San Francisco and the Japanese City of Osaka have a long history of connection. As two great port cities, trade between them goes back more than a century. These long-time ties led to Osaka becoming San Francisco’s first sister city, in 1957. To celebrate that relationship, Muni sent a cable car to Osaka as a gift.
Because of this history, it was only natural to look to Osaka when Muni and its non-profit preservation partner, Market Street Railway Company, were searching for additional vintage streetcars for the F-Market & Wharves line. The summertime Historic Trolley Festivals of 1983-87 had proven the concept that vintage streetcars could provide modern levels of efficient service attractively, and the city committed to making that Market Street streetcar service permanent and extending it to Fisherman’s Wharf.
In 1988, a private streetcar company in Osaka, now called the Hankai Tramway Company, was about to retire the last of a group of streetcars built by Kawasaki in 1927. After a protracted effort, San Francisco acquired Car 151 from this Osaka group. This car is very similar to a Japanese streetcar from Hiroshima that had run in the trolley festivals, but it has several advantages over its Hiroshima cousin.
Osaka 151 has three sets of doors on each side, including the front, whereas Hiroshima 578J only has two, center and rear (in US operation). That makes the 151 operable by a single crew member, while the Hiroshima car requires too. Also, the Osaka car has four powerful motors, a big advantage in hilly San Francisco. The Hiroshima car has only two motors and sometimes struggles on hills.
Osaka 151 had been renovated several times by the time it came to San Francisco in 1988. For example, it originally had two trolley poles on each end, operating under double overhead wire like a trolley bus. This was later changed to single trolley poles, and then to a pantograph. It would be restored with single trolley poles for San Francisco operation. Unfortunately, most documentation of the car’s early history was lost in the bombing of Osaka during World War II. But it was a good operating car throughout its life in Osaka, and this type of car is remembered there so fondly that the Hankai company still uses a cartoon of it as a marketing tool.
Then-Mayor (now US Senator) Dianne Feinstein helped facilitate the acquisition of Osaka 151with the support of the San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association, which today continues to support the restoration of the streetcar, helping liaise with supporters in Osaka.
When the 151 arrived in San Francisco, there was no urgency about putting it into service because a seven-year construction period had begun, culminating in the 1995 opening of the F-line. On arrival, the 151carried all-over Japanese advertising painted on the car. Market Street Railway volunteers performed some rust removal and painted the car in gray primer for protection. (When restored, it will wear its traditional green and yellow livery Osaka livery again.) Then Muni turned its focus to restoring and operating a fleet of streamlined “PCC” streetcars, and work on the 151 was suspended. It now awaits final restoration before it can be put into service in San Francisco.
Originally Built For
Hankai Electric Rail Service Company, Osaka, Japan
Acquired by Muni From
Hankai Electric Rail Service Company, 1988
Low floor bogies
Dynamic, air, hand