Latest News from Market Street Railway...
San Francisco’s vintage streetcars, particularly the streamlined PCCs that provide most of the service on the E and F lines, keep attracting the eye of artists. We particularly like George Clapper, who we learned about the other day when we got a “pingback” request from another website, informing us that they had linked to our site.
For the fans, that’s the headlight of Car 1070, painted in the livery that it wore for decades in Newark, New Jersey, earlier in its life. See how many other cars you can identify from the slivers of their bodies on the site.
Tributes like Mr. Clapper’s are a reminder that our streetcars are more than just transit. They have become an iconic part of our city that catch some very sharp eyes!
Meet community historians, archivists, genealogists, archaeologists, researchers, educators, re-enactors, and other history enthusiasts at this free event.
Lots of details here. You can take the F-line to the Fifth Street stop, or BART or Muni Metro to Powell Street station. Great for kids too.
The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub, who does some productive digging around in the paper’s archives, has come up with a very good story on the conversion of many San Francisco streetcar lines to trolley coaches in the late 1940s. Above, one of several great photos from the story. Taken on the first day of electric bus service on Market Street, July 5, 1949, it shows a Twin Coach on the 5-McAllister followed by a mix of Marmon-Herringtons and Twins, outbound at Grant Avenue. Streetcars are still very much on the scene, including then-new double-end PCC 1009, still operating on the E-line today!
The conversion turned two dozen streetcar lines into bus routes. The majority of those conversions were to trolley coaches. Interestingly, Chronicle articles of the day referred to the new electric buses as “trackless trolleys”, a term mostly used in the East. Use of that term didn’t last long here; riders were soon referring to them as “trolley buses” while Muni officially called them “trolley coaches”.
A couple of clarifications on the article: Hartlaub seems to imply that the plans of PUC General Manager James Turner called for complete elimination of tracks on Market Street, when in fact only the outer tracks were taken up. He also noted that the only environmental benefit Muni seemed to tout for the new trolley buses was that the interiors wouldn’t smell bad. Not surprising that Muni would focus on this, though, since riders of converted streetcar lines had for a year been riding on interim gasoline motor coaches from White Motor Company, which had terrible ventilation that filled their interiors with gasoline fumes.
Overall, it’s a very good read. Worth your time.
The dates for the 2018 Muni Heritage Weekend have been finalized: Saturday-Sunday, September 8-9. The three vintage streetcars in this great shot by Wayne Worden from a past Heritage Weekend should be running again: 1896 Market Street Railway single-truck “dinky” 578, 1929 Melbourne 496, and 1934 Blackpool, England boat tram 228, along with Muni’s venerable Car 1 and others, all subject to operational readiness at the time, of course.
We also expect a couple of new operating vehicles, a bus and a streetcar, if current renovation schedules hold. We’ll announce those as we get closer.
Our Operator’s Circle members (those who contribute $250 or more to MSR annually) can expect an invitation to our special reception at our San Francisco Railway Museum on Friday evening, September 7, followed by a private streetcar charter to a fun destination. (You can still join Market Street Railway at that $250 or higher level to get that great benefit on September 7, or upgrade your current membership by adding on a donation to bring your total contribution to the $250 level). We’ll again have special events and a memorabilia sale at the museum, too.
Much more information coming, but those coming from a distance can now safely make their reservations for this weekend.
UPDATE: Melbourne 496 is now scheduled regularly on the E-line on Saturdays and Sundays, until further notice.
An old friend will be carrying all comers on the E-line from Caltrain to Fisherman’s Wharf this weekend. Melbourne tram 496, built in 1928, is back in revenue service for the first time since last September’s Muni Heritage Weekend.
The Melbourne tram is scheduled to fill regular E-line run 201 both Saturday and Sunday, February 3-4. Its GPS is said to be operational so its exact location should show up on our E-line NextMuni map. It is scheduled to pass the Ferry Building on its first Wharf-bound trip at 8:54 a.m. both days.
Quite coincidentally, the Melbourne tram is back in revenue service exactly two weeks before its 90th birthday. (It was put into service on February 18, 1928, according to this authoritative Australian website.
