Muni to consider PCC streetcars for future J-line service

Muni to consider PCC streetcars for future J-line service

At its December 7 meeting, the SFMTA Board of Directors unanimously passed a resolution directing Muni management to evaluate using PCC streetcars to provide single-ride service long-term on the J-Church line. The action was part of a broader measure that instructs management to return J-line light rail vehicles to the Muni Metro Subway as soon as possible.

The action does not mean that the J-line will get vintage streetcar service anytime soon (other than the historic cars that use the J-line along Church Street to reach and return from their daily F-line service; they are mandated to pick up passengers along the way). But it does open the door to something Market Street Railway has been advocating for years: the serious consideration of surface J-line service on Market Street as a way to unclog the Muni Metro Subway.

Before the pandemic, the Muni Metro Subway under Market Street often faced delays, frustrating passengers. Management said this was because there were too many different lines — the J, K, L, M, N, T, plus shuttles — trying to use the same tracks and stations. When Muni resumed rail service after a year-long pandemic shutdown, management implemented a plan they had been considering before the shutdown: make the J a surface line that ended at Duboce Avenue and Church, forcing riders heading downtown to transfer to the Metro Subway or the N or F lines at surface stops.

Management told its board at the December 7 meeting that the Metro subway was operating far faster without the J (and the L-Taraval, which will use buses for another two years during complete rebuilding of Taraval Street). Management’s preferred alternative continued the surface J-line LRV shuttles between Balboa Park and Duboce Avenue during daytime, but as a compromise move to restoring full-time J subway surface, proposed to extend J trains through the subway to Embarcadero station during evenings. They also proposed adding a half-hourly bus on the J from 30th Street (the line’s original streetcar terminal from 1917 to 1982) to the Ferry Building, making the same stops as the F-line.

Market Street Railway had already proposed to management using PCC streetcars instead for this supplemental service on the surface of Market. We shared our views with SFMTA board members before the meeting, pointing out that buses can’t use the scenic J-line right-of-way between 18th and 22nd Streets and would have to make stops in different locations, disadvantaging mobility-impaired riders and confusing all riders. PCC streetcars would, of course, make the same stops as LRVs running shuttles on Church.

After taking testimony from dozens of citizens, most of whom advocated for returning the J to the subway immediately, the board voted to do just that early next year. But they added a big caveat: if, as ridership on the Metro lines returns to pre-pandemic levels, the subway starts getting delayed again, management must consider converting the J-line to be all-surface to the Ferry, running PCC streetcars, like the one pictured above, on the J, instead of LRVs (whose pantographs cannot use the overhead wires on Market). The J-line PCCs would share tracks with the F-line on Market to provide J-line riders a single-seat ride downtown. And the board wants management to figure out what’s necessary to do that right away, and report back early in 2022.

Muni to consider PCC streetcars for future J-line service
PCC streetcars are already at home on the J-line, rolling along Church Street every day on their way to and from their assignments on the F-line. Justin Franz photo

Management had already volunteered to study this possibility. Market Street Railway has offered to provide background on the way surface J-line service operated in the past. We also plan to closely monitor the study, to ensure that it is unbiased and doesn’t include unrealistic requirements. The fact is that the track and wire required are all in place for a startup, with efficiency improvements possible with some straightforward changes to switches and the like.

To be clear, as an organization focused on the historic vehicles, Market Street Railway does not take a position on whether the J should be in or out of the subway. But we do apply facts and data to help decision-makers in their deliberations.

In this case, we will be looking at how long it would take J-line riders to get from destinations along Church Street to destinations along Market Street. We know the running time of the F-line on Market Street has decreased since automobiles were banned; it’s a much faster trip than in the past. Also, staying on the surface with a single-seat J-line PCC ride avoids the delay of either transferring from an LRV to another Muni vehicle at Church and Market/Duboce (a currently required) or waiting for a slot to enter the subway at Duboce Portal (as is the case with J-line Metro service).

