Streetcars needed for America’s Cup now 16 months late

According to an Examiner story, Muni is planning to run extra streetcar service for America’s Cup events scheduled August 26 and 27, and during Fleet Week in October as well. The story says Muni will activate the long planned E-Embarcadero line for special service on those days only.
The article focuses on how Muni will find and train the extra operators needed for this service. Under Muni’s labor agreement, operators already in the system qualify for new assignments by seniority, and, if they are not already trained in operating specific types of streetcars, must be given that training before they can carry passengers. Eric Williams, president of the Muni operators’ union, is quoted in the article as saying, “Between the lack of bodies and the infrequent training program, I can’t see them being able to get the extra service running, which is a shame, since we all think extra streetcar service would be a great idea.”

162 training crews 071312.jpeg

Muni does continue to train streetcar crews, albeit for ongoing operations rather than specifically for America’s Cup. Here’s a recent shot of crews and trainers at the end of the L-Taraval line with 1914 Muni streetcar No. 162. Jeremy Whiteman photo, click to enlarge.

But the article misses what may be an even higher hurdle: finding enough streetcars for the service. Four of the streetcars that were supposed to be the backbone of E-line America’s Cup service are sitting in a factory in Pennsylvania. All should have been here many months ago.
Details on that below. First some background.
Market Street Railway is a leading advocate of permanent E-line service, for which all the track and boarding platforms have been in place almost a decade now. (The initial operating segment of the E-line will share F-line tracks and stops from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Ferry Building, use three blocks of its own track, already installed, then join the T and N lines south of Folsom on The Embarcadero and King to reach the Caltrain depot.)
To make it possible to start up the E-line, we specifically championed restoring Muni’s last four original double-end streamlined PCC streetcars, because there is currently no way to turn single-end streetcars (those, like a bus, that can only be operated from one end) at the Caltrain terminal or anywhere near it. Of Muni’s 34 streetcars actually operable at this writing, only five are double-ended. (Three of these, Nos. 1007, 1010, and 1015, are PCCs from the same original 1948 fleet as the four now being restored.) The Examiner story states that Muni will be running five cars on the E-line. That leaves zero margin for breakdowns, completely contrary to common transit industry practice.
Indeed, a Muni planner recently told a community group that they would likely have to mix streetcars with buses on the E-line. However, it is questionable whether buses can operate on the E-line (and N and T-line) trackway between Caltrain and Folsom Street. Unlike the relatively smooth F-line Embarcadero trackway farther north, where supplemental buses can and do operate, the trackway south of Folsom was not designed to accommodate buses, featuring large stones protruding from the pavement throughout the route, which, if navigable by buses at all, would produce both a rough ride for passengers and lots of wear and tear on the buses’ suspension.
Availability of double-end streetcars for this initial America’s Cup service was not supposed to have been a problem, because the first of the four double-end PCCs restored under the contract with Brookville Equipment Company of Pennsylvania was supposed to have been delivered to Muni a full sixteen months ago. All four were supposed to have been completed and delivered eight months ago.
None of the four has left Brookville at this writing. Muni engineers and project people have not explained why, at least not to us.
There have been recurring rumors that the first of the four, either No. 1006 or the identical No. 1008, may leave Brookville in the coming week, but we have been hearing similar rumors for months. Whenever the first double-end car arrives, according to the contract Muni will test it (without passengers) for 60 days or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Given the (excuse the expression) track record of the 12 single-end PCCs already delivered to Muni under this Brookville contract, with repeated reliability and functionality problems in most of the renovated cars detected by Muni maintenance during testing, it seems highly unlikely that this first returned double-ended PCC could be ready to carry passengers during the August America’s Cup event, unless Muni rushes it through the testing cycle, potentially sacrificing the opportunity to solve shortcomings in the car by accepting it too quickly.
Even if it did manage to accept one additional double-end PCC, that would provide just a single spare streetcar for E-line service. The contract gives Brookville 90 days to deliver the second double-end PCC after Muni accepts the first one and notes “The contractor proceeds at its own risk prior to SFMTA’s written approval of the pilot double-end] PCC streetcar.” In other words, it’s not in Brookville’s financial interest to rush any more of the double-end PCCs to San Francisco until the first one is fully accepted. That would seem to extend well beyond the planned Fleet Week service as well. (The other two double-ended PCCs currently at Brookville, besides 1006 and 1008, are [1009 and 1011.)
There’s no question this renovation is a big job. Double-end PCC bodies are precious, since so few were ever built. This contract calls for a a complete remanufacturing of the cars, which were in poor to awful condition when they left San Francisco. Nonetheless, the vendor agreed to this schedule, and Muni has planned on having these cars in plenty of time for the first America’s Cup activities.


