San Francisco's World Famous Cable Cars

No. 12

Market Street Railway Company, 1937-1944

Built 1893 by Carter Brothers; rebuilt by Muni 1959 and 2016

This cable car is painted in the second version of the locally famous “White Front” livery of Market Street Railway Company, worn by Powell Street cable cars from about 1927 until the Municipal Railway took over the Powell Street lines in 1944.

There were several generations of companies named “Market Street Railway.” This version took over the transit lines operated by United Railroads in 1921, after that company got into financial trouble. A well-run but frugal outfit, Market Street Railway retained the green paint scheme with red window trim it inherited from United Railroads, simply substituting their name for their predecessors’ on the side of the car.

In 1927, looking to attract more riders, Market Street Railway started painting the ends of its cable cars and streetcars bright white. They said it was a safety measure, for improved visibility, and indeed it was, making the private company’s rail vehicles much more visible to intending riders than Muni’s gray streetcars, which were called “battleships” for their drab color.

Powell Car 9 displays the first version of this scheme, with the red window sash carried over from United Railroads’ days. Between 1936 and 1938, Market Street Railway gradually got rid of the red sash, painting the entire front of streetcars and cable cars white, and the sides solid green, to save labor costs when repainting.

Powell Car 12 displays this later solid-color scheme, austere but historically important, representing the days when the cable cars’ owners struggled financially with the Depression, and when cable cars were not yet the tourist icons they were later to become.

Powell Street Cable Car Specifications

Number of Cars
28 on roster (Maximum of 19 in service at one time)

60 (29 seated + 31 standing)

15,500 lb (7,030 kg)

27′ 6″ (8.4 m)

10′ 5″ (3.2 m)

8′ 0″ (2.4 m)

Track Gauge
3′ 6″ (1.07 m)

Round Trip Route Length
Powell-Mason line: 3.2 mi (5.15 km)
Powell-Hyde line: 4.3 mi (6.92 km)

Cable Speed
9.5 mph (15.3 km/h)

Cable Lengths
Powell: 9,300 ft (2,835 m)
Mason: 10,300 ft (3,140 m)
Hyde: 16,000 ft (4875 m)

Cable Motive Power
510-horsepower electric motor driving four cable winders at powerhouse

Powerhouse and Carbarn
Washington and Mason Streets

Built 1887 by Ferries & Cliff House Railway

Rebuilt 1906 by United Railroads

Rebuilt 1982-84 by San Francisco Municipal Railway

Steepest Grades on Powell Lines
Powell: 17% between Bush & Pine
Mason: 17% between Union & Green
Hyde: 21% between Bay & Chestnut