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10-Year Profile Picture Challenge

Posting old and current profile photos side by side has been the rage on Facebook of late, so we thought we’d post our own…just one of dozens of comparisons we could make that show just how wonderful Muni’s restoration of historic streetcars is.

This car, 1009, admittedly needed more “plastic surgery” than most others. The photo from 10 years ago shows it ripped (not the good muscle kind, either) and slathered in blue protective paint after sitting out of service for almost 30 years. But because it is a rare double-end PCC that can operate on lines such as the E-Embarcadero, where single-end cars can’t use the current southern terminal, Muni made the investment in restoration. Brookville Equipment Corporation of Pennsylvania did the work, as they have with all of Muni’s PCCs restored so far, and paid close attention to detail.

In keeping with the practice of the historic fleet, it was painted in the eye-popping red and cream of Dallas Terminal & Railway, which operated double-end PCCs in this livery after World War II.

Not many “facelifts” come out this well…and not many can say how much younger their photos look today than 10 years ago.

This is a big reason Market Street Railway exists. Our advocacy helped keep this streetcar from being scrapped decades ago, and helped get it selected for restoration 10 years ago. Your support makes us able to do things like this. Click here to help us. Thanks.

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E-line Shuts Down for Two Months Starting Jan. 22

Beginning January 22, the E-Embarcadero streetcar line will be completely shut down for approximately two months. The shutdown is related to construction of a new center boarding platform on the T-line to serve the new Golden State Warriors’ arena, Chase Center, on Third Street. Beyond the impact on the E-line, the entire six-mile length of the T-Third light rail line will be converted to bus operation for the same period.

Wait, what? That new platform is almost a mile south of the end of the E-line, so why is the E affected? Well, the construction will sever the rail link to Muni Metro East (MME), one of the two service and storage facilities for Muni’s light rail vehicles. MME stores and services vehicles for other lines as well, particularly the N-Judah (but not the historic streetcars, which moved back to their Cameron Beach Yard home near Balboa Park in 2018). So Muni needs room to store those light rail vehicles overnight and are using the track the E-line uses to turn around on King Street, plus the T-line tracks on Channel and Third Streets north of the construction zone. Muni staff was concerned that E-line operations would overly complicate their LRV movements.

It’s not clear how seriously Muni considered constructing a bypass track to carry T-line trains around the one block construction zone, which would have also allowed MME to remain in operation. During BART construction in the 1960s and 1970s, Muni regularly used these temporary track arrangements to carry PCC streetcars on the J, K, L, M, and N lines around the construction of BART stations on Market Street, switching the streetcars from one side of Market to the other repeatedly as the work progressed, with nothing more than occasional weekend substitution of buses. Of course, back then, the alternative would have been shutting down the Twin Peaks and Sunset Tunnels and going to complete bus substitution on all five streetcar lines, an alternative Muni lacked the extra buses to carry out at the time.

But that was then and this is now. Muni’s planning staff did consult with Market Street Railway during the decision, leading to a better result than they initially proposed. Besides the E-line shutdown, Muni Planning initially proposed modifications to F-line service during the T-line shutdown, leading to less frequent and convenient F-line service during this period. Muni staff was concerned about having enough operators to handle the substitute T-line buses, and wanted to take some operators from the F. But after hearing our concerns (which reflected impacts on Fisherman’s Wharf and Castro merchants as well as F-line riders), they agreed to leave F-line service unchanged during the T-line construction.

Muni believes the T-line substitute buses will provide enough capacity to handle intending E-line riders on King Street and the southern Embarcadero. The T-bus terminal is on Market Street at the Embarcadero Muni Metro station, next to F-line stops to and from the Wharf, so there will be a connection there.

The double-end PCC streetcars normally used on the E-line will appear on the F-line during the shutdown period. No word on whether Melbourne 496, the popular 1928 tram that has been an E-line regular for the past year, will join them on the F once in awhile during the shutdown.