Muni has run demonstration E-line service a couple of times before in conjunction with Sunday Streets activities, such as this run with double-end PCC No. 1007 in September 2008. However, no more than two cars were used on any given day, mostly to check stations and switches (which all worked fine).

We at Market Street Railway try to support Muni in its historic streetcar and cable car operations however we can, but we are not part of Muni, receive no government money, and, on behalf of our 1200 members, play an advocacy role for better service. In this case, we respectfully express our disappointment with the handling of this contract, both in terms of the major delays in delivery of the streetcars, and the flaws in the cars when they arrive. It should be noted that both the award and much of the execution of this contract predates the tenure of current top SFMTA management, which has so far acted positively in response to concerns we have raised with them.
That said, it’s our position that Muni should NOT attempt to run the two-day E-line service in August unless they are confident they can provide a full set of reliable streetcars and trained crews for it. Further, these crews and cars should not come at the expense of adequate F-line service. Two generations of SFMTA management have told us a major reason they have held off on E-line service is because they want to be sure they don’t hurt the F-line to start up the E. We agree.
To be clear, we strongly advocate PERMANENT E-line service at the earliest possible date. We believe, though, that Muni needs several more double-end streetcars than the ones currently operational or being renovated, and we continue to work with them to get those additional cars restored.
Demand for attractive transit along the waterfront (and along proposed extensions we support to Fort Mason and Mission Bay) will continue to grow. Trying to jam in two days of service without adequate crew training or streetcars seems counterproductive to us.


Comments: 29

  1. Car 1 is down indefinitely with a bad motor bearing; still Brookville’s responsibility to fix, as we understand it. We’ve heard it’s not likely to be ready for the August event. No. 130 is not currently operational; even it if it could be made so by the late August dates, switches would have to be thrown manually for it, as it lacks VETAG controls (or GPS, which means it would be invisible on NextMuni, not a good thing for a service that will have long headways). We’re counting 162 as one of the five double end cars that would be available in late August (including 1007, 1010, and 1015, along with Melbourne 496. It’s important to remember that the streetcar maintenance team is way understaffed, and has had to deal with the balky Brookville PCCs coming back from the contract, along with the rest of the fleet. So it’s not like there’s extra staff standing around able to get more double-enders ready.

  2. Muni used a different company to renovate the PCC cars from Philadelphia, Morrison-Knudsen, I believe. Why did Muni use Brookville instead of the previous company? And is there a company that is more reliable that Brookville that Muni can use in the future?

  3. Morrison-Knudsen is no longer in this line of work and so did not propose on this rehabilitation contract. Brookville won the contract over another bidder who offered a far higher price. The bid was awarded appropriately to Brookville in our view. It is up to Muni to ensure that the final products meet their specifications. As for the future renovations, it’s a question of how many companies bid on the work when it comes up.

  4. I am a native San Franciscan, and what i’ve seen throughout the years with Muni is a lack of funds, maintenance and a huge lack of pride from Muni management regarding it’s transportation service to the city of San Francisco. It was sad to see the original pcc streetcars end up in such poor condition. I am thankful to see the F line doing well however it’s a travesty to see motor buses on the route as i’m sure tourists want to ride a vintage streetcar as part of their visit to this great city.

