New Boat at E-line Ceremony July 31

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Muni’s new “boat tram,” Blackpool, England open-top Car No. 233, will officially debut on July 31 at the opening press event for the new E-Embarcadero line. The new boat tram, Muni’s second example of this popular 1934 design, was acquired for Muni by Market Street Railway in 2013, thanks to a very generous donation by the Thoresen Foundation, and ocean shipping subsidized by FedEx Trade Networks.  The boat, pictured above when on display during 2013’s Muni Heritage Weekend, has been out and about testing and training operators this week.

Photo seekers should be able to get excellent shots from the new Brannan Street Wharf on the Bay across from the Brannan Street Muni Metro Station.  The new boat, and PCC No. 1006 will pass by on E-line track about 10:30 a.m.  The two streetcars will proceed along the E-line right-of-way on The Embarcadero, branching off where the N- and T-line lines go into the subway at Folsom, and continuing north to Mission, where the press event will take place. We’ll be looking for one of these images for our 2017 Market Street Railway calendar, so please submit them to our Flickr group, tagged 2017msrcalendar.

You can also view the E-line press event at Mission and The Embarcadero, starting at 10:45 a.m. If you come, stop by our museum at the Steuart Street F-line stop, and be one of the first to pick up our new 2016 calendar, just delivered to us.

Remember, weekend E-line service starts this Saturday, August 1, from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. between the Caltrain station at Fourth and King, and Fisherman’s Wharf. Streetcars will operate every 15 minutes.

IMPORTANT: Though boat tram No. 233 will be “christened” on July 31 as part of the E-line celebration, it will not actually operate on the E-line, nor will its twin, No. 228, because the E-line requires double-end streetcars. While the boats operated as double-enders in Blackpool, Muni needed to create a wheelchair space on board to conform to the Americans With Disabilities Act. This required the doors on one side to be blocked. So No. 223 is not expected to carry regular passengers on Friday. Market Street Railway is working with SFMTA to try to get both boats into regular service for a number of days on the F-line later this year, and we expect both to operate for Muni Heritage Weekend, September 26-27.

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Three Trolley Tours in August. Sign Up Now!

The two streetcars scheduled to be used on August Trolley Tours: PCC No. 1050 (left) and venerable Muni Car No. 1.  Peter Ehrlich photo.

The two streetcars scheduled to be used on August Trolley Tours: PCC No. 1050 (left) and venerable Muni Car No. 1. Peter Ehrlich photo.

August will be the busiest month Market Street Railway has ever had for our private Trolley Tours on Muni’s vintage streetcars. Three very different excursions, but equally interesting events.

Let’s cut to the chase: click this link and sign up for one or more of them now!

The first excursion is Saturday, August 1. It features venerable Muni Car No. 1, built in 1912, and goes from our San Francisco Railway Museum all the way to the San Francisco Zoo and back via the F, J, K, and L lines. This just so happens to be the very first day of E-Embarcadero line service (the charter was scheduled before the E-line date was set), but hey, as they say in Silicon Valley, that’s not a fault, it’s a feature.  Now you can do both with one trip. (Have to issue a caveat on this one: that’s also a day that BART Transbay Service is down — again, happened after we scheduled the charter — so  keep that in mind if you’re coming from the East Bay.  Or, try one of the others!)

The second is Saturday, August 22 at 12 Noon, again from our museum, and co-sponsored with the Exploratorium, one of the world’s great interactive science facilities. You’ll ride the new E-line and then switch onto the T-line for a trip through the fast-developing Mission Bay and Dogpatch neighborhoods, plus the rare opportunity to ride through Muni’s Metro East rail storage and maintenance facility.  When you return, you’ll get admission to the Exploratorium included.  It all happens on one of Muni’s streamlined PCC streetcars. This is a great deal for families with kids (of any age).

The next day, Sunday, August 23, is an excursion distinctly not for kids — in fact, it’s 21 and over only.  It’s our second “Night Train” event, leaving our museum at 7:00 p.m. aboard Car 1. There’ll be libations and live music; good times with good people.

