Happy Centennial of a Big Global Streetcar Event

Tram procession on Riversdale Road, Camberwell, Melbourne, November 10, 1991. Courtesy Australian Rail Maps Group on Facebook.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Melbourne & Metropolitan Tramways Board (M&MTB), whose history is wonderfully summarized in the quoted sections below, which were originally posted on Facebook by the group Australian Rail Maps, which also provided the historic photo from 1991 above.

The M&MTB built both of Muni’s W-class trams: W2 496 in 1929, and SW6 916 in 1946. (Muni also has W2 586, built in 1930, complete and in storage.) W-class trams are generally considered among the best ever built anywhere: simple, reliable, and durable. There were eight evolutionary classes of these vehicles, built between 1923 and 1956. In the photo above, W Class 380 and W1 Class 431 bring up the rear of this procession of older trams. Originally M&MTB painted its trams in a chocolate brown, but switched to the iconic green livery in the late 1920s. W-class trams still hold down service on the 35-City Circle line, as famous to Melbourne as cable cars are to San Francisco. These trams are in the process of being upgraded with some modern features while retaining their historic fabric into the W8 class, for decades more service. We have shared some of the details of these upgrades with Muni, for possible incorporation into its Melbourne trams.

You can find a complete all-time roster of Melbourne trams here.

Melbourne today continues to operate the largest electric streetcar network in the world, thanks to the enduring commitment started by M&MTB. Happy Centennial to our friends Down Under. And thanks to Adolfo Echeverry for the great photo immediately below of Muni’s 496 (left) and 916 at the Ferry Building.

Founded on November 1 1919, the Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board was a State Government instrumentality charged with integrating and operating Melbourne’s then fragmented tramways. The city and suburbs possessed an impressive but disjoint collection of tramways that had evolved over decades. The MMTB inherited the cable tram network built between 1885 and 1919 by the Melbourne Tramway & Omnibus Company (MTOC), and the Northcote Municipality Cable Tramway line. Comprising numerous lines centred on downtown Melbourne, cable trams ran in all directions into the inner suburbs and was world’s largest ever cable tramway network.
The MMTB also inherited a number of municipal-owned electric tramway networks that served surrounding municipalities. Many lines connected end-on with cable trams into the centre of Melbourne. These networks included those of the Prahran & Malvern Tramways Trust (PMTT), the Hawthorn Tramways Trust (HTT), the Melbourne, Brunswick and Coburg Tramways Trust (MBCTT), the Fitzroy, Northcote and Preston Tramways Trust (FNPTT), and the then under construction Footscray Tramways Trust (FTT). It also took over the operations of the privately owned North Melbourne Electric Tramway & Lighting Company and Melbourne’s last remaining horse tram route from Royal Parade to Melbourne Zoo in Royal Park.
The MMTB set about unifying and standardising the network. Over the decades it replaced cable trams with electric trams. The last cable tram route, along Bourke Street, closed in 1940. It embarked on a massive electric tramcar modernisation and building program that gave the world the famous W class tram and enabled the older pre-MMTB trams to be withdrawn.
Ultimately, it’s because of the MMTB that Melbourne was able to stand strong against the worldwide destruction of tram networks throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and has not only retained but extended its network so that it is now the world’s largest electric tram network. Trams are now the single most iconic and defining feature of the city.
Ultimately the MMTB was dissolved on July 1 1983 when it was replaced by the Metropolitan Transit Authority that merged tram, bus and suburban train services in Melbourne. Subsequent changes have led to operation of Melbourne’s trams nowadays being franchised to Keolis Downer and run under the banner of Yarra Trams.

–From Australian Rail Maps Group on Facebook, November 1, 2019
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Flashback to 1906 on June 26

Where is this exactly? Come to our museum on June 26 and find out.

In the latest installment of Market Street Railway’s series of history talks, called Inside Track Live, you’ll be able to see the famous 1906 Miles Brothers film, “A Trip Down Market Street”, as you’ve never seen it before.

On Wednesday, June 26 at 6 p.m., at our San Francisco Railway Museum, MSR President Rick Laubscher will present the highest-quality transfer of this precious film ever made, showing a 12-minute ride from Eighth Street to the Ferry along Market Street, shot from the front of a cable car just a few days before the Earthquake and Fire destroyed almost everything visible in the film.