It may be that door-to-door, the surface single-seat J-line PCC service would be faster than other alternatives at least as far east as Union Square.

Again, PCC service on the J is still just an idea, though today’s SFMTA board action brings that idea closer to reality. With E-line service indefinitely suspended because of low demand and ample current LRV service on the southern Embarcadero, the J-line possibility provides an exciting alternative for highest and best use of the vintage streetcar fleet. There are enough vintage streetcars in the fleet now to serve both the F and the J to a 30th Street terminal, and there are 12 more unrestored but complete PCCs in storage that could expand the fleet in the longer term, if demand warrants.

The study may well show J-line PCC service is a realistic possibility for the future, gaining more value from Muni’s fleet of historic streetcars, and potentially speeding service for the remaining lines in the Muni Metro subway as well.

We at Market Street Railway not only work to preserve and support historic transit in San Francisco, we also research and write about how transit has shaped our city in the past – for better or worse – so that these lessons might be applied to make informed decisions for the future. We would appreciate it if you could join or donate to our nonprofit.

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Streetcars bring smiles to the streets

Smiles are breaking out along the city’s waterfront and along Market Street, as Muni’s vintage streetcars are out in force for the first time in more than a year. The F-line is running a full test schedule, including pull-outs and pull-ins along the J-Church line, in advance of the official reopening of the line for passenger service on May 15. Initial service will run seven days a week, but just eight hours a day (11 am-7 pm) initially, running the whole route from Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Streetcars bring smiles to the streets

EXTRA smiles popped out today with refresher training on two of Muni’s most popular vintage streetcars, including the oldest operating passenger streetcar in America, single-truck “Dinky” 578, which celebrates its 125th birthday at the end of the summer. The great shot above, on the Castro curve at 17th and Market, comes from Jeremy Whiteman.

Traci Cox, normally a master of the low-angle shot, checks in with an “above-it-all” shot of Boat Tram 228 cruising along Church behind a new Siemens LRV, with PCC 1071 in its yellow Minneapolis-St. Paul livery, headed toward its F-line test run.

Streetcars bring smiles to the streets

Here are some other great shots from today. It feels a lot different — and better — on the streets of San Francisco now. The colorful F-line cars make a huge difference.

Streetcars bring smiles to the streets
Cincinnati “Bumblebee” 1057 at the Castro terminal. Peter Straus photo
Streetcars bring smiles to the streets
Chicago “Green Hornet” 1058 on Upper Market. Peter Straus photo
Streetcars bring smiles to the streets
Boston PCC 1059 at Powell, with Cable Car 24 on display on Willie Mays’ 90th birthday. Val Lupiz photo
Streetcars bring smiles to the streets
Philadelphia “Cream Cheese” PCC 1060 at Westfield Centre. Val Lupiz photo

And to finish, c’mon, you know you want to see another boat photo. Here’s a great one to end with, another Traci Cox high angle shot on San Jose Avenue, as the boat tram headed back to Cameron Beach Yard today.

Streetcars bring smiles to the streets

And don’t forget you can vote for your favorite streetcar right now! Click here to learn more!

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F-line to return in May, Hyde cable later this year!

F-line to return in May, Hyde cable later this year!

Mayor London Breed told a group from Fisherman’s Wharf this morning that F-line vintage streetcar service will return to the full length of the route, from Castro to Fisherman’s Wharf, in May.

Cable car service on the Powell-Hyde line (only, for now) will resume as early as mid-summer, but many details remain to be worked out and that date could change. There is no word at this point when service on the Powell-Mason or California lines might resume.

It is our understanding that initial F-line streetcar service will be provided for eight hours a day by the streamlined PCC cars only, with operator protective shields to be installed around the operator’s position, as is done on the buses. For further operator safety, the same operator will keep the car all day, taking it out of the barn and bringing it back at the end of the shift, as is currently being done with buses and light rail vehicles.

