tom Nolan, Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, and Director of Transit John Haley, the SFMTA has turned Muni’s bus fleet from an aging, scattered, and frankly ugly bunch of vehicles into a sleek, green, and homogeneous group of trolley coaches and motor coaches.

Historically, Muni procured buses in a disjointed manner, constrained by past practices and an overly complicated process that often included demands for custom features rather than proven design and technology. The current leadership team pushed hard to simplify and accelerate the procurement process, using innovative ideas such as “piggybacking” their order on another city’s (Seattle, in the case of trolley coaches) to get faster delivery and economies of scale.

All the new coaches come from New Flyer Industries of Winnipeg. The SFMTA board last week approved the purchase of 33 additional 60-foot articulated zero emission trolley coaches (shown above) to join 60 already here.  There are also 225 60-foot hybrid-electric motor coaches and 200 40-foot standard motor coaches already here or on order. Later this year, Muni will order 40-foot standard zero emission trolley coaches as well, completing the program.

The new buses are all over the city, further lowering Muni’s carbon footprint, already among the lowest of any major bus operator in North America.  A few of the 60-foot motor coaches even did recent emergency fill-in duty on the T-Third line briefly when LRV service was disrupted (below).


Kudos to the SFMTA leadership team for this dramatic overhaul of Muni’s bus fleet. (We now resume our regular historic programming. 🙂 )

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Take a Trolley Tour on the Last PCC May 22

whatmighthavebeen-8-frazierMarket Street Railway and San Francisco City Guides are again collaborating on a memorable vintage streetcar ride along Muni’s historic F-line. The spring tour is Sunday, May 22, 1:30-3:30pm on-board the last PCC built in North America for Muni in 1952, offering views of the sights and sounds along the F-line on Market Street and The Embarcadero.

No. 1040 has been faithfully restored to its 1950s appearance, looking just like this shot of a charter at the end of 1956 at Geary and Market, when it closed out service on the B-line. It’s a great match for the historic architecture en route, including Lotta’s Fountain and the Palace Hotel in this photo.

Join tour guides Ethan Chickering from City Guides and Paul Lucas from Market Street Railway on one of our priceless “museums in motion” for their informative ride along the F-line where you will learn interesting historical facts about famous Fisherman’s Wharf, traditional North Beach, the scenic Embarcadero, colorful Ferry Plaza, the busy financial district, world famous Powell & Market, classic Civic Center, imposing Mint Hill and the lively Castro.

Sign up today for $40 per person. (Market Street Railway members receive a 25% discount, well beyond the usual 10% member discount on merchandise.) Seating capacity is limited. 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 and City Guides in their work to keep San Francisco’s transit history alive.

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Say Hey! Say Willie!

Left to right, Willie Mays, Mayor Ed Lee, Giants President and CEO Larry Baer, and SFMTA Board Member Malcolm Heinecke chat in front of Willie's cable car No. 24 before the dedication ceremony.

Left to right, Willie Mays, Mayor Ed Lee, Giants President and CEO Larry Baer, and SFMTA Board Member Malcolm Heinecke chat in front of Willie’s cable car No. 24 before the dedication ceremony.


A great event at the Cable Car Barn May 6 to celebrate the 85th birthday of the incomparable Willie Mays. How incomparable? President Obama sent a video tribute calling him “the greatest living ballplayer,” great enough for the president to award Mays the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year.

Why the Cable Car Barn? To “bring together two moving national landmarks”, as President Obama said. He noted that San Francisco’s cable cars were named the first national historic landmark that moved, “except for Willie running the bases.” The president’s fandom was plain to see, as was that of the invitation-only in-person audience that came to see cable car 24 (naturally) dedicated to No. 24, Willie Mays.

President Obama speaks via video at the dedication of cable car 24 to Willie Mays.

President Obama speaks via video at the dedication of cable car 24 to Willie Mays.

SFMTA Board Member Malcolm Heinecke, who is also Mays’ personal attorney, thought of the tribute. Market Street Railway helped SFMTA implement it by providing the car’s history, which turns out to be wonderfully appropriate.

Originally built in 1887 for the Ferries & Cliff House Railway, the original owner of the Powell cable lines, Car 24 received its last major renovation by Muni crafts workers in 1958, the year the Giants — and Willie Mays — moved to San Francisco from New York. It’s also the only cable car to go on a “road trip” will still in active service with Muni — representing San Francisco at the big Chicago Railroad Fair in 1949 (where it actually operated on a short stretch of specially-built cable track) and to the Shriner’s Convention in Los Angeles in 1950.

Following a speech by Mayor Ed Lee, officials unveiled a photo blow up of a new plaque mounted on the car honoring Mays. Then everyone piled onto Car 24 for a ceremonial ride that included a very rare, probably unprecedented moment: reversing the car on the  barn’s motorized turntable with a full load to point it to the exit gate on Washington Street. Click the black video box below to see it.

Then Car 24 and guests were off for a brief trip “around the horn”, as cable car folk describe the non-revenue turn left on Powell from Washington used to put cable cars into and out of service. Willa Johnson, one of Muni’s two female gripmen, took the controls for the run. The Chronicle’s Steve Rubenstein wrote a great story on the whole event. Again, click the black box below to watch Car 24 leave the barn for the first time as “the Willie Mays cable car.”

It was great to see Willie Mays ringing the conductor’s bell on his cable car, and even more to see the outpouring of genuine affection for someone who has been a positive symbol of San Francisco to millions of people — just as the cable cars have.

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E-line NextBus Map Working!

NextMuni E,F screenshot 042616NextBus, Muni’s vendor for live displays showing where every vehicle is on every route, has launched the full-time E-Embarcadero map. You can now see what’s on both the E- and F-lines by clicking here, then selecting the map you want: F-line only, E-line only, or a combination (as shown in the screenshot above).

We thank NextBus (which labels its maps here “NextMuni”) for including the icons (which we supplied them) of the actual streetcars that are on the line, a big plus for trainspotters. The F-line cars have the icon plus the car number, the E-line cars have the icon plus “E-Embarcadero” so you can tell which car is on which line when you have both lines up on the map at the same time.

Fun little feature (intended or not): the E-line map shows the route that both E and F cars currently take along the T-line to reach their temporary base at Muni Metro East. In the screenshot, you can see that Car 1080 has activated its GPS in anticipation of pulling out onto the F-line. Note that the Third Street trackage is NOT revenue trackage at the moment, though Market Street Railway is advocating extending the E-line along this route (and west to Fort Mason from the Wharf) to tie together all the city’s major waterfront attractions with a single historic line.

Thanks again to NextBus for getting the E-line map up and running.


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