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

F and E line streetcars take their layovers at their new terminal (for at least the next year) at Pier 39.

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 or overhead wires themselves.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed (in blue, center) leads city officials in a “groundbreaking” ceremony for the Jefferson Street Public Realm project, which will shut down streetcar service in Fisherman’s Wharf for a year or longer. The area where they’re standing, a parking lot, will become a public plaza.

This morning, city officials lauded the project in a ceremony under the Fisherman’s Wharf sign at Jefferson and Taylor Streets. Meanwhile, a few blocks away, confused riders at Beach and Stockton, one of the busiest streetcar stops, struggled to find where to board their F-line cars for Downtown or E-line cars for Caltrain.

Muni had posted confusing signs (a key one already graffitied) at the Beach and Stockton stop. The sign, missed by most intending riders, instructed them to board “across Beach Street”, where the Pier 39 garage and a patch of grass sits. Muni had a couple of young “ambassadors” out there handing out fliers, but they sometimes gave contradictory information about where to go.

You can see where to park, but not where to board the streetcar on Beach St. opposite Pier 39.

We had been told last week that the new Ferry-bound stop would be across Stockton Street on Beach, but there was no signage of any kind there, leaving riders to guess where to stand, and choosing several different locations amid the thick ficus trees, which shielded them from view of the F-line operators. At least we didn’t see any intending passengers passed up while we were there.

The signage needs to improve dramatically and quickly, and we have sent Muni our observations and recommendations about this already.

Multiple streetcars were backed up the first day of the F-line service cutback when the car at the head of the pack developed a track brake problem at Pier 39. Joseph Macasocol photo.

Meanwhile, on the first day of the new arrangement, a PCC streetcar encountered a track brake problem, backing up at least a half-dozen streetcars behind it because the overhead power had been turned off on the straight track beyond Pier 39, which would have been an easy place to store a disabled streetcar and keep the line moving. Several operators immediately suggested that one block of power on the straight track, between Pier 39 and Powell Street (not in the construction zone) be turned back on for this purpose. Muni management told us they’re considering this.

It remains to be seen how this year-long cutback of F-line service to Pier 39 affects the various businesses at the Wharf. Muni has instituted a shuttle bus to carry F-line riders from Pier 39 to the Jones Street terminal four blocks away, but bus ridership was scant the first morning, with many F-line riders going straight into Pier 39.

The construction taking place is the second phase of a plan to make Jefferson Street, which runs the length of Fisherman’s Wharf, more pedestrian-friendly while discouraging automobile use. The first phase, completed a couple of years ago, widened the north-side sidewalk on Jefferson for two blocks between Jones and Hyde Streets and put in fancy paving that designers said would slow down automobiles. On these two blocks, modern Danish streetlights and poles were installed, and those same modern poles will be added in between the existing streetlights that hold up the F-line overhead wires on the other three blocks. (Note: we initially reported the Danish lights would replace the existing poles on those three blocks but that is incorrect. Sorry.)

While it certainly would have been possible to phase the work so that the F-line could have been back in service before next Memorial Day, that wasn’t done, and the Wharf merchants have apparently acquiesced in this extended construction schedule.

Market Street Railway has offered to help the merchants see what can be done to get the E- and F-line streetcars back sooner, but unless something changes, you’ll see “Pier 39” as the destination of all streetcars heading north on the waterfront for at least a year.

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Crazy Day on the Waterfront

PCC 1077, heading back to the F-line at Oracle Park, missed the opportunity to pick up a platform full of postgame E-line riders.

Yesterday (July 25) was an action-packed day on the waterfront, and included an opportunity seized, and one missed. Here’s what went down.