This will limit F-line operation initially to eight hours a day, with exact hours to be determined in consultation with merchant groups along the line. (Pre-pandemic, the F-line operated 18 hours a day, with most F-line cars staying out the whole time, with one operator relieving another in the middle of the day.) The time between cars (service frequency) will be less than the approximately 6-8 minutes pre-pandemic and will depend to some extent on demand

It appears resumption of full-line F-line service will be brief, however. Work to replace the tracks between Fifth and Eighth Streets as part of the Better Market Street Project is slated to begin this fall and could last up to two years. Market Street Railway is working hard to convince the Department of Public Works, which is in charge of the project, to stage the work in a way which gets the tracks done in the shortest amount of time possible so that streetcar service can resume. During whatever period the tracks from Fifth to Eighth have to be out of service for replacement, we are working with SFMTA in hopes of operating double-end streetcars from the Wharf to the crossover at Fifth Street, with single-ended cars providing additional service along the waterfront between the Ferry Building and the Wharf area.

Market Street Railway has worked very hard for months now, side by side with Muni’s operator’s union (Local 250A) and numerous business and neighborhood groups to get the iconic cable cars and F-line streetcars back on the street. We thank Mayor Breed and SFMTA leadership for finding a way to return these symbols of our city to the street during these challenging budget times. They’ll send a sign to the Bay Area, California, and the world that San Francisco is back in business.

F-line to return in May, Hyde cable later this year!

We will have a complete report on this for our members in the new edition of Inside Track, our quarterly member magazine, due out next week. Click here to become a member and get it. We’ll send you the last two issues as a bonus.

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Final restored PCC back home

The last of 16 streamlined PCC streetcars completely rebuilt for Muni by Brookville Equipment Company was delivered to its owner today.

Final restored PCC back home
Car 1007 arriving at Muni Metro East. Matt Lee photo.

Car 1007 was built for Muni by St. Louis Car Company in 1948 and ran daily until it was retired in 1982. Our nonprofit successfully lobbied for it and the other surviving cars in the original class of ten cars to be preserved by Muni when it scrapped or sold many of its other 100+ PCCs. Our advocacy was spurred by the fact that these PCCs, known informally as “torpedoes”, have a higher passenger capacity than their slightly smaller siblings, and that they are double-ended, making them more flexible in operation, allowing for example the opening of the E-Embarcadero line, whose southern terminal at the Caltrain Depot can only be used by double-ended cars.

Car 1007 was one of three “torpedoes” (along with 1010 and 1015) restored as part of the original 1995 F-line fleet. It was originally painted in a livery meant to echo the then-new silver and red Breda LRVs. This livery, insisted upon by a Muni manager, was very unpopular and was soon painted over with a tribute livery to Philadelphia’s suburban “Red Arrow Lines”. That job represented a simplified version of the original “as-delivered” Red Arrow livery. For this renovation, Market Street Railway reached out to the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, which owns beautifully restored Red Arrow Car 14. MSR Member Jack Demnyan, active in the Pennsylvania museum, served as a great liaison. Muni’s project manager Joseph Flores and PCC maintenance supervisor Kevin Sheridan were meticulous in working with Brookville’s team to get the details as close as possible to the original Red Arrow cars.

Final restored PCC back home
Red Arrow Car 14, fully restored, at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, PA.
Final restored PCC back home
Note the car numbers on Car 1007, which faithfully use the unusual Red Arrow font.
Final restored PCC back home
Car 1007 in its first Red Arrow livery at Muni, in 2009. Kevin Mueller photo.
Final restored PCC back home
Car 1007 as it looked painted to reflect the new Muni livery seen on the Breda LRV in the background. Peter Ehrlich photo.

Car 1007 was on its way to San Francisco last month when it sustained slight cosmetic damage at a truck stop in Nebraska. It went back to Brookville for body work, and made it out this time without incident.