  5. Is it not possible for 737 to be prepared for service, or is it still likely to be out of service for some time yet?

  6. 737, the tram painted to represent Zurich, is single-ended, and so wouldn’t help on the E-line. We’re told that the maintenance team is focusing all its efforts on trying to get another double-ender ready for service. We’re told they’re working on installing VETAG in No. 130 so it could possibly be used for the America’s Cup August weekend. We are glad they’ve made some additional resource available to pursue this, and we wish them success in getting enough double-end cars ready for America’s Cup.

  7. It’s a shame that the streetcars restored under this contract have run into so many problems. The Newarks and 1040 are wonderful to ride on regardless of the problems that bedeviled them. (Front doors could use some work though.)
    On the bright side 1009 looks in way better shape than it did when it left back in 2010. Speaking of which, what’s up with 1073? It hasn’t hit the streets yet and 1075 and 1077 are already back in service even though the latter two arrived back in SF months after 1073.

  8. Thanks for the informative article! I’m an Inspector for MUNI and I often manage the F-line, but the information I get about stuff like this is sketchy at best. Thanks for all your hard work!

  9. The Breda LRVs cannot run on Market Street because their pantographs are incompatible with the wiring there. They do, of course, run on the southern half of the E-line route (from Caltrain to Folsom) and the overhead on The Embarcadero section of the F-line is compatible with pantographs. However, we have been told that the LRVs draw more power than the northern Embarcadero trackage is designed to provide (it was designed for conventional streetcars). One or two LRVs might be able to mix in without problems, but not a bunch. And of course, Muni may not have any spare LRVs during this period anyway. They’re stretched to the limit on their regular routes.

  10. 1073 ran into some problems during testing and got passed up in the “queue” by those other cars you mentioned. In our opinion, Brookville has not provided the most responsive service during the testing period. As we understand it, 1073 is getting back into shape to resume testing. No date on when it might be in service though.

  11. Its controllers are being rebuilt; could possibly be done by late August, more likely for Fleet Week. Even though the boat can be operated from either end, though, it only has an operable door on one side to accommodate wheelchairs, making it effectively a single-end car, thus not operable on the E-line.

  12. 1009 was the last to leave and appears to be ahead of the rest. She looks good. Too bad they didn’t show the other cars. Maybe all 4 will come back together in a convoy.

  13. Where is the nearest loop or wye to 4th and King? If there isn’t one nearby, couldn’t Muni construct a wye at, say, 4th and Channel Streets, or a loop around Channel/3rd/Mission Rock/4th?

  14. The nearest complete loop is at Metro East, 1.5 miles south. There are several feasible places to build loops (which Muni strongly prefers to wyes); we have been urging them to do so for ten years. The current leadership is far more responsive than past leaderships, but obviously that’s not going to solve this fall’s problems.

  15. The stops on the T-line south of King Street can’t CURRENTLY accommodate vintage streetcars. They could be easily modified to do so in the long run, but not in the next couple of months. We have been advocating extending the E-line to a partially-completed loop at Third and 18th Streets, but again, that’s not going to be ready in time because Muni has not acted on our suggestion. Sending single-end streetcars on a three-mile round trip just to turn them around would not only waste a lot of operating money, it would, more importantly, strip single-end streetcars from the F-line, where they’re fully utilized now, for a much lower level of use, running empty to turn around. Makes no sense.

  16. The environmental, planning, and funding process make it impossible to construct ANY new track before the America’s Cup main races next year. There are several feasible locations for a loop, including those mentioned by you and another poster, but (whether you — or we — like it or not) the process is prolonged…AND expensive.

  17. Apologies if this question is a no-brainer.
    I know here in SF we are proud of our historic fleet, but since these new cars are coming from elsewhere, wouldn’t it just be easier to either purchase or rent modern streetcars from another city? Seattle and Portland come to mind. I know LA had some of Seattle’s Sounder commuter trains for a while. Also, Vancouver had temporary streetcar service for the Olympics, much like we’ll have for America’s Cup. They stopped running that line (Who knows why) after the Olympics. The streetcars are modern, but they might be hanging around with no place to go. Who knows? It could be a good and easy solution.