Another coincidence: its reappearance comes 100 years to the day after streetcars first ran through the Twin Peaks Tunnel.
The E-line has had severe equipment shortages of late. Because the southern terminal is stub-ended and not a loop or wye, only double-ended equipment can serve it. Muni has seven double-end PCCs but one of these, Car 1015, has left San Francisco for its scheduled rebuilding at Brookville Equipment Company after 22 years of hard service. Two other double-end PCCs restored back in the 1990s with 1015, Cars 1007 and 1010, are out of service at the moment as is another double-ended PCC receiving a radio upgrade.
Market Street Railway has been urging Muni leadership since before the E-line even opened to be prepared to run operational double-end vintage streetcars, such as Melbourne 496 and Muni’s own Car 1, to ensure E-line service is kept at promised levels. We are pleased to see Car 496 on the streets again to help provide better E-line service.
Meanwhile, a “younger” Melbourne tram, the 916, built in 1946, is at the heavy overhaul shop at Green Division getting its rebuilt trucks refitted. We hope that car, which like 496 is highly reliable, will be available for E-line duty soon.
We will have a more complete story on E-line developments in the next edition of our member magazine, Inside Track. If you’re not a Market Street Railway, you can get it by joining here.
Note: This is a edited version of a story by MSR President Rick Laubscher from the most recent issue of our Member magazine, Inside Track. We generally don’t share exclusive member content on our blog, but are making an exception in this case for the tunnel’s centennial. You can join Market Street Railway and get this magazine with great stories four times a year. (By the way, if you’re reading this on our main page, we recommend you click on the title above to go to the actual post. For some technical reason, the photo captions don’t show up on the main page.)
Though it sits on the western edge of North America, San Francisco had always looked eastward – to its bay, rather than the vast Pacific. Its magnificent protected harbor had driven the City’s economy, and its population, since the Gold Rush of 1849. Residential neighborhoods gradually fanned out from the downtown core in the decades that followed. With the jobs clustered around the waterfront, residential growth followed the early transit lines that connected homes to those jobs.
Improvements in transit technology helped. Horse-drawn streetcars were eclipsed by cable cars, twice as fast. By the end of the 1880s, cable cars ran from the Ferry Building halfway to the Pacific, even to the end of Market Street and then over the Castro hill into Noe Valley.
Then came the electric streetcar, twice as fast as the cables. By 1903, these high-technology vehicles ran all the way south to San Mateo, 20 miles from downtown. The 1906 earthquake and fire decimated most of the City’s remaining cable system along with much of its housing stock and business property. Still blessed by its harbor, the City quickly began rebuilding. But many San Franciscans had been forced to Oakland and other close-in East Bay cities by the shaking and flames. They found their new surroundings attractive, and fast and frequent ferry service coupled with streetcars and interurban trains that met the ferries on the Oakland side made their daily commute to the City faster than even some San Franciscans enjoyed—and at the same price: just a nickel!
While the northeastern quarter of San Francisco was densely packed with residents by 1910, the western half of the city was still sparsely settled. Except for the Cliff House and Sutro Baths at Land’s End, the city’s seven-mile Pacific shoreline seemed deserted. An exception: a collection of discarded cable cars and horsecars festooned among the dunes along the beach south of Golden Gate Park. Pioneers turned them into modest homes and dubbed it Carville.
Streetcars had reached the beach by this time, but only where they could skirt the giant pair of hills that bisected the city – Twin Peaks. The 5 and 7 lines of United Railroads framed Golden Gate Park on Fulton Street and Lincoln Way, and the 12-line ran down Mission from the Ferry, then out Ocean Avenue and Sloat Boulevard to the ocean. But commuting from the ends of those lines, especially the 12, often took longer than taking a ferry from Oakland, where the weather was better anyway.
But what if you could go under Twin Peaks with fast streetcars? An area of 16 square miles would then be within reasonable commute distance of downtown.