Market Street Railway Members get 25% on up to two tickets for each tour.  You can even join when you sign up and get the discount applied. Instructions are all on our Trolley Tours page.

No need to scroll back up.  Here’s the link to our Trolley Tours page again.

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Charlotte Trolley Collision

Charlotte replica streetcar No. 91, the one involved in the July 19 accident, when new in 2005. These streetcars operated briefly on a demonstration line before being stored until the new downtown line opened recently. Rick Laubscher photo.

Charlotte replica streetcar No. 91, the one involved in the July 19 accident, when new in 2005. These streetcars operated briefly on a demonstration line before being stored until the new downtown line opened recently. Rick Laubscher photo.

There was a collision July 19 on the new streetcar line in Downtown Charlotte, which just opened. Here is a must-see video taken from the streetcar’s security camera, published by the Charlotte Observer as part of an article on the investigation.  (By the way, Muni’s vintage streetcars now have these cameras, too.)

The Observer story quotes transit agency officials in Charlotte as saying the operator neglected to switch the controls from one end of the car to the other at the terminal. (The cars can be operated from both ends.)  They said he somehow released the brake on the car while the controls were still activated for the opposite end.  The transit agency said that’s why the so-called emergency brake, electromechanical track brakes, wouldn’t activate, nor would the regular brakes.

However, these Charlotte replica streetcars, built by Gomaco Trolley Company and modeled on the double-truck Birney design from the 1920s, also include a third braking system, manually applied brakes not dependent on electricity or control location, activated by the large wheel visible to the operator’s right in the video.  The agency says central control told him over the radio to activate that handbrake (we see the operator talking on his microphone as the video begins), but that the operator never did that.  And indeed, we can see in the video that he never touches the handbrake wheel either before or after the streetcar clips an SUV from behind.  (The car finally stopped when it ran out of downhill.)

The Charlotte handbrake appears very similar to the ones on the Milan and Melbourne cars do Muni. Muni trains its streetcar operators to stop streetcars from speeds of 25 mph with the handbrake alone. They also receive extensive training in all the systems of the historic cars. (The handbrake is a reliable, proven, mechanical mechanism. It remains a mystery why the Charlotte operator didn’t use it, unless he was not trained to do so.)

What’s also unexplained to this point, at least in public, is how it could be possible for an operator to release the brake on a streetcar, whether accidentally or on purpose, before the controls at that end of the car have been fully activated.  If that’s what actually happened, it’s a stunning design flaw.  (To be clear, Muni does not have any replica streetcars or streetcars that allow this kind of thing to happen.)

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the Charlotte accident.  Yet we’re seeing rantings from some folks there that one accident, in which no one was hurt, and whose cause is under investigation, is cause to shut the whole system down.  But many of these ranters were clearly opposed to the new streetcar line on other grounds,  One commenter on the video page linked above wrote that on the new streetcar route,

“you can see a whole lot of ‘ghetto’ and ‘little Mexico’ . None of our rail systems do anything for the middle or upper-class residents that payed [sic] for them (unwillingly) with our taxes.”

(U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, a former mayor of Charlotte, calls opinions like this racist and noted that it was precisely to reach underserved communities that he championed the streetcar as mayor.)

In Atlanta, a new streetcar line using modern streetcars debuted earlier this year and drew terrified comments in various forums from automobile drivers about how dangerous the streetcars were, without saying why.

As kids, native San Franciscans used to be taught to respect the streetcars because of their size but not to be afraid because, unlike a bus or automobile, they followed an exact course — where the rails are.

Any public transit vehicle, like any vehicle on a roadway, will eventually become involved in accidents. You need strong public policy, like the Safer Market Street plan, supported by Market Street Railway, the Bicycle Coalition, and WalkSF, among other advocacy groups, that would have prevented accidents like this one on Market Street the other day. You also need a transit agency that either already deeply understands rail transit, as Muni does, or makes sure it hires people who do.

Most of all, when new streetcar lines start up, you need extensive public education campaigns to teach drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians that steel wheels on steel rails simply cannot stop as fast as rubber tires on asphalt, and that trying to cut off a streetcar in traffic as though it was an automobile isn’t a smart idea — no matter how capable and well trained the streetcar operator is.