Rick has narrated the film, providing insights into not only the transportation history involved, but the social and economic history of 1906 San Francisco as well.

At Inside Track Live, we’ll play the film all the way through with its narration, asking audience members to note anything they see that they have questions. Then, we’ll play the film again, pausing to discuss audience questions with Rick wherever one comes up. It should be a lively, interactive hour or so of history.

Admission is free for Market Street Railway members. We ask a voluntary $5 donation from members of the public.

Take a free ride on the 1934 Blackpool Boat Tram from our museum to the Wharf the afternoon before the film presentation.

BONUS: the 1934 Blackpool “Boat Tram” will be running from our museum to Pier 39 and back that afternoon, with the last trip leaving about 4 p.m. Come down early, take a “boat” ride (free!) and peruse the Ferry Building’s great market. Make an afternoon/early evening of it!

By the way, our newly-enhanced, exclusive narrated version of “A Trip Down Market Street”, with realistic sound effects, is available on DVD both at our museum and our online store.

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Best Version Yet of Iconic 1906 Movie

In 1906, it didn’t get more high tech than this iconic 12-minute movie, filmed from the front of a cable car headed down Market Street. If you’re a San Francisco history buff (or transit buff), you’ve probably seen it before, but not like this. A new digital transfer by the noted film archivist Rick Prelinger breathes more life into it, sharper and wider-screen. (Back then, the image was captured to the edges of the film, even between the sprocket holes; this version includes that.)

Surprisingly to us, the film had never appeared in a narrated version, explaining exactly where you are and providing the social and economic context of what you’re seeing. Market Street President Rick Laubscher, a San Francisco historian and former journalist, did that several years ago, and has now updated that narration with new information that has come to light. Additionally, we have added sound effects by Mike Upchurch to provide some atmosphere.

Thanks to film historian David Kiehn, we now know that this iconic film, by the Miles Brothers, was shot on or about April 14, 1906, just four days before the great Earthquake and Fire. (It was previously believed to have been filmed in August 1905.)

To commemorate the 113th anniversary of the April 18 catastrophe, which ended an era in San Francisco, we have posted this new version of the film on YouTube. We will be providing it through our online store and in our San Francisco Railway Museum in coming weeks.

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Happy Centennial to One “L” of a Streetcar Line

The first L-line streetcars to reach the Beach were the “dinkies” bought for the E-Union line across town, shuttling only between West Portal and the sand dunes of outer Taraval. MSR Archive

On April 12, 1919, the first L-Taraval streetcar hit the rails, overcoming obstacles to begin a century of service that continues today.

The Twin Peaks Tunnel had opened fourteen months before, bringing fast streetcar service from downtown to the nearly empty southwestern quadrant of the city. Initially, there was just one line, the K, but property owners in the areas above and west of the tunnel, who had paid for its construction, expected – and demanded – more. So, Muni negotiated with the private United Railroads to share the tracks of URR’s little used Parkside line on Taraval Street between 20thand 33rdAvenues. URR wanted the city to share the Twin Peaks Tunnel in return for sharing this track and Ocean Avenue track for the K, line but the city refused and paid cash for the rights instead. Muni then laid tracks from West Portal via Ulloa Street, 15thAvenue, and Taraval to connect to the Parkside line tracks, allowing the L to open as far west as 33rd Avenue.

There was little development west of Twin Peaks in April 1919. United Railroads, by far the dominant transit company compared to the 6-year old Muni, did run downtown from the area, but by slow surface streets (Ocean Avenue and Mission to the south, 20th Avenue and Haight to the north), making it faster for downtown workers to take ferries from Oakland than to take the long way around Twin Peaks by streetcar. At first, the L streetcars stopped at West Portal, where riders had to transfer to K-line streetcars to . go through the tunnel and along Market Street. Muni used its full-sized streetcars for the L-line shuttles at first, but as soon as smaller “dinky” single-truck cars were delivered for Muni’s hill-climbing Union Street line in 1922, a few of them were dispatched to the L, where they were big enough to handle the still-sparse ridership.

By early 1923, the L-line tracks reached Ocean Beach across the sand dunes and by the end of that year, the shuttle was replaced by service through the tunnel to the Ferry Loop, using full-size streetcars. The Twin Peaks Tunnel service significantly accelerated the development of blocks along the new, fast streetcar lines, while blocks deeper in the central Sunset District languished as sand dunes, with only the odd house here or there. In 1928, the Muni matched the L-line on the northern edge of the Sunset by building the Sunset Tunnel under Buena Vista Park and opening the N-Judah line.

