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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Car-free Market Speeds Up F-line

A new study, plus research by our board member Chris Arvin, shows that the first month of the ban on private automobiles on Market Street is making Muni operations, including the F-line, faster, according to this story in the San Francisco Examiner.

For the F streetcar, in particular, the impacts are “really noticeable,” Arvin said. Most morning commute streetcar trip from Ninth and Market streets to First and Market streets took more than 15 minutes. Since the car ban, about 65 percent of those trips are now under 15 minutes, according to data he compiled.

San Francisco Examiner, February 26, 2020

The photo above shows the last PCC built in North America (Muni Car 1040) on the first morning of car-free Market, January 29. You’ll note the motor scooter and private car next to it. We’ve seen occasional violations of the car ban, especially at night, but that’s to be expected in the initial weeks. SFPD and SFMTA parking control officers herded strays off the street with a warning; SFPD is supposed to start issuing tickets for violators soon.

As an early and vocal supporter of the auto ban on Market, we’re encouraged by these early results. We thank Chris for his initiative on this.

We continue to push hard to implement the F-line improvements that are part of the Better Market Street construction about to begin, particularly the addition of a short-turn loop on McAllister Street and Charles J. Brenham Place (Seventh Street north), which will allow additional F-line service to be scheduled on the busiest part of the line, between the Wharf and Civic Center (service to Castro would not be affected). The project will also consolidate F-line stops downtown and make them all accessible (several are not).

All in all, it’s a very good start.

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Boat Tram Marks Market Street’s New Era

Can a tram be entrancing? Sure seemed that way yesterday at the ceremony at the foot of Market Street celebrating the elimination of private automobiles on San Francisco’s main thoroughfare. After an opening serenade by eight-time cable car bell ringing champ Byron Cobb and a round of speeches that included Mayor London Breed, SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin, and several mobility advocates (from Walk SF, the Bicycle Coalition and MSR’s Rick Laubscher), the celebrants… — Read More

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Boat Tram to Help Celebrate Car-free Market, Jan. 29

At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, January 29, Market Street will wave good bye to private automobiles from 10th Street to the Ferry. The boat tram will help. To symbolize the continuation of rail transit on Market (which began in 1860!), Muni has chosen one of its wildly popular 1934 open-top streetcars from Blackpool, England (both of which came to San Francisco thanks to Market Street Railway). The boat will join a parade up Market from Embarcadero Plaza at Market and… — Read More

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Future Meets Past in Muni Art

A few days ago, we were honored to participate in awarding prizes to the winners of this year’s Muni Art Program, organized by San Francisco Beautiful, whose write-up notes, “The 2020 Muni Art Project theme, ‘Hidden Gems of San Francisco’ is the fifth year that the The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), San Francisco Beautiful and The Poetry Society of America (sponsors of Poetry in Motion®) have collaborated to bring art and poetry to Muni commuters.” As it turns… — Read More

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107 Years Ago Today

On December 28, 1912, ten shiny gray streetcars with brick-red roofs lined up on Geary Street, from Kearny Street to Grant Avenue. The first, Numbered 1 in gold leaf outlined in black, opened its black scissor gate. Up stepped the Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, James Rolph, Jr. From his pocket, he took a Liberty Head nickel, with a large “V” on the back (people knew back then that was the roman numeral for “five”). He… — Read More

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Double your year-end donation!

Your year-end tax-deductible donation will be DOUBLED thanks to a matching challenge from our board members. Please read on! Hard to believe that 2020 marks 25 years since the permanent F-line opened on Market Street, and 20 years since it was extended to Fisherman’s Wharf, where one of the famed Blackpool “Boat Trams” is pictured (both of the Boat Trams, we should mention, Market Street Railway acquired for Muni and paid to ship here). Muni is, of course, America’s first publicly-owned… — Read More

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2020 Muni Heritage Weekend: August 22-23

SFMTA has confirmed to us that Muni Heritage Weekend in 2020 will take place August 22-23. This is earlier than the past few years and should give opportunities for more families from out of town to attend. We expect a repeat of past years’ successful events, featuring streetcars, cable cars, and buses from 70-137 years old carrying happy riders along the streets of San Francisco, with our San Francisco Railway Museum at the center of the action. There are constraints… — Read More

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Two Great Streetcar Stories

Muni’s historic streetcars, and the people who love them, keep gaining media attention, both in their hometown, and far afield. For your Thanksgiving weekend reading pleasure, we’re sharing two stories from the San Francisco Chronicle, and its associated website, Both stories show how the historic streetcars continue to attract new generations of fans, thanks in part to Market Street Railway’s continuing efforts aimed at exactly that goal. It’s a core part of our mission to keep the past present… — Read More

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Jeff Tumlin New SFMTA Leader

Bay Area native and long-time San Francisco resident Jeffrey Tumlin will take over Muni’s parent agency, SFMTA, on December 16. Mayor London Breed announced Tumlin’s new position as Director of Transportation at a City Hall news conference this morning, subject to appointment by the SFMTA Board of Directors (expected to be a formality). Tumlin will take over the permanent job held by Ed Reiskin for the past eight years until Reiskin announced his resignation earlier this year. SFMTA’s Director of… — Read More

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Happy Centennial of a Big Global Streetcar Event

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… — Read More

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Grab a seat on this unique cable car and feed the hungry

Seats are going fast for a first-time opportunity to tour the cable car system on the biggest cable car ever built: Sacramento-Clay “Big 19”, at 34 feet a full seven feet longer than Powell cars, and at 136 years, the oldest operating cable car in the world. And you can ride it on Mason and Hyde Streets, as well as California Street, in a four-hour exclusive charter on November 9, starting at 11 a.m., with lunch included from the famous Buena… — Read More

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Pier 39 is now E/F-line terminal for at least a year

This morning, operators on Muni’s E-Embarcadero and F-Market & Wharves historic streetcar lines started rolling their destination signs past “Fisherman’s Wharf” and stopped at “Pier 39”, the big visitor attraction a block east of what’s traditionally considered the Wharf. And those Wharf destination signs are supposed to stay dark for at least a full year, maybe longer, while the city makes changes to three blocks of Jefferson Street, from Powell to Jones, changes that do NOT include the F-line tracks… — Read More

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