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Big Boost for Mid-Market F-line Loop

The US Department of Transportation has granted San Francisco $15 million to help pay for the first phase of the city’s vision to remake Market Street. Here’s the news story, and here’s the city’s official website for the project.  

Included in that first phase is a critical improvement to the F-line historic streetcar service, shown above: a bi-directional loop track at Civic Center, using the short first block of McAllister Street and the northerly extension of Seventh Street (called Charles Brenham Place) to allow F-line streetcars to reverse in either direction. The streetcar tracks are a little hard to see in the drawing above, but you can click the drawing to enlarge it. (The green markings show bicycle paths/crossings.)

The loop turns right off outbound Market Street, just where the old 5-McAllister streetcar did, then turns left onto Charles Brenham’s southbound curb lane, where there is a ADA ramp and layover space. The tracks diverge there to allow either a left turn to return toward the Ferry Building, or a right turn toward Castro. Another switch allows inbound streetcars on Market to turn onto McAllister and then return outbound. 

Market Street Railway is delighted that Muni staff embraced our recommendation for its exact location. There is no other place on Market Street where a turning movement like this can be carried out in such a short length of new track. And the location is convenient, dropping passengers off within a short walk of City Hall, the Main Library, and the Asian Arts Museum, and right next to newly restored landmarks such as the hot Proper Hotel (which the loop literally loops around) and the venerable Hibernia Bank Building at Jones and Market (the location, coincidentally, of the terminal of the old Jones Street cable car shuttle, which closed in 1954).  

This loop will add immense flexibility to the F-line. First and foremost, it is the most efficient and effective way to increase F-line service along the highest ridership stretch of the route, from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Union Square/Powell Street area downtown. Today’s F-line service levels are constrained by terminal capacity at both ends. There’s not enough room for additional streetcars laying over at the ends of the line without blocking street space. This has been a sore subject at the Castro end of the line in particular, where 17th Street is narrow and residential almost right up to the terminal. Layovers are kept shorter there than at Fisherman’s Wharf to minimize the problem, but adding more service to Castro (that usually isn’t needed west of Powell) would inevitably clog the terminal there.

There is a turnaround spot at 11th Street and Market, near Van Ness; not a loop but a “wye”, where streetcars have to turn onto a stub track on 11th, and then back out onto Market, a much more difficult move than in past decades because of changed traffic patterns and the routing of the 9-line articulated buses onto 11th. The wye is actually the last remnant of Muni’s original H-Potrero streetcar line, and was never optimally designed for reversing streetcars.

Muni’s initial plan when the loop is completed is to add extra F-line service from the Wharf area to the loop to alleviate some of the current crowding. This would likely happen from late morning through late afternoon. Of course, the loop is important for other reasons as well: it will give Muni the ability to balance service and reduce bunching on a regular basis to fill gaps; allow the majority of the F-line to keep operating when part of Market Street is temporarily blocked, and provide a place to load a chartered streetcar or divert a streetcar with an operational problem from the main line.

The Better Market Street program is a comprehensive revamping of San Francisco’s Main Street, to give more priority to transit, provide bicyclists with separated bike paths, and improve pedestrian safety, while preserving the street’s historic elements, including the landmark “Path of Gold” streetlights (which also hold up the Muni wires).

The project, which stretches from Steuart Street at the foot of Market up to Octavia Street, is currently under environmental review, scheduled for completion in 2019, with the first phase of work, between Fifth and Eighth Streets, and including the streetcar loop, to start construction in 2020.  Market Street Railway was a strong advocate for making the stretch with the loop into the first phase of work. We’re delighted to hear this news.

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Muni’s “Fireplace”

Flash back a half-century or more, when the West Portal of the Twin Peaks Tunnel was done up to resemble a giant brick fireplace, complements of local merchants. We see PCC Car 1010 about to plunge into the “hearth” on its trip downtown, emerging a few minutes later at Market and Castro Streets. 

Did you know that San Francisco is getting Car 1010 as a belated holiday present in the new year? It’s being completely renovated at Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania and should be back in the middle of the year, painted in Muni’s World War II era blue and yellow livery, ready for another quarter-century of service on the E- and F-lines.

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See ‘Lost Landscapes’ Dec. 4 and 5

 

Our friend Rick Prelinger, creator of the Internet Archive, has been making special programs of vintage films of San Francisco for over a decade now. Rick has collected a wonderful mix of home movies, commercial film outtakes, travelogues, and other celluloid representations of our city, and invites the audience to shout out their reactions. It’s the ultimate interactive show!