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New Development Fee Could Benefit Streetcars

Streetcar No. 1055, wearing its original 1946 Philadelphia livery, passes new condos on Market at Buchanan. Michael Macor photo for the Chronicle.

Streetcar No. 1055, wearing its original 1946 Philadelphia livery, passes new condos on Market at Buchanan. Michael Macor photo for the Chronicle.

The City of San Francisco is proposing a new fee on new market rate condo and apartment construction that will raise an extra $14 million per year for transit.

The Chronicle used an F-line streetcar passing a new upper Market development to illustrate the article about the fee. More than fitting, since every single new proposed residential development along Market for the past few years has used F-line streetcars in the illustrations of their proposed project.

Clearly, the developers think the historic streetcars are a valuable amenity.  Now they get to put some money where their artists’ conceptions are.

The article quotes a long-time supporter of Market Street Railway, Oz Erickson of Emerald Fund (who serves on our advisory council) as saying, “…for the whole city to work, everybody has to pay their fair share.”

Thanks to this legislation, carried at the Board of Supervisors by strong F-line (and Muni) supporter Scott Wiener and widely expected to pass, it looks like everybody will indeed pay more of a fair share.

The money that comes in from the new fee will be spread around a variety of areas at Muni to improve and expand service. It would be logical to apply some of it to expand streetcar service along Market in congested times, given the thousands of new units now under construction or planned along the F-line.

Though it will take a couple of years before the money starts coming in, this is a new long-term funding source for Muni, which is always welcome.

We thank Scott, the Mayor’s Office, the Planning Department, and SFMTA, which the article says worked together for an extended period to pull together this plan.

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Driver Takes Stupid Pills

We get that driving an automobile in San Francisco is not easy, but c’mon! From our friends at SFist comes this photo taken last Thursday by Kendall Willets. Willets reports that the driver of the SUV tried an illegal left turn from the right lane from westbound Market onto southbound Tenth Street.  No injuries, no damage to the streetcar, which has been back on the road. As San Franciscans know, left turns off Market throughout downtown (except onto Drumm Street) have been banned… — Read More

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Great E-line Startup Piece in The Examiner

  The Examiner’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez gave us a ring in the morning, asking for the history behind the E-line. Among other things, he was curious why the line is named E when it’s starting service 20 years after the F.  We explained that the E-Embarcadero was originally given that letter in 1979, when Muni Planning first included it in its Long Range Transit Plan (very long range, as it turned out). It was envisioned to run from Fort Mason to… — Read More

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Great Photos in Chron’s “Our SF”

The Chronicle has been running long stories with lots of photos recently in the Sunday paper and on sfchronicle.com (a pay site) called “Our SF,” focusing on aspects of the city’s 150+ year history. Peter Hartlaub, a strong writer with an eye for good visuals, has been scouring the paper’s photo archives and has unearthed some gems. July 12 was transportation’s turn, and the 20+ photos published online (vs. only a few in the print edition) include many we’d never seen before. Such… — Read More

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E-line Opening Now August 1

The opening of weekend service on the E-Embarcadero line has been rescheduled for Saturday, August 1, one week later than originally planned. At a meeting between SFMTA and Market Street Railway representatives on Thursday, July 1, it was agreed that the San Francisco Marathon, which will clog the entire Embarcadero on Sunday, July 26, made it prudent to defer the E-line opening. SFMTA had decided to substitute buses for streetcars on the F-line on Marathon day already, due to the… — Read More

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Training for E-line Under Way

Think of it as a dress rehearsal: double-ended historic streetcars cruising the length of The Embarcadero, running along both the F-line tracks (from the Wharf to the Ferry Building) and the N- and T-line tracks (from Folsom Street past AT&T Park and on to the Caltrain Depot at Fourth and King Streets. With only an operator and Muni training staff on board. These streetcars are getting ready for the formal launch of the long-awaited E-Embarcadero vintage streetcar line, which begins… — Read More

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