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Muni: 106 and Counting

On December 28, 1912, Mayor James Rolph, Jr. took one of the first five cent pieces minted in San Francisco, put it into a farebox, pulled on his operator’s cap, and personally piloted it out Geary Street.

It was the first run, on the first day, with the first streetcar owned by the public in a large American city. It was the birth of Muni.

Today, Muni is celebrating with a post highlighting some of the great photos of their history in their archive. Take a look!

Oh, about that photo above. It was in the San Francisco Public Library, but had no label. No one knew when it was taken or what it represented. We did the research and pointed it out. It’s on Geary, headed west at Jones Street, and yes, that’s Mayor Rolph at the controller.

Happy Birthday, Muni!

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Decorated Cable Cars, Now and Then

‘Tis the season to show off holiday spirit in all kinds of ways. The San Francisco Chronicle is both reporting and demonstrating that spirit with our most iconic transit vehicles, the cable cars. You can see the publication’s handiwork on Powell Cable Car 1 (pictured in the photo by Val Lupiz above, complete with Victorian-costumed guests), one of eight cable cars decorated this year in a growing campaign led by Val, Jeremy Whiteman, and Frank Zepeda (MSR members all), and supported by Market Street Railway.

Leading the Powell Car 1 decorating for the Chronicle: columnists Heather Knight and Peter Hartlaub, who teamed up earlier this year for the transit marathon they called “total Muni 2018”, meeting Val, Jeremy, and Frank in the process and getting drawn in to the web of cable car love!  As a result, Powell Car 1 features inventive decorations inside and out, including replicas of historic Chronicle front pages dating all the way back to 1865, 23 years before the Powell cable even existed! Heather wrote a great article about the decorating experience.

Not to be outdone, Peter Hartlaub, who regularly mines the Chronicle’s photo and story archives for gems of San Francisco history, came up with a “WHOA!” story, recounting a little-known Grinch moment in cable car history. Christmas season, 1951, Muni had just assumed control of the bankrupt California Street Cable Railroad Company and its California and O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde lines. Muni celebrated by inviting including Macy’s, to decorate cars on those lines. The Grinch glitch? The city’s ownership was challenged in court, keeping the decorated cars in the barn, never to be seen by the public, and delaying their city-run operation into 1952. Well worth a read!)

We can tell from the photo above, by the Chronicle’s Art Frisch, that the decorated cable car is from the O’Farrell, Jones, & Hyde lines, though the car number is covered up. Could it be Car 42? That’s the only surviving O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line car in its original 1906 configuration and livery, the one our nonprofit rescued from a cattle ranch near Santa Maria 15 years ago and restored with Muni’s expert help. It now runs in special service on California Street and sometimes Hyde, on part of its original route).

Macy’s sponsoring an O’Farrell car makes sense, since the O’Farrell line passed right in front of Macy’s…but it’s also ironic, since Macy’s was one of the downtown merchants that successfully lobbied to make O’Farrell one way a few years later, dooming the cable car line to make more room for automobiles.  (Here’s the story about the dark end of the O’Farrell, Jones & Hyde line in 1954.)

We at Market Street Railway are very proud to support the cable car celebrations. Beyond the decorating (which includes Powell Car 12 above, wearing the famed “White Front” 1930s livery of our namesake), we collected contributions to support this year’s holiday luncheon for seniors, co-sponsored by cable car operators and Transport Workers Local 250A (photo below).  

Come on downtown to see and ride the decorated cable cars this year, and don’t forget Car 56 on the California line, shown below in this magical nighttime photo by Traci Cox.  

Finally, along the F-line, look for Milan tram 1818, decorated in festive style by our volunteers, who also put wreaths on all the E- and F-line streetcars. (Yep, another great Traci Cox photo.)

If the holiday spirit moves you, please consider a tax-deductible year-end donation in any amount to our nonprofit. We get no government money; it’s your donations and memberships that make it all possible, along with everything else we do to support San Francisco’s cable cars and historic streetcars. Thanks and Happy Holidays, in the spirit of our namesake, Muni’s lively competitor before 1944!.

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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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