This year’s event is extra special, because Rick has made the best restoration yet of the famed “Trip Down Market Street” film made by the Miles Brothers just before the 1906 Earthquake and Fire changed San Francisco forever. This is the film featured in a Morley Safer “60 Minutes” story a few years back, including interviews with Rick Prelinger, film historian David Kiehn of the Essenay Film Museum in Niles, and MSR President Rick Laubscher, who created a narrated version of the film, available to view or purchase at our San Francisco Railway Museum.

Rick Prelinger will debut the original (silent) version of this beautifully restored film at the Lost Landscapes events on December 4 and 5 at the Castro Theater, along with many other great clips of San Francisco’s history. This is always a wonderful event and at this writing, tickets are still available here.

Proceeds benefit the Internet Archive, a great project. You’ll thank yourself for seeing this.

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Friday Fun and Fantasy

 

It’s amazing how Muni’s historic streetcar operation has garnered fans and created fantasies all over the world. The wonderful “fictional image” by artist Garry Luck above is an example. It came to our attention today as part of a post and comments in a Facebook group called Blackpool’s Transport Past. It’s a modification of an artist’s conception of a decapitated version of Blackpool, England “Coronation” Tram 663. (The name refers to their construction date, 1953, the year of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II). Below is another artist’s conception by Mr. Luck, which we have learned after first posting this, depicts the red livery of Prague.

 

The original Facebook poster of the photo, Philip Higgs, headed the preservation group Lancastrian Transport Trust, which acquired several cars from Blackpool Transport when that venerable operator greatly reduced its heritage fleet after acquiring modern trams (to their great credit, Blackpool Transport has reversed course and now offers vibrant heritage tram services much of the year).

Higgs writes in his post that in 2012, his group “was forced to reduce the size of its preserved vehicle collection and prior to Coronation 663 passing to a private owner for continued preservation, discussions took place with a USA based tramway operator to produce a semi open top car”.  Group member Alun Wylde then posted the green and cream photo as a comment, noting “Whilst the open top ruins the car, the Muni livery of green and cream wings quite suits it”.

We at Market Street Railway do not know who the “USA based tramway operator” was who had discussions about this Coronation tram. We don’t believe it was Muni. Mr. Higgs did not mention this concept to us two years later during our negotiations with him to purchase an actual original open-top boat tram (Car 233) from his group for preservation by Muni. Happily, Tram 663 was eventually transferred to the Blackpool Transport Trust, the nonprofit support group for Blackpool Transport, and is said to now be under restoration to its original appearance in England for eventual return to Blackpool’s rails. Here’s the story on that.

Here’s how the Coronations appear, as built. The glass skylight windows are cool, but if memory serves they can make the interior hot, even in seaside Blackpool. And the automatic controllers of these cars, known by the acronym VAMBAC, were notoriously unreliable in service.

As our regular reader/members know, acquiring a vintage streetcar and getting it roadworthy and maintainable in a modern US street operating environment is a protracted process.

In fact, we do not even start making a serious acquisition attempt until we have ascertained that Muni leadership will accept the streetcar and commit to its restoration and upkeep as resources allow (knowing that this sometimes takes many years). Once we have that assurance, we seek funding to cover acquisition and transport costs.

We specifically sought a second open-top boat tram because the first one we acquired for Muni in 1984, Car 228, has proven to be the most popular vehicle in Muni’s streetcar fleet whenever it appears on the street. Having a second genuine boat tram will ultimately allow reliable chartering and special operation of this car type regularly.

We were and are gratified that the Thoresen Foundation, responded positively to our outreach for funding for 233 with a generous grant and that FedEx helped underwrite shipping. (We detail this process because one commenter on the Blackpool group mused that we go off chasing streetcars whenever a “wealthy foundation” has an interest in a particular one. Uh, no.)

Boat Tram 233 has had all its electrical modifications completed, but now awaits truck work for regular operation. (It’s worth remembering that when transit agencies choose individual cars to retire from service, they naturally pick the ones that need work to stay in their own fleet.)  Muni has to fit in the work on 233 around regular maintenance and other historic car processes, so for now, the boat tram we acquired for Muni in 1984, No. 228, handles most appearances (although both were out for Heritage Weekend in September for the first time since 233’s initial display appearance in 2014, pictured below, 233 on the left).

We plan to work with Muni in the coming months to advocate for a schedule with more appearances during the good-weather months for the boats, which are the “people’s choice” as most popular cars in the historic fleet whenever they appear.