  18. A lot of people seem to believe that the Portland (or Seattle) modern streetcars could just be dropped onto Muni’s track and work. Not so. Those streetcars, like the San Diego (and most other) LRVs in the US, generally require a minimum turning radius of 60-70 feet. The F-line has turning radii as sharp as 42 feet. So you can’t just rent someone else’s streetcar and expect it to work. The investment required would hardly make sense for an event of the duration and scale of America’s Cup anyway, if the acquisition was to be temporary. Beyond that, the only modern streetcars we know about that are currently “hanging around with no place to go” are a couple in Washington DC for their Anacostia line, still some ways from operation. But they wouldn’t fit here.

  19. I understand why modern cars will not work here, but I am puzzled why Muni does not seem to want to buy the five Melborne cars available now,,,,We have experience with these and if we ever decided to sell them at a future date they would probably be an easy sell,,, By your own admission they are in good shape and I feel an advantage for us in the short term at least,,,,,And Seattle seems eager to sell them,,,,,,,,

  20. Fleet Week is an annual San Francisco event in early October (4-8 this year), honoring the US Navy. Visitors can tour Navy ships tied up at the Embarcadero, see a fantastic air show over the bay and city featuring the Blue Angels, and attend a variety of events. It brings tens of thousands of additional visitors to the waterfront.

  21. You can’t just take these cars from another city and plunk them on our tracks overnight. Someone has to modify them. That takes time and costs money. It’s not a solution that could be implemented this fall, or likely even for America’s Cup main events next year. Muni’s maintenance staff is stretched to the breaking point. In the case of the Seattle trams, doors were sealed on one side of the car. We couldn’t use them on the E-line without restoring that. Also, they may have wider wheels than would work here. They need low voltage circuits and switch controls. When we operated the Trolley Festivals in the 1980s, it was simpler, true. There was no Americans with Disabilities Act. Track switches on Market Street were controlled by simply turning the controller off at a certain part on the street, instead of needing a special piece of electronics. And so on. The E and F lines are part of a modern rail system and have to be adapted for it, while preserving as much historic flavor and integrity as possible in the cars. We think Muni has done an exceptional job of achieving a balance between the two and we have repeatedly applauded their efforts in this area. For our part, we continue to advocate for finishing restoration of some wonderful streetcars we already own and adding them to the fleet, such as 189, 351, 798, 913 (readers can look them up on our fleet page). Muni already owns three Melbourne trams; one in service (496), one actively being modified (916), which could be on the street by year-end if resources allow, and one unrestored (586), that has been used for parts. The Melbourne cars are iconic in their home town, and we think having a couple in service here is fine as part of the “international fleet.” More, from a visual/esthetic viewpoint, is questionable to us. Most non-Melburnians do not find them attractive, frankly (unlike the F-line’s Milan trams, which are a venerable American design with an Italian flair.) Very importantly, open-platform Melbourne trams would seem to always require crews of two. This makes the line more expensive to operate at a time when dollars are increasingly scarce. Hope this answers your question.

  22. I was wondering why the loop at 18th & 3rd streets was not completed. It appears as though the tracks on 19th & 19th dead end at Illinois not completing the loop. It seems a bit shortsighted, especially if it was a cost cutting measure.

  23. The short version is this. There is an old freight railroad track on Illinois Street where the streetcar track needed to be. It is owned by the Port of San Francisco, a city agency. The Port claimed they might restore freight railroad service someday (it has been dead for decades and the track itself had been severed from the mainline) and demanded $1 million from Muni for the right to the space (the old track itself is unusable for streetcars). Muni refused and a bureaucratic stalemate set in. After many years, a settlement was finally reached where as part of the completion project, Muni will pay MORE than an extra million for sidewalk and street improvements beyond the actual block of the project…improvements that are the Port’s responsibility.
    Your taxpayer dollars at work. Or not.

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