The idea was attracting public debate at least as early as 1908, even before the bond issue that created Muni. When Muni opened its first lines, on Geary Street at the end of 1912, excitement about a Twin Peaks Tunnel grew, and the idea was at the core of a city transit plan prepared by famed consultant Bion J. Arnold in 1914 and strongly endorsed by Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph and powerful city engineer M.M. O’Shaughnessy. What cinched the tunnel was the willingness of large property owners who would be served by the tunnel to pay for it. It ended up costing $4 million.
While several locations were initially considered for the east portal of the tunnel, the obvious choice was the end of Market Street, a wide boulevard that already had streetcar service by United Railroads as far as Castro Street, where the ground started climbing up to Twin Peaks. The City paid for the tunnel by assessing property owners who wanted it and would benefit from it. That included those looking to develop residential neighborhoods that came to be known as Forest Hill, West Portal, and St. Francis Wood.
Construction on the tunnel started at the end of 1914, clawing through the very soft ground near Castro, which caused the eastern end of the tunnel to be built with a “cut-and-cover” method. A small station was built at Eureka Street, just inside the Castro portal, even though there was a surface stop at Castro. O’Shaughnessy wanted to make it easy to connect the tunnel to a future streetcar subway under Market Street, which he was confident would have to be built soon. As this part of the tunnel was completed, with each track in its own concrete box, new streets were created above, including an extension of Market Street and a short street, Storrie, which the tunnel’s contractor named after himself.
The bulk of the construction was deeper tunneling, with a single bore spanning both streetcar tracks. Just east of the tunnel’s midway point, a second station, named for the nearby lake, Laguna Honda, was installed at the deepest part of the tunnel. Elevators, manned by Muni operators, took riders to and from the platforms. Soon after the tunnel opened, a new neighborhood, Forest Hill, sprang up, and the station eventually took the neighborhood’s name.
The tunnel itself was completed in July 1917, though tracks and wires had not yet been installed. At a dedication ceremony on July 25, 1917, Mayor “Sunny Jim” Rolph rather grandiloquently stated, “Westward the course of Empire takes its way” (though streetcar service through the tunnel was still seven months away).
The Board of Supervisors fought about whether the private United Railroads, which already reached the West of Twin Peaks area by roundabout routes, would be allowed to share the tunnel with the Municipal Railway. Answer: no. Instead, Muni built its own set of tracks along Market Street from the Ferry to Castro Street, flanking the private company’s “inside tracks.” The sound of competing streetcars rumbling along Market side by side on the quartet of tracks became known as “the roar of the four”.
The 12,000-foot Twin Peaks Tunnel was the longest streetcar tunnel in North America until eclipsed in 1998 by the Robertson Tunnel in Portland. The original West Portal of the tunnel was monumental, dominating the new neighborhood shopping street named for it. That imposing façade was demolished in the 1970s to build a station inside, when the long-wished-for subway under Market Street was finally built and connected to the tunnel at Castro. (That connection wiped out the Eureka Street Station, whose ghostly platforms can still be seen by riders traversing the tunnel.)
The Twin Peaks Tunnel opened for service February 3, 1918, with Mayor Rolph personally piloting the first Muni streetcar, No. 117, all the way through. A huge crowd turned out. The first line to serve it, the K-Ingleside, originally ran just a few blocks from West Portal to St. Francis Circle until an agreement was reached with United Railroads to share that company’s trackage on Junipero Serra Boulevard and Ocean Avenue.
The following year, the L-Taraval line opened as a shuttle from West Portal to 33rd Avenue. It reached Ocean Beach by 1923 and fostered growth for blocks in each direction through what became known as the Parkside neighborhood.
In 1925, another shuttle, the M-Ocean View, opened from West Portal to Broad and Plymouth Streets, running through open country in a narrow right-of-way bounded by empty residential lots, then following the alignment of 19th Avenue before turning east.
These same three lines run through the tunnel today, transitioning underground to the Market Street subway under Castro Street, but oh, how their surroundings have changed, especially the M’s.