In 1937, Muni took advantage of federal funding through the Works Progress Administration to extend the L line south from 46thAvenue and Taraval to Wawona Street, very close to the popular zoo and Fleishhacker swimming pool, heightening competition with the competitor’s 12-line on Sloat Boulevard.

When Muni got its first five modern streetcars in 1939, they often dispatched them on the L-line (shown here at 22nd Avenue and Taraval on April 24, 1940). These cars, known as “Magic Carpets” because of their smooth ride, were the precursors of the PCC streetcars that later took over all Muni service and still run on the E and F lines today. SFTMA Archive
By 1938, the L-line (yellow line near bottom) had brought full development to Taraval Street and surrounding blocks between 21st and 29th Avenues, as shown in this aerial photograph, while blocks to the north, further removed from the fast streetcar service, were slower to develop. Harrison Ryker photograph, David Rumsey Collection.

Muni took over its competitor (renamed Market Street Railway in 1921) during World War II. The 12-line on Sloat Boulevard was included in the purchase. It featured a private right-of-way in the middle of that broad roadway, and could have been used as a tool to spur higher-density residential development on that corridor, if only the Sloat tracks had been connected at St. Francis Circle to use the Twin Peaks Tunnel. (The giant Parkmerced development at the south end of 19th Avenue, and the nearby Stonestown shopping center, which both arose after the war, benefitted from Muni’s adjacent M-Ocean View line, which used the tunnel, but had been little used after it opened in 1925 and had even been shut down for a time for lack of ridership.)

“Magic Carpet” Car 1001 has just turned from Ulloa Street into the Twin Peaks Tunnel on its L-line run around 1950, meeting an old-fashioned “Iron Monster” on the M-line. Both streetcars required two operators at that time by city ordinance, although the Magic Carpets were designed to be operable by a single operator, and were converted when voters allowed one-operator streetcars in 1954, likely saving the remaining streetcar lines. Robert McVay photo, Walter Rice Collection, MSR Archive

One factor that weighed against Muni keeping more streetcar lines in that period was rising labor costs. San Francisco voters had mandated two operators for each streetcar, although only one for a bus. This caused Muni to substitute buses for the outer ends of the K and L lines on nights and Sundays in the early 1950s, and studies were done to see if it was feasible to convert the Twin Peaks Tunnel to bus operation. (It wasn’t: too narrow.) Approval of single-operator streetcars in 1954 ended this existential threat to the L-line, and it has been an enduring part of Muni’s streetcar network ever since, converting to light rail vehicles in the early 1980s when the Twin Peaks Tunnel was connected to the new Muni Metro subway under Market Street.

PCC Streetcar 1039 leaves the L-line zoo terminal at 46th Avenue and Wawona Street shortly before modern LRVs took over the L-line in the early 1980s. The delay in opening the Market Street Subway meant the PCCs had to soldier on longer than intended, getting quite beat up. This particular car is one that Market Street Railway bought back from a museum, returning it to Muni, where it is stored for future restoration. George Locke photo, MSR Archive

More recently, Muni has moved to improve safety on Taraval Street by building boarding islands for L-line trains, and has shortened L-line trips by reducing the number of stops on Taraval.

Today, the Parkside District is a vibrant, diverse neighborhood made possible, and still kept moving, by the L-Taraval. Muni is planning various centennial events, which we will keep you informed of here. SFMTA’s Jeremy Menzies has dug into the archives for a great story, and the Examiner has a nice tribute to the L-line here.

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Black Barrier-Breakers in San Francisco Transit

In recent decades, memorable African-American leaders have made history in San Francisco transit. There’s Curtis E. Green, Sr., the first black general manager of a major US transit agency. H. Welton Flynn, first black San Francisco City Commissioner, and leader of Muni’s governing boards for many years. Larry Martin, a powerful and persuasive head of Muni’s operators’ union. For this year’s Black History Month, we’ll reach back further in time, to highlight three women and one man who broke barriers… — Read More

