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 coasting through the switch, but Cars 1009 (above, photo by Paul Lucas) and 1015 (below) do not coast freely enough to reliably clear the switch. It is a very odd problem, like nothing we’ve heard before. Muni management claims they are working to diagnose the problem with the switch and fix it.

In the meantime, Muni maintenance has pulled out all the stops to keep those two cars off the E-line as much as they can, but it’s not always possible. Yesterday (February 1), both 1009 and 1015 were on the line, with blank destination signs when heading southbound, and cards in the windshield stating their final destination was the ballpark stop at Second and King Streets. The cars then turn left at Fourth Street onto the T-line and reverse at the crossover on Channel Street, across the Fourth Street Bridge (below).

What this means is that riders waiting for a Wharf-bound E-line car at the Caltrain stop face a double headway when these cars are in service, since they can’t make the Caltrain stop. Given the problems Muni has had keeping regular headways on the E-line anyway, this can mean a wait of up to an hour between Wharf-bound E-line trains for riders. Muni has put up signs at the Caltrain E-line stop alerting riders to this problem and suggesting they walk (or take an N-Judah) two blocks east to the Second and King stop instead.

Market Street Railway has strongly recommended that Muni address this problem by assigning double-end vintage cars to the E-line to provide steady, reliable service to all stops. Melbourne 496, New Orleans 952 (shown below in 2008), and Muni cars No. 1 and 130, all on the active roster, have all used the Sixth and King terminal during earlier E-line demonstration service without incident.

Muni, however, has responded to our recommendation by saying that because of its continuing shortage of qualified streetcar operators — a problem that has gone on for well over a year now — it is unable to supply the second crew member (a conductor) required on those particular streetcars. (Substituting buses for streetcars on the E-line is not an option because the right-of-way south of the Ferry Building is paved in a way that is rougher than the F-line right-of-way north of the Ferry Building, making bus operation unfeasible.)

While we appreciate that Muni didn’t cancel these E-line runs altogether, this erratic service pattern on the E-line discourages the growth of ridership, especially among residents along the line looking for a reliable service. We will keep you up to date on this problem.