While new homes sprang up along the routes of the K and L in a steady progression, the M saw much higher density growth – but not for decades. In fact, the M was so poorly patronized that streetcar service was suspended for five years starting in 1939.
The end of World War II brought many returning soldiers and sailors home to San Francisco and attracted many more who had passed through on their way to and from the war and liked the city they saw. The GI Bill gave benefits to these veterans including help buying homes and attending college. San Francisco State College mushroomed in size, growing a large campus on empty land along 19th Avenue at Holloway. Just south, a massive apartment complex named Parkmerced sprang up, and to the north, the City’s first large suburban-style shopping center, named Stonestown. The M-line served all these developments, and ridership steadily grew.
There have been thoughts about altering or extending the Twin Peaks Tunnel several times, going back to the earliest planning stages, when one proposal called for a branch heading northwest from a point between the Eureka Valley and Forest Hill stations, to serve the central Sunset District, perhaps along Noriega Street. The Sunset Tunnel, completed farther north under Buena Vista Park in 1928, addressed this need instead, with the N-Judah line.
A later proposal came much closer to reality. The 1962 BART bound issue included money to extend the Twin Peaks Tunnel under West Portal Avenue to St. Francis Circle. When building the tunnel, the City could have made West Portal Avenue as wide as it wanted, since there was nothing but sand where the tunnel daylighted. As the shopping district developed outside the tunnel’s western entrance, drivers parking their automobiles slowed down the streetcars along the street. But the merchants on West Portal Avenue wanted that easy automobile access and opposed the disruption to their businesses the underground subway construction would pose. Muni ended up “trading in” the money set aside for a West Portal Avenue extension of the tunnel to help finance an additional Muni Metro/BART station at Embarcadero.
Second Century: More Important
If anything, the Twin Peaks Tunnel will become even more important in its second century. The connectivity provided by the M-line was a key factor in the city approving increased density for Parkmerced, where 5700 additional housing units are planned. Muni expects enough ridership growth there to be actively planning projects to speed up the M-line, including undergrounding the tracks under West Portal Avenue. The tab could reach $3 billion if all of the M-line from West Portal to Parkmerced were undergrounded. This, in turn, would allow a true subway-style operation of the M, with trains of up to four cars.
The passage of time has proven the value of the vision its boosters had for the Twin Peaks Tunnel.
We thank the wonderful SFMTA Archive for the use of most photos in this story, and we invite you to visit their great gallery of Twin Peaks Tunnel photos.
Our 2018 Museums in Motion Calendar is one of the best we’ve ever offered in terms of the quality of photography. If you haven’t bought yours yet, you can get it at our online store or at our San Francisco Railway Museum.
We’re grateful to the fine photographers who contribute their work to the calendar every year. We’d like to share some more information about them.
“Traci is an SFMTA operator who has been a rail fan for as long as he can remember. When he’s not operating on the F-line, he’s often out with his camera, catching great streetcar and cable car shots.” Here’s Traci’s site.
“Jeremy is a photographer and archivist for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), Muni’s parent. Jeremy has done fabulous work in organizing and scanning SFMTA’s collection of priceless historic photographs of San Francisco, including collections inherited from past competitors United Railroads and the Market Street Railway Company (our namesake).” Visit the great SFMTA photo archival site Jeremy manages.
Father Kevin Mueller
“Kevin is from Baltimore, Maryland and has been an operator at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum for 38 years. He visits San Francisco every summer to ride and photograph MUNI. The 2018 MSRy calendar is the fourth to use some of his photos. He owns a 1947 Baltimore Transit Co. bus which has been used in two movies.” Kevin’s site.
“Joel Salomon has been a trolley fan his entire life and has visited San Francisco several times over the years since he was a child with his parents. It has been over 60 years that Hyde St. car operated regularly over the Hyde St. cable car line. Joel submitted the photo of car 42 cresting Hyde St. taken last year during the Heritage Weekend. Living in Allentown, PA, Joel is a long time volunteer at the Rockhill Trolley Museum in south central Pennsylvania.” Some of Joel’s photos.