The delivery of Car 1007 completes the set of seven restored “torpedoes”. (The other four, Cars 1006, 1008, 1009, and 1011, were fully restored in 2010-11.) All seven torpedos have glass-enclosed cabs for the operators. These were installed to secure whichever of the two cabs in a car wasn’t in use, but with minor modifications can be effective protective barriers against the virus for operators. Market Street Railway is actively advocating with SFMTA leadership to put these cars in service soon, a subject we’ll discuss in a separate post.

Final restored PCC back home
Car 1007 after 1955, at 48th Avenue and Judah on the N-line, with rail grinder Car 0109. Greg King Collection.

Car 1007 will now have various electronic equipment installed, including fareboxes, radios, and security cameras by the Muni shops, which will then run the car for 1,000 miles without passengers to test all systems before formally accepting it from Brookville. The first of the three double-enders in this order, Car 1015, has finished its burn-in, while Car 1010 is just starting that process. Brookville still has one PCC, single-end Car 1056, painted to honor Kansas City, at its plant, undergoing warranty repairs.

Final restored PCC back home
Car 1007 at Pier 80 about 1994 being loaded for shipment to Morrison-Knudsen in Hornell, New York, for its first restoration. Peter Ehrlich photo.

We hope that by the time Muni finishes the burn-in of Car 1007, it will able to go right into service in resumed vintage streetcar operations.

One note to railfans who have followed the saga of two original Red Arrow cars acquired by Muni with the anticipation of adapting them to Muni’s system and restoring them: the need to move the trucks on those cars to allow them to clear certain Muni curves and to provide adequate room for operators with today’s requirements proved to be too expensive to undertake at this time. Accordingly, Car 1007 received the Red Arrow tribute livery to keep this famed operation visible in San Francisco. Should either or both of those cars be restored in the future, we would request them to be painted in the Red Arrow livery, with 1007 moving on to a different livery.

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10-Year Profile Picture Challenge

Posting old and current profile photos side by side has been the rage on Facebook of late, so we thought we’d post our own…just one of dozens of comparisons we could make that show just how wonderful Muni’s restoration of historic streetcars is. This car, 1009, admittedly needed more “plastic surgery” than most others. The photo from 10 years ago shows it ripped (not the good muscle kind, either) and slathered in blue protective paint after sitting out of service… — Read More

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“The bell is charming; the horn works”

  The headline above is a great quote from a great story in Curbed SF about a dad and his two kids riding every Muni line terminal to terminal this summer. This installment includes the F-line where they rode the newest PCC to return to service following rebuilding, Car 1050 (pictured above in yet another calendar-worthy photo from Traci Cox). The author, Mc Allen, describes rolling along The Embarcadero on the “retro delight” PCC, “exceptionally maintained as rolling museums”. Along… — Read More

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Brooklyn is Back!

The streetcars just keep on coming (and in one case, going back). PCC 1053, painted to honor Brooklyn NY, arrived back in San Francisco April 1 (no foolin’) after being thoroughly rebuilt at Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania, part of that company’s contract with Muni to renovate the 16 PCCs in Muni’s original F-line fleet. It was streetcars (or as they were often called in New York, trolleys) that famously inspired the nickname of Brooklyn’s professional baseball team, which was… — 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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“Newest” PCC Streetcar Collides with Truck

Around 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day, the newest PCC streetcar to reenter regular service following a complete rebuilding collided with a large box truck while returning to the carbarn after completing its day’s work on the F-line. The impact knocked the streetcar, No. 1063 (painted to honor Baltimore Transit), off the track and turned the truck on its side. No injuries had been reported by the time this post was made. The streetcar had no passengers aboard at the… — Read More

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Our Spies are Everywhere!

  Even Truckee, where John Griffin snapped these two shots of the latest PCC to be rehabilitated by Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania. The photos were forwarded to us by Market Street Railway member James Giraudo. Car 1055 should be at Muni Metro Center by the time you read this. It is the sixth of 16 PCC cars covered by the current rehabilitation contract with Brookville. The contract covers the original F-line streetcar fleet from 1995, including 13 single end streetcars… — Read More

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