E-and F-line service north of the Ferry Building was disrupted by a power problem at the Wharf and a couple of streetcar breakdowns (not sure if they were related). This occurred around the time EuroPCC 737 arrived at Don Chee Way to go into service. Inspectors sent several cars south on the E-line to get out of the way. This coincided with the crowds headed to the Giants-Cubs game, which 37,000 attended. The crew of at least one of those southbound cars, 737, took the opportunity to pick up intending ballpark passengers — a full load on that car, we’re told.

After the game, we spotted Birmingham PCC 1077 coming back from MME, marked “F-Market/”NOT IN SERVICE”. It was piloted by a regular operator (not a shopman). It dwelled at the ballpark E-line stop, but didn’t open its doors, even when an intending rider knocked. It would have been so great if that car had done what the 737 did pre-game and emptied the E-line platform, because it was a long time (surprise, surprise) before a regular E-line car came along. According to our live streetcar map, 1077 went back into service on the F and stayed out late into the evening, so the car itself was operational.

As our members and friends know, Market Street Railway supports Muni, serving as its nonprofit preservation partner. But we are also an independent advocacy group, which concentrates on pushing for the best possible service to riders. This blog and our other publications are heavily read by rail fans, not just locally, but worldwide. That’s great; their support has always been very important to us . But we also constantly think about the San Franciscans and visitors who don’t closely follow the individual streetcars or cable cars; they just want an efficient ride on these unique vehicles.

That’s why we mention this busy day on the waterfront. It shows that unexpected events (the power problem) can disrupt regular service, but it may also provide unexpected opportunities. The crew of 737 took the opportunity to go above and beyond in moving people during a peak period, even though off its regular route; the 1077 did not. We hope the next time something like this happens, putting passengers first will be top of mind for everyone involved with the vintage operation.

We also hope that every operator on E- and F-line pull-in trips will carry passengers all the way to Balboa Park on the J-line, instead of going out of service at 17th & Noe on their pull-in trips, which some still do. (The rules call for rail vehicles to be in-service on all trips between the car barn and their assigned route.) Passing up passengers does not make friends for the streetcars, or for Muni.

We’ll reiterate these observations to SFMTA management.

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Trip to Europe on the Waterfront

With Blackpool, England Boat Tram 228 pulling an temporary “Brexit” from this summer’s special waterfront streetcar service on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Muni Chief Julie Kirschbaum is sending in fun substitutes to fill in.

The coming two Tuesdays and Wednesdays (July 23-24 and July 30-31), 1952 Euro PCC 737 (which operated in Brussels but is painted to honor San Francisco’s Sister City, Zurich, Switzerland) will be cruising the waterfront. As a bonus, it will also operate on Swiss National Day, Thursday, August 1. (The past few weeks, 1929 Melbourne Tram 496 has filled in.)

It’s a fun ride, smooth as silk, and entertaining inside. Muni’s Euro PCC combines a Brussels interior (complete with signage in Flemish and French) with promotional ads about Zurich above the windows, and Zurich’s famous blue livery on the exterior. The car was turned into this hybrid when the Zurich-San Francisco Sister City Committee asked then-Mayor Gavin Newsom for a “Zurich” streetcar to join the fleet, and the idea of a genuine Zurich vintage tram had to be abandoned because their very narrow bodies and meter-gauge trucks could not be adapted for use in San Francisco (not that there were any offered to San Francisco in any event).

But hey, in San Francisco, we celebrate diversity, so come ride the “Zurles” tram (or is it Brussich?).

Meanwhile, there appears to be good news on Boat 228: the shop has taken the motors off the car and believe they can fix the problem that took it out of service within two more weeks. Muni Rail Maintenance Chief Randy Catanach passed along these photos of one of the trucks, before and after the shop team pressure washed it. That boat is going to look great when it’s back.

We do expect at least one of the two boats to operate on Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8. We expect the Euro PCC to be out as well, along with the Melbourne tram(s!) and Muni’s famed 1912 Car 1, plus, of course the every popular 1896 “Dinky” 578 (although it can no longer traverse the route it’s signed for, “Ellis & O’Farrell” via Devisadero [cq]. Make sure you leave time to ride the buses and cable cars too!