“Jeremy Whiteman, a Bay Area local, has been a contributor to the Market Street Railway calendar for many years and is a past member of our Board of Directors. He is active with the Western Railway Museum in Solano County He is regularly out and about in San Francisco with his camera and often grabs great shots.” See Jeremy’s work.
“Wayne is a street photographer living in Vancouver, B.C. He visits San Francisco two or three times a year making it a point to spend some time capturing the MSR. His images have been selected for the calendar in the previous two years.” Wayne’s website.
Just FYI, we’re already at work on our 2019 calendar. If you’d like to see some of the photos that were submitted by these and other great photographers, visit our public Flickr site and search under 2019msrcalendar. You can also upload your photos there anytime.
The seventh PCC streetcar from the original 1995 F-line fleet reentered passenger service on this drizzly January 10, 2018, after successfully completing 1,000 miles of testing, It was then formally accepted by Muni from the restoration vendor, Brookville Equipment Company of Pennsylvania.
Car 1055, like the other 12 single-end PCCs in the contract, came to Muni from Philadelphia, where it operated for almost a half-century. While the other PCCs in that group are painted in tribute to some of the other 32 North American cities that once ran PCCs, 1055 wears its own “as-delivered” 1948 green livery with cream and red trim. It’s even adorned with an authentic decal near the front door, instructing boarding passengers to “Please move to rear to speed your ride”, donated courtesy of Harry Donohue of the Friends of the Philadelphia Trolleys and applied by the Muni shops before the car entered service. Thanks to Ken Kwong of our Facebook group for the photo.
Meanwhile, the ninth car in the contract, 1050, arrived safely at Muni Metro East following the long journey from Brookville and will soon enter testing. It now wears the red and cream livery of St. Louis Public Service Company, one of the largest operators of PCCs back in the day. Allen Chan posted the photo below of 1050 arriving at MME on January 7.
Sandwiched in between those two cars, in order of delivery, is Car 1063, painted in tribute to Baltimore Transit Company. On New Year’s day, just a couple weeks after reentering regular service, it was badly damaged in an accident on Third Street.
According to Muni statements, the driver of a box truck swerved from the right hand southbound lane on Third Street against the left turn signal directly into the path of the streetcar, which was operating below the 25 mile per hour limit on that stretch of road. We are told video footage from the streetcar itself shows all this. We do not know if the truck driver was charged by police or whether the truck is insured.
The repairs to Car 1063 will be very expensive because the right front corner of the car, where the worst damage occurred, houses much of the streetcar’s electrical control equipment. We will let you know when a final decision has been made on whether the car would be repaired in-house or sent out on a contract. If the latter, it would likely have to be a separate contract from the Brookville renovation contract that refurbished the car in the first place. Muni had accepted the car, relieving Brookville of all liability for it, and the renovation contract does not include repairs. Scoping and bidding a separate contract would likely take many months.
Currently under reconstruction at Brookville: Cars 1052, 1053, and 1061. The next car slated to go to Brookville is 1015, the first of three-double end cars to be covered under the Brookville contract. It is still at MME while discussions between Muni and Brookville continue about whether to substitute two ex-Red Arrow double-end cars (with PCC bodies) for two of the cars covered by the contract. We’ve covered this story for our Members in our quarterly magazine, Inside Track, and will have an update in our next issue. Join Market Street Railway now and don’t miss out!
Our “spies” are everywhere, as evidenced by this photo posted by Jim Kulczyk in a Facebook group called “Civil Defense Fire Vehicles.” He writes: “My sister is a truck driver somewhere in [Southwest Pennsylvania] and caught this electric trolley being transported on a flat bed. Couldn’t help but notice the CD insignia. Looks to be in great museum condition.”
Well, yes, but more than that it should be in great OPERATING condition because it has just finished being thoroughly rebuilt at Brookville Equipment Company, the eighth of 16 vehicles in Muni’s current contract with Brookville. Car 1050 returns to San Francisco wearing the livery of one of the largest PCC operators ever, St. Louis Public Service Company (SLPS). We are delighted to see a PCC car in SLPS livery. Muni bought 70 PCCs second-hand from SLPS between 1957 and 1962, and one of those cars ran here in St. Louis livery during the Trolley Festivals of the 1980s.
