The "N" is Near!
August 21, 2010
A recent dead-of-night test could lead to the end of the blanket ban of all historic streetcars from the N-line west of Arguello Boulevard. The ban was put into place more than a decade ago when one of the widest historic streetcars hit the wheelchair boarding ramp where the eastbound tracks turn from Judah Street onto Ninth Avenue. (The ramp was misdesigned, but not cheap to fix now that it's in).
Even though it was clear that the skinniest vintage streetcars (such as the Milan trams and the 1050-class PCCs) would not hit that boarding island, Muni operations made the ban absolute. Now, though, there is a chance that could change, after recent tests were run one night after regular N-line Breda service ended. The two PCCs involved were from the 1070 class, DC Transit No. 1076 and Birmingham Electric No. 1077. This class of cars has the same nine foot wide body shell as Muni's old "Baby Ten" class (of which No. 1040 is now nearing the completion of its restoration).
Ace photographer Kevin Sheridan took these great pics of the test. Above, in a moody black and white shot, the two PCCs emerge onto Carl Street from the Sunset Tunnel, with No. 1077 having backed up all the way from Duboce Avenue. They then ran nose-to-nose like this along Carl Street, switching over to the other track at the crossover near Arguello Boulevard, and proceeded to Ninth and Judah, where both streetcars (one facing each way) cleared the boarding island and ramp. At that point, they went back to Arguello, where No. 1076 made the circuit of the outer N-line to the terminal at Ocean Beach, just to make sure. The photo below shows No. 1077 on the Judah right-of-way at Tenth Avenue, right after completing its clearance test.
This clearance test means that only the widest PCCs, the seven double-end "torpedoes," actually are unsuitable for N-line service, along with the two widest vintage cars, Muni Nos. 130 and 162 (ironic, since these two streetcars were stalwarts on the N-line for decades, before the boarding islands and ramps, of course). Some one-of-a-kind streetcars in the fleet, such as the "boat tram," should clear the N-line, given their dimensions, but have not specifically been tested.
Market Street Railway will now formally request that Muni authorize the streetcars proven to clear the Ninth and Judah boarding island for charter and special service on the N-line. As soon as that is done, Market Street Railway will schedule a members-only charter there. We're also hoping that as resources allow, Muni would conduct additional tests for any streetcar type that's still questionable. At the top of that list: 1912 streetcar No. 1, which, like No. 1040, is now nearing completion of its restoration process.
Except for the Market Street subway, the J, K, L, M, N, and T lines are supposed to be operable by Muni's entire streetcar fleet, including the vintage cars. The misdesigned boarding island has kept vintage cars from being shared with neighbors of the N-line on special occasions, just as a misdesigned piece of overhead wire work has precluded the vintage cars from operating over (and south of) the Islais Creek Bridge on the T-line. Market Street Railway would like to see that fixed as well, so that vintage streetcars could make special appearances on Third Street for Bayview and Visitacion Valley neighbors as part of Muni's Centennial celebration in 2012.
Thanks to Kevin for these great pictures.
UPDATE: We have learned from Muni that the specific reason for the clearance test was to see whether the 1070-class PCCs could be tested on the N-line after they return from renovation at Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania. (The first of the 11 cars in this class, San Diego No. 1078 should be complete and back in San Francisco by October; the rest will come over the following year; 1076 and 1077 are still in service and haven't left for renovation yet.)
The F-line maintenance team feels the N-line is optimal for such testing because it offers a long stretch of steady-speed running (the Sunset Tunnel) plus a long street stretch without much traffic (outer Judah Street).
The test was not done specifically to see whether charters are possible; that's an SFMTA policy decision. Market Street Railway has formally requested charter authorization for historic streetcars that meet clearances on Judah Street. We'll let you know what we hear. Meantime, the possibility has already gotten some community support and media attention.