Meantime, that Wings fantasy livery…well, well…  🙂

 

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Decorate Streetcars and Cable Cars Nov. 24

Our historic streetcars are back at the Beach Yard (formerly Geneva) and this Saturday is decorating day! Both locations are covered facilities, so we will do our magic, rain or shine. We also have been invited to help decorate the Cable Cars at the Cable Car Barn that same afternoon. To join in the fun, you need to sign up at the link below. Here are the details:

Beach Yard Saturday, November 24 from 10am-12:00pm. We will meet at 10am at Beach where Milan 1818 (shown decorated in a past year, above) will await our handiwork. All tools and supplies will be provided. The Beach Yard is located at San Jose & Geneva Avenues, adjacent to the old red brick Geneva Office Building located just down the hill from the Balboa Park Station. Walk in carefully where the tracks emerge from the building.  Both BART and Muni stop at this station. If you drive, there is limited parking in the neighborhood.

 

Cable Car Division Saturday, November 24 from 1-3pm. Under Gripman Val Lupiz’ direction we will decorate, appropriately, Market Street Railway “White Front” cable car 12 (shown above, last year) using decorations & supplies provided by MSR, Val and his crew. The entrance to the decorating area is on Washington Street uphill from Mason, where the cable cars leave the building. Parking in the neighborhood is near impossible, so we advise taking public transit. The 30 Stockton will get you within a couple of blocks as will the 1 California, and of course you can take a Cable Car right there!

Be aware, if you bring children, they will have to remain inside the streetcar/cable car at all times, as you will be in an active Muni facility. But there will be lots of activity to see from inside the cars.

If you’d like to join us, please use our sign up sheet here.

We hope you are able to help us make our cars look their festive best this year!

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All About Muni’s Archives, November 29

Join Market Street Railway as we dive into SFMTA’s fabulous photographic archives in the fourth installment of Inside Track–Live! Jeremy Menzies and Katy Guyon will guide us in an insider’s-view of SFMTA’s archival preservation department.
When Muni took over our namesake, Market Street Railway, they got their photographic collection as well as the streetcars and car barns. Many of these photos came from their predecessor, United Railroads, taken by their staff photographer, John Henry Mentz, onto glass plates, with exceptional resolution.
Besides seeing some great photographs from the Archives, Muni’s team will share tips on figuring out that elusive spot to perfectly frame cable cars cresting a hill? They’ll show you how to access Muni’s vast photographic archives on your own, and they’ll answer your questions.
It all happens at 6pm, ? Now’s your opportunity to learn from the experts.
6pm, Thursday, November 29th at our San Francisco Railway Museum – 77 Steuart St across from the Ferry Building. F-line Steuart Street stop; Embarcadero Metro/BART station; end of the line for the 6, 9, 14, 21, 31 buses and California Street cable car.
This series is FREE for Market Street Railway members, who can bring their friends for a $5 suggested donation each. Non-members: a suggested donation of $10. You can join Market Street Railway on the spot and save that cost!
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Smoke Stops Cable Cars

UPDATE: The cable cars will remain out of service at least through Sunday, November 18.

The deteriorating air quality around San Francisco Bay due to the smoke from the Camp Fire to the north has claimed another victim: the city’s cable cars.

Muni pulled all the cable cars into the barn this afternoon (November 15) and replaced them with buses until air quality improves. Forecasters say that could be another week. In a sign of how serious Bay Area residents have been affected, store after store has sold out of air purifiers and N95 face masks, recommended for those who must venture outdoors. The Cable Car Museum at Washington and Mason Street closed on Thursday for the same reason.

On one level, it may seem counter-intuitive to some to replace zero emission vehicles (the cable cars are powered by central electric motors using the city’s own hydroelectricity) with diesel buses, especially when an air inversion is trapping the smoke and locally generated emissions close to the ground. But cable car crews and passengers alike are essentially outdoors, where at least the buses can turn on their air conditioning and get some air filtration that way.

We join everyone in the Bay Area in our condolences to all those who have lost their homes — and lives — in this worst wildfire in California history, and in our concerns for all those in other parts of the state, such as Sacramento, where the air quality right now is even worse than it is here.

(The photo above comes from MSR Member Traci Cox, capturing the smoky background behind California Cable Car 56 looking west up Nob Hill from Drumm Street yesterday. It’s worse today.

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“Full of Wonders”

The Chronicle‘s great columnist, Carl Nolte, spun a warm story today about October in the City — our most beautiful month. We’re illustrating it, fittingly, with this shot taken this afternoon of two orange Milan trams passing at Fifth and Market, with the venerable Chronicle tower in the background. Here’s some of what Carl feels is great about the City:

Up close, the city is still something special, even on battered Market Street. Back from an errand last week, I hopped on one of those old Milan streetcars, painted pumpkin orange, running the F line. As we rumbled up Market, I watched a small kid watching the operator run the old-fashioned controls, toot the horn and ring the bell. The kid reminded me of me, back when I was little and a streetcar ride was full of wonders.