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E-line Shuts Down for Two Months Starting Jan. 22

Beginning January 22, the E-Embarcadero streetcar line will be completely shut down for approximately two months. The shutdown is related to construction of a new center boarding platform on the T-line to serve the new Golden State Warriors’ arena, Chase Center, on Third Street. Beyond the impact on the E-line, the entire six-mile length of the T-Third light rail line will be converted to bus operation for the same period.

Wait, what? That new platform is almost a mile south of the end of the E-line, so why is the E affected? Well, the construction will sever the rail link to Muni Metro East (MME), one of the two service and storage facilities for Muni’s light rail vehicles. MME stores and services vehicles for other lines as well, particularly the N-Judah (but not the historic streetcars, which moved back to their Cameron Beach Yard home near Balboa Park in 2018). So Muni needs room to store those light rail vehicles overnight and are using the track the E-line uses to turn around on King Street, plus the T-line tracks on Channel and Third Streets north of the construction zone. Muni staff was concerned that E-line operations would overly complicate their LRV movements.

It’s not clear how seriously Muni considered constructing a bypass track to carry T-line trains around the one block construction zone, which would have also allowed MME to remain in operation. During BART construction in the 1960s and 1970s, Muni regularly used these temporary track arrangements to carry PCC streetcars on the J, K, L, M, and N lines around the construction of BART stations on Market Street, switching the streetcars from one side of Market to the other repeatedly as the work progressed, with nothing more than occasional weekend substitution of buses. Of course, back then, the alternative would have been shutting down the Twin Peaks and Sunset Tunnels and going to complete bus substitution on all five streetcar lines, an alternative Muni lacked the extra buses to carry out at the time.

But that was then and this is now. Muni’s planning staff did consult with Market Street Railway during the decision, leading to a better result than they initially proposed. Besides the E-line shutdown, Muni Planning initially proposed modifications to F-line service during the T-line shutdown, leading to less frequent and convenient F-line service during this period. Muni staff was concerned about having enough operators to handle the substitute T-line buses, and wanted to take some operators from the F. But after hearing our concerns (which reflected impacts on Fisherman’s Wharf and Castro merchants as well as F-line riders), they agreed to leave F-line service unchanged during the T-line construction.

Muni believes the T-line substitute buses will provide enough capacity to handle intending E-line riders on King Street and the southern Embarcadero. The T-bus terminal is on Market Street at the Embarcadero Muni Metro station, next to F-line stops to and from the Wharf, so there will be a connection there.

The double-end PCC streetcars normally used on the E-line will appear on the F-line during the shutdown period. No word on whether Melbourne 496, the popular 1928 tram that has been an E-line regular for the past year, will join them on the F once in awhile during the shutdown.

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Double Dose of Down Under This Weekend

UPDATE, Saturday July 21, 11:00 a.m. — Muni tests cars for a good reason before they enter service. The 916 developed a hot wheel bearing this morning and has safely returned to Cameron Beach Yard, where it will be fixed by the maintenance team. The operating crew said the car ran like a dream from a propulsion and braking standpoint, and they’re excited about taking it out again soon, though it will almost certainly not be out Sunday, July 22.… — Read More

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Welcome Home, 162!

One of Muni’s original streetcars, Car 162, built in 1914 by the Jewett Car Company of Ohio, returned to San Francisco today following extensive accident repairs by the firm of Carlos Guzman, Inc. in Signal Hill, near Long Beach. The streetcar was badly damaged on January 4, 2014, when it collided with a semi-truck that ran a red light in front of the streetcar on The Embarcadero at Bay Street. Muni elected to send the car to a contractor for… — Read More

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Opening Day, with Car 1!

