Streetcar-cable car shutdown

Residents of six Bay Area counties have been ordered to stay in their homes, except to buy groceries or medicine or visit doctors, until at least April 7. They may take walks as long as they remain at least six feet away from people who are not members of their own household. This unprecedented action triggered ripple effects on public transit, including the shutdown of E- and F-line historic streetcars and all three cable car lines for the duration of the shelter-in-place order. 

Essential services, including police, fire, and enough transit for essential trips will continue to be provided.  The cable cars and a shortened F-line from the Wharf to the Ferry Building will be served by buses, while the E-Embarcadero line has been suspended altogether. Riders looking to go from the Wharf past the Ferry Building up Market will have to transfer to Muni Metro at Embarcadero Station or to a surface bus. 

Muni leadership said the bus substitution is being undertaken in part because the cable cars and historic streetcars have no partitions between operators and riders, unlike the light rail vehicle and most buses.  Market Street Railway agrees with the temporary substitution, as operator safety must come first.  Our San Francisco Railway Museum is also closed until the shelter-in-place order is lifted, as are all non-essential businesses in the Bay Area.

There is no point in speculating how long this shutdown will last. “At least through April 7” is the official language, but officials have made clear it could be longer if public health requires it. As you have certainly read by now, these measures are being taken to “flatten the curve” of infection – that is, keep the number of cases requiring treatment at any one time within the resource capabilities (beds, ventilators, etc.) of hospitals and clinics. This could mean that requiring people to self-isolate may go on for some time beyond April 7. We just don’t know.            

We salute the dedication of all transit operators at this time of extra challenges, including those who have been operating and will again operate Muni’s cable cars and historic streetcars. 

We will continue to report meaningful developments here. Be careful out there!

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Museum closed at least through mid-August

UPDATE: On June 28, the City and County of San Francisco announced that “indoor museums” may be cleared for opening around mid-August. The reopening of our museum will be likely be linked in some way to the resumption of F-line historic streetcar service. No date has yet been set for that; we will announce plans on this website when decisions are made.

In accordance with the directives from Mayor London Breed and the San Francisco Department of Public Health, indoor museums, including our San Francisco Railway Museum, will remain closed at least through mid-August 2020, in response to the COVID-19 virus.

We continue to take orders for merchandise on our online store, and will fulfill orders as quickly as possible. Thank you for understanding.

We want to pay tribute to the public transit operators everywhere who are moving essential workers around cities. In our book, they are public heroes!

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It was 20 years ago today…

…that the F-Market streetcar line became the F-Market & Wharves streetcar line, with the opening of the extension from First and Market Streets to Jones and Beach, connecting Downtown to the Ferry Building, The Embarcadero, and Fisherman’s Wharf. On March 4, 2000, the extension created what we call the “Steel Triangle” of rail: the two Powell cable lines and the F-line.

Early days of the Wharf service. MSR Archive

Transit historian Peter Ehrlich, a longtime Market Street Railway member and retired F-line operator, has literally written the book on this, San Francisco’s F-line (the updated 2019 hardcover edition is available at our museum or online direct from the publisher. It’s also available on Amazon, here). He headlines the section on the extension opening, “Riders Quickly Overwhelm the Trolleys”. And did they ever. MSR President Rick Laubscher remembers riding the inaugural VIP car, Melbourne 496 (still faithfully plying the waterfront today) and hearing a reporter asking a top Muni official, “Will this car carry regular passengers?” The response: “No, we’re not going to use the old cars in service”. No sooner had the car gotten to the Wharf when line manager Ken Rodriguez ordered it into regular passenger service, to handle the crowds, which it did very well with its ample standing room and open design.

The extension opening also brought San Francisco its fleet of Milan trams. Market Street Railway had been advising Muni officials over and over that they didn’t have enough streetcars for Wharf service, given the huge popularity of the first phase of the permanent F-line, which opened from Castro to First Street on Market in 1995 (terminating at the old East Bay Terminal at Fremont and Mission, now the Salesforce Transit Center). If Muni brass of the day had listened, there would have been time to restore some of Muni’s retired PCCs to augment the 17 PCCs that opened the F-line. But they waited too long to act. As Ehrlich’s book points out, Rodriguez, a 27-year Muni veteran who worked his way up from operator to lead rail service, was intrigued by the 1928 Milan tram that had been acquired for the Trolley Festivals of the 1980s, and which had proved very reliable and popular in service. He took the initiative and acquired 10 more that Milan was retiring (even though they had been upgraded just a decade before).

The “new” Milan trams were rushed into service as the extension opened. Several of the vintage streetcars from Trolley Festival days made regular appearances on the F-line after the extension opened as well, including Muni’s own Car 1 and Car 130 from its original 1910s streetcar fleet, the aforementioned Melbourne 496, and New Orleans “Streetcar Named Desire” 952 (which was just out testing the other day following a long hiatus). The Milans and vintage cars held the fort until Muni could acquire 11 well-maintained PCCs from Newark, New Jersey in 2002 and modify them for San Francisco service, a move for which Market Street Railway led the advocacy.

Of course, the extended F-line has gone on to become the most popular traditional streetcar line in America, surpassing even New Orleans’ storied St. Charles line. And 16 years after the F-line extension opened, it was joined by the E-line extending south to the Giants’ Ballpark, Mission Bay, and Caltrain, providing a great option for visitors from the Peninsula to ride the train to the City and the streetcar to the Wharf, leaving their automobiles behind.

All year, Market Street Railway will be celebrating this double-anniversary (20 years for the extension, 25 for the F-line on Market in September). Watch for details, and Happy 20th to the Wharf service.

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