Happy 87th Birthday, N-Judah!

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The N-Judah streetcar line turns 87 on October 21. SFMTA’s great blog has already posted some great photos of its 1928 opening, including one (the top one on their blog page) we don’t remember seeing before, so we’re going to share a couple of more recent shots instead. These were taken during a dead-of-the-night test run in 2010, after the LRVs had gone to bed for the night.

The purpose was to check clearances along the surface portion of the N-line to see which historic streetcars would be able to clear. Of course, the N-line was served by its original type of “Iron Monster” streetcars (like Muni No. 130) and then, for a third of a century, by PCCs like the ones that run on the F-line now. But years ago, when Muni installed an accessibility platform downtown-bound right where the tracks turn from Judah onto Ninth Avenue, they didn’t leave enough room for at least a few of the historic cars to clear the curve without scraping the ramp. In response, the Muni leadership of the day simply banned all historic cars from the N-line.

This meant that special event service for neighborhood celebrations or excursions and charters could no longer go out the N to Ocean Beach, as they had regularly since the days of the Trolley Festivals in the 1980s. (Excursions regularly go out the J, K, L, M, and the inner portion of the T, and are very popular. A few Saturdays ago, Muni ran a special vintage service on Ocean Avenue for the merchants there.)

10th&JudahAnyway, Muni already knew that the longest PCCs, the double-ended “torpedoes”, couldn’t clear the ramp at 9th and Judah, and it knew that narrower cars, like the boat trams and the 1050 class of PCCs, did clear.  But what about the 12 full width single-end PCCs, the 1070 class, plus historic car No. 1040, the last PCC built in North America? At 9 feet even, those cars are eight inches wider than the 1050 class, which came second-hand from Philadelphia.

As it turned out, the 2010 test showed they do clear the ramp. Muni hasn’t yet lifted the blanket ban on historic streetcars on the N-line, but we hope they will, and are advocating to allow charters, excursions, and special service for the neighborhood out there.  Maybe after the Sunset Tunnel rerailing project is completed…in time for the N-line’s 88th birthday next year!

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