Muni retains that car (renumbered to its original SLPS 1704) as one of about a dozen non-operational cars of this class, which have now been in dead storage for 30 or more years. None is currently slated for rebuilding, though some may be put back into service sometime in the future if demand warrants. But since no one knows when that might be, Market Street Railway encouraged Muni to repaint the 1050 into St. Louis colors as an overdue honor to that great system.
About that Civil Defense decal near the front door that caught Mr. Kulczyk’s attention: Market Street Railway suggested that be included, based on historic photographs that showed it to be common on SLPS cars during the era when that CD sign was common. (Muni streetcars had them on their windshields for a time as well, though it was unclear exactly where the streetcars could take you that represented an improvement over anyplace else on the streetcar system in case of a dire emergency. We like to see details gotten right where we can do so, though, so there it is.
This is a spot of good news in the wake of the collision on New Year’s Day evening that seriously damaged the most recent PCC in this contract to return to regular service, Car 1063, honoring Baltimore. We will provide updates on that event, and on 1050’s arrival in San Francisco, as we learn of them. When 1050 arrives in San Francisco, it is expected that the first of three-double end PCCs covered by the contract, Car 1015, will depart for Brookville and its complete rebuilding.
Around 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day, the newest PCC streetcar to reenter regular service following a complete rebuilding collided with a large box truck while returning to the carbarn after completing its day’s work on the F-line. The impact knocked the streetcar, No. 1063 (painted to honor Baltimore Transit), off the track and turned the truck on its side. No injuries had been reported by the time this post was made. The streetcar had no passengers aboard at the time of the collision.
Car 1063 was southbound on Third Street, headed for Muni Metro East, its storage and maintenance base, when it collided with the truck at Mission Bay Boulevard South. The 1063 suffered extensive damage to its door side front corner. The driver’s side corner and the rest of the car appeared undamaged, though it is possible there could be frame damage underneath. Damage to the truck was also extensive.
Observations made at the scene seem to indicate that the truck was struck in the middle of its box behind the cab, with the force of the impact flipping the truck on its side and derailing the streetcar. The angle of impact suggests that the truck was turning left from southbound Third Street onto eastbound Mission Bay Boulevard South at the time of the collision. This was confirmed to news media by a Muni spokesperson.
The intersection is signalized for both streetcars and motor vehicle traffic, with separate left turn signals that are interlocked with the streetcar signals so that only one or the other is given a signal to proceed at a given time. No information has been released regarding the setting of the signals at the time of the collision; however, we were told at the scene that there should be security camera footage from the streetcar and perhaps from surrounding buildings that could determine who was at fault.
Car 1063 had reentered regular service within the last month after being completely rebuilt by Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania, part of a contract covering 16 Muni PCCs. Like all streetcars going through the rebuilding program, Car 1063 had to successfully complete a 1,000-mile “burn in” period, during which all systems including propulsion and brakes had to be thoroughly tested and the car had to pass braking tests required by the California Public Utilities Commission before it was certified to carry passengers.
There have been several collisions involving T-line light rail vehicles on Third Street (which is used by F- and E-line streetcars on their way to and from the car barn). These have involved cars or trucks turning left in front of streetcars running in private rights-of-way, such as on The Embarcadero, King Street, and Third Street. In a collision almost exactly four years ago, a truck pulled in front of vintage streetcar 162 on January 4, 2014 at Bay Street and The Embarcadero, causing significant damage to the streetcar (which is currently being repaired in Southern California). The trucker was found at fault and Muni received a substantial insurance payment.
The Third Street tracks were blocked for several hours while the truck was righted, the streetcar re-railed, and the intersection cleared. Buses replaced LRVs on the T-line while Third Street was blocked.
The San Francisco Police Department is investigating the collision. A damage assessment on the streetcar will be made by Muni, but even a cursory visual inspection indicates Car 1063 will be out of service many months.
We will keep you up to date on developments on this story.