In a welcome surprise, Muni Operations assigned its flagship streetcar, vintage 1912 Car 1, to regular E-line service today, the first time that has happened since the E-line opened for seven-day service two years ago. It caught our usual coterie of fan-photographers off-guard, but we managed to catch a shot of it, above, pulling in to Muni Metro East at the end of the day. The special appearance was probably because of the Giants’ home opener at AT&T Park on… — Read More

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84% Support Historic Streetcars

In the increasingly frothy world of online media, we’ve noticed a definite increase in stories designed to create a controversy where there really isn’t one. With today’s frantic competition for eyeballs, competitors will often build on each other’s story without doing any actual, you know, reporting. (Not that this is just an online media thing; who of a certain age can forget the Chronicle’s “crusade” against bad coffee half a century ago, under the unforgettable headline, “A Great City’s People… — Read More

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More Muni Mismanagement of the E-line

PLEASE SEE JULY 11 UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST. Sunday, July 9, has been a gorgeous day in San Francisco, but not a good day (again) for the E-Embarcadero line, which again has been mismanaged, in this case by assigning a streetcar that should have been on the E-line to the F-line instead. In the photo above, you see one of the seven double-end PCCs, the 1007, working the F-line to Castro, not the E. The double-end PCCs… — Read More

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E-line Problem Discourages Riders

A technical problem with a switch near the southern E-line terminal has forced certain streetcars to skip the final stop at Caltrain, discouraging some riders from using the service. As it was explained to us by Muni management, two of the seven double-end PCC streetcars assigned to the E-line have problems reversing at the Sixth and King Streets terminal because of a fault in a switch. The other five PCCs are able to bypass the problem by cutting power and… — Read More

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E-line NextBus Map Working!

NextBus, Muni’s vendor for live displays showing where every vehicle is on every route, has launched the full-time E-Embarcadero map. You can now see what’s on both the E- and F-lines by clicking here, then selecting the map you want: F-line only, E-line only, or a combination (as shown in the screenshot above). We thank NextBus (which labels its maps here “NextMuni”) for including the icons (which we supplied them) of the actual streetcars that are on the line, a… — Read More

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E-line Gets Going

The E-line had a successful first day of operation August 1. Five double-end PCC streetcars cruised the waterfront from Fisherman’s Wharf to Caltrain from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., the standard weekend schedule that will be in place until full-time, seven-day-a-week service starts early next year. The stations south of Market Street were very well marked with clearly worded signs and banners in multiple languages, created by SFMTA’s Communications Division. The signs, on both the low-level E-line side platforms and… — Read More

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E-line Kickoff; Boat Tram Debuts

San Francisco’s newest transit line started operation this morning, August 1, 2015, after an enthusiastic kickoff event on The Embarcadero yesterday. This photo, by Scott Badovick, captures the instant when dignitaries led by Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisors Julie Christensen, Scott Wiener, and Jane Kim, SFTMA Board Chair Tom Nolan and Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, and SFCTA Executive Director Tilly Chang, simultaneously snipped a red ribbon to mark the occasion. In the background, PCC No. 1006,… — Read More

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New Boat at E-line Ceremony July 31

Muni’s new “boat tram,” Blackpool, England open-top Car No. 233, will officially debut on July 31 at the opening press event for the new E-Embarcadero line. The new boat tram, Muni’s second example of this popular 1934 design, was acquired for Muni by Market Street Railway in 2013, thanks to a very generous donation by the Thoresen Foundation, and ocean shipping subsidized by FedEx Trade Networks.  The boat, pictured above when on display during 2013’s Muni Heritage Weekend, has been… — Read More

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Great E-line Startup Piece in The Examiner

  The Examiner’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez gave us a ring in the morning, asking for the history behind the E-line. Among other things, he was curious why the line is named E when it’s starting service 20 years after the F.  We explained that the E-Embarcadero was originally given that letter in 1979, when Muni Planning first included it in its Long Range Transit Plan (very long range, as it turned out). It was envisioned to run from Fort Mason to… — Read More

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