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London Buses in SF: 1952

The librarian for the San Francisco Chronicle, Bill Van Niekerken, comes up with some dandy articles by digging through the newspaper’s voluminous archives. Somehow, we missed this great story and photos, showing three double-deck London Transport buses coming to, and driving through, San Francisco on a cross-country British tourism promotion in 1952. The photo above shows one of the RTL-type buses (predecessor to London Transport’s famed Routemasters) on Market Street at Eighth, sharing the street with three “Iron Monster” Muni… — Read More

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Muni: 106 and Counting

On December 28, 1912, Mayor James Rolph, Jr. took one of the first five cent pieces minted in San Francisco, put it into a farebox, pulled on his operator’s cap, and personally piloted it out Geary Street. It was the first run, on the first day, with the first streetcar owned by the public in a large American city. It was the birth of Muni. Today, Muni is celebrating with a post highlighting some of the great photos of their… — Read More

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See ‘Lost Landscapes’ Dec. 4 and 5

  Our friend Rick Prelinger, creator of the Internet Archive, has been making special programs of vintage films of San Francisco for over a decade now. Rick has collected a wonderful mix of home movies, commercial film outtakes, travelogues, and other celluloid representations of our city, and invites the audience to shout out their reactions. It’s the ultimate interactive show! This year’s event is extra special, because Rick has made the best restoration yet of the famed “Trip Down Market… — Read More

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Steam Streetcar on Market Street, 1864

Yep, you read that right. Before Market Street had electric streetcars, cable cars, or horse-powered streetcars, it had a STEAM-powered streetcar. In fact, this was the first rail transit on Market Street, started up in 1860. This photo, which we had not seen before, just surfaced on a Facebook group, without a source reference. It shows Market Street during the Civil War (the date given is 1864, and that seems at least very close). We’re looking west, toward Twin Peaks.… — Read More

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“Coming to Town” Talk to Help Open Salesforce Transit Center August 11

  Lots of buzz about the new $2.1 Salesforce Transit Center holding its grand opening Saturday, August 11. For example, this story in the Examiner, worth a read for the historic context. Or this one, about the incredible park atop the terminal. Or this one, about the loonnng delay in getting train service (commuter and high-speed to LA) into the terminal  in the afternoon. But in this post, we’re inviting everyone to the new center’s bus deck at 1 pm… — Read More

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Happy 145th Anniversary, Cable Cars!

August 2, 1873 — In the wee small hours of a misty San Francisco night (they didn’t call the month “Fogust” back then, but it was), a new type of transit was about to be inaugurated. An endless wire rope clattered beneath Clay Street. An odd open vehicle sat on the rails at the top of the hill. Standing by was Andrew Smith Hallidie, a Scot who had experience using wire rope in the mining business, and was part of… — Read More

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A Gripping Evening with Val Lupiz

Val Lupiz, expert gripman and San Francisco historian, was hosted on July 18 by MSR Board member Paul Lucas in the second installment of Market Street Railway’s quarterly series Inside Track-Live! A packed house at our San Francisco Railway Museum was treated to hearing how Val started as a rail-obsessed kid, to being the only gripman to operate historic Cable Car 42 in multiple Muni Heritage Festivals. Val’s stories ranged from heartwarming— helping passengers with marriage proposals— to uproarious— how… — Read More

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Meet Cable Car Historian Val Lupiz July 18

San Francisco has a tradition of unique personalities who share a deep love of this special place. Nothing is more special in our special cities than the cable cars, and no one has a deeper love for our rolling National Historic Landmark than Val Lupiz. Val just celebrated his 19th anniversary as a cable car gripman, so he knows today’s system inside out. He also knows cable car history better than almost anyone else. That photo, above, is Val’s creation:… — Read More

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New Heritage Cable Car Livery Selected

Thanks to a rare photo posted by cable car gripman and historian Val Lupiz, Market Street Railway has selected its next heritage cable car livery. We’re calling it the “blank slate” livery. Ten of the Powell Street cable cars are painted in heritage liveries — the paint schemes Powell cable cars actually wore at different points in their 130 year history.  But no heritage liveries have yet been applied to California Street cable cars as yet because, except for one… — Read More

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“Trackless Trolleys”?

The Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub, who does some productive digging around in the paper’s archives, has come up with a very good story on the conversion of many San Francisco streetcar lines to trolley coaches in the late 1940s. Above, one of several great photos from the story. Taken on the first day of electric bus service on Market Street, July 5, 1949, it shows a Twin Coach on the 5-McAllister followed by a mix of Marmon-Herringtons and Twins, outbound at… — Read More

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