I think our members and friends agree with Carl that a streetcar ride is still full of wonders!  By the way, shortly after we snapped the photo of the two orange Milans, two green ones (or as our friend Peter Ehrlich calls them, “Mint Milanos”) passed at the same intersection, making four Milan trams on the line today, a high number for a weekend. Thanks to Muni’s shops for getting the Milan car count back up. As Carl noted, these cars have a real following.

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John Haley Leaves Muni

UPDATED, OCTOBER 27

John Haley, Director of Transit for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (de facto equivalent to general manager of Muni), left the agency October 26, according to this story by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez in the San Francisco Examiner.

Haley had been in the position for eight years, a long tenure by transit industry standards. His departure was announced by SFMTA as a retirement, though the article states that he was under pressure to leave following a series of allegations detailed in the Examiner story.

These allegations include a lawsuit from a female employee of groping and sexual harassment, which was reported by the Examiner last month. In the wake of that article, other SFMTA employees came forward to claim ill treatment by Haley and by several other male employees of SFMTA. Mayor London Breed responded quickly, appointing a veteran human resources director to investigate such accusations.

Today’s Examiner article reports:

More than 60 women from across every division of the 6,000 employee agency banded together to deliver anonymously written testimony to SFMTA leadership on October 22, urging them to quickly and thoroughly address harassment allegations.

“We represent women from various divisions and job classifications throughout the agency” reads the introduction letter to the women’s testimonies. “Many of us are scared to speak up. We all want you to engage us. We all want change.”

Such acts of harassment, if true, are inexcusable and should not be tolerated in any environment. In our own interactions with Haley over the past eight years, we did not witness acts of sexual harassment or gender or racial discrimination by him. However, we did become aware, through repeated tips from a broad array of Muni employees, that Haley held strongly negative views of the historic streetcars and cable cars, as well as Market Street Railway as an organization and its leadership specifically.

We were told by numerous inside sources that Haley repeatedly bad-mouthed our organization and the streetcars in front of staff and in internal meetings. We believe this led to a climate of fear and poor morale among many staff members involved in maintaining the historic fleet.

We attribute the progress that has been made during this period, including the inauguration of the E-Embarcadero streetcar line and progress in streetcar restoration and service improvements, to the dedication of numerous SFMTA employees who did not echo Haley’s negativity. We also believe the progress that has been made can be attributed to the strong support for the streetcars and cable cars by SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, with whom we have had a consistent and positive relationship, and to his Board of Directors, which have long supported Muni’s historic transit operation.

No interim replacement for Haley had been named at the time of this posting.

We will have more on this situation in the next issue of our member newsletter, Inside Track, due out in early December.

 

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Iron Monster Trucked to Fix Trucks

1914 Muni Car 162, which seemed on the cusp of returning to service after accident repairs that took more than four years, is starting a new round of repairs — this time on the trucks underneath the car.

Friday morning (October 19), the irreplaceable Muni original, was trucked from Muni Metro East in Dogpatch across town to the heavy overhaul shops at Green Division, next to Balboa Park BART. It’s shown above squeezing past a tree into the Green Division yard, and below in the shop. (Thanks to Barry Chown on our Facebook group for the lower shot.)

The car had returned home on April 23 following repairs from a 2014 accident. The repair work, which only included the body, were beautifully performed by CG, Inc. of Long Beach, but the car was improperly lifted by its trucks (wheel sets) for the return trip and the bottom connecting bars of the trucks were bent. (The October 19 cross-town moved used a roll-on, roll-off trailer, so it didn’t need to be lifted.

Though the bent members of the trucks were successfully straightened, the very detailed inspection of the trucks that accompanied the repair convinced Muni that it is necessary to completely rebuild the 104-year old trucks. That job is starting now, and will be performed in-house.

Market Street Railway is extremely disappointed with the way the streetcar was handled on its return trip from the vendor. Muni has committed to expedite the truck rebuilding and to do a thorough job. The project will be an early challenge for Muni’s new acting head of rail maintenance, Randy Catanach, who recently took over from Lee Summerlott, who retired.

We haven’t been given an estimated date for the completion of the work, but we will let you know. We look forward to getting this truly historic streetcar, which started its Muni career on long-gone rail lines like the B-Geary and F-Stockton, back on the street carrying a new generation of passengers on the E-Embarcadero and F-Market.

 

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