San Francisco's World Famous Cable Cars

No. 5

San Francisco Municipal Railway, 1984-current

Built 1893 by Carter Bros. Rebuilt by Muni 1956

This cable car was built in 1893 in the East Bay town of Newark by Carter Brothers. It was numbered 505 until Muni dropped the first number on Powell cable cars in the 1970s. Car 505 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. 5 - San Francisco Municipal Railway, 1984-current
Powell Street Cable Car 505, probably at the Bay and Taylor terminal of the Powell-Mason line, March 4, 1909. John Henry Mentz photo, SFMTA Archive

It has been painted in several different liveries over its lifetime and today wears the standard Powell Street livery of maroon with sky blue trim, which is a simplified version of the original 1888 Powell cable car livery (seen on Powell Car 1). This livery was adopted when the cable car system reopened in 1984 after being restored.

No. 5 - San Francisco Municipal Railway, 1984-current
Cable Car 505 at the Powell and Market turntable, not long after its 1956 rebuilding. Note the square side windows fabricated to replace the arched originals. Square windows were easier to make, and funding was tight when this car was rebuilt.

Though Carter Brothers built sturdy cable cars, all wooden vehicles have a limited life. The strains of operation eventually loosen the joints between wooden pieces; water gets in, and rot follows. In 1956, Muni workers extensively rebuilt this car after 63 years of life. Today, more years than that have passed since that rebuild. There are frequent touchups and spot repairs performed on the cable car fleet by Muni’s very capable team of carpenters, metal workers, painters and other craft workers, but eventually Car 5’s time will come for another rails to roof overhaul.

No. 5 - San Francisco Municipal Railway, 1984-current
Car 5 turns from Jackson Street onto Mason, en route to Fisherman’s Wharf in its current livery.

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