San Francisco's World Famous Cable Cars

No. 3 - San Francisco Municipal Railway (1960-1982) - Market Street Railway
No. 3

San Francisco Municipal Railway, 1960-1982

Built 1893, Carter Brothers; rebuilt by Muni 1955

Powell Cable Car 3 is painted the way the Powell Street cable cars looked at the darkest years of the cable car system, the 1960s and 1970s. During this era, the tracks, cable machinery, and powerhouse became decrepit beyond repair. The entire system had to be shut down for a total rebuilding between October 1982 and July 1984, spearheaded by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

This cable car was built in 1893 in the East Bay town of Newark by Carter Brothers, and rebuilt by Muni’s shops in 1955. It was numbered 503 until Muni dropped the first number on Powell cable cars in the 1970s. Car 503 served the Sacramento-Clay line until the 1906 earthquake and fire, and then was moved over to Powell Street, where it has run ever since, almost exclusively on the Powell-Mason line until 1956; on both the Mason and Hyde lines since 1957.

No. 3 - San Francisco Municipal Railway, 1960-1982
Powell Car 503 at the Bay and Taylor turntable in 1946, during the brief period it wore Muni’s blue and yellow livery (which Powell Car 16 wears today). Al Schwoerer collection

It has worn a number of liveries (paint schemes) during its lifetime. It was one of just three Powell cars to be painted blue and yellow shortly after Muni took over the Powell cable cars from the previous owner of the Powell cable system, Market Street Railway Company, in 1944. But very quickly, Muni decided to paint all its vehicles green and cream. That original green and cream livery (displayed on Powell Car 26) had cream owners panels lettered simply “Municipal Railway,” later modified on some Powell cars to “Municipal Railway of San Francisco” (displayed on Powell Car 8).

This original green and cream Muni livery was simplified in the early 1960s, in part to make it cheaper to paint as maintenance money got tight. The entire side panels were painted green, with decals stating “Municipal Railway of San Francisco” affixed at the bottom of the panels. The wording was later changed to “San Francisco Municipal Railway”. This is how all Powell cable cars (except Powell Car 1) were painted right up until the system was rebuilt starting in 1982.

No. 3 - San Francisco Municipal Railway, 1960-1982
Powell Car 503 passes the historic Flood Building, crossing the streetcar tracks of the 20-Ellis line in 1948. Photo from

The original green and cream livery was on the Powell Cars when then-Mayor Roger Lapham tried to scrap the Powell cables in favor of buses in 1947. Lapham’s plan was resoundingly beaten by civic activists led by Friedel Klussmann. In tribute to her, Powell Car 3 was left in the green and cream livery when all the other Powell cars were repainted maroon and light blue during the rebuilding of 1982-84. Car 3 carried a plaque dedicating it to Mrs. Klussmann, a plaque subsequently transferred to Powell Car 1.

No. 3 - San Francisco Municipal Railway, 1960-1982
Powell Car 3 at Hyde and Lombard Streets, September 2022. Rick Laubscher photo

The different liveries of Powell Cars 1 and 3 stirred interest at the nonprofit Market Street Railway, and at Muni, with researching and recreating other authentic historic liveries on San Francisco cable cars. Today, more than a dozen cable cars wear the paint schemes from bygone eras in the long history of cable cars in San Francisco.

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