Boat Tram Marks Market Street’s New Era

Mayor London Breed (red suit) disembarking from the Boat Tram at Fourth Street after leading the celebration of a car-free Market Street.

Can a tram be entrancing? Sure seemed that way yesterday at the ceremony at the foot of Market Street celebrating the elimination of private automobiles on San Francisco’s main thoroughfare.

After an opening serenade by eight-time cable car bell ringing champ Byron Cobb and a round of speeches that included Mayor London Breed, SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin, and several mobility advocates (from Walk SF, the Bicycle Coalition and MSR’s Rick Laubscher), the celebrants boarded the vehicle SFMTA chose to symbolize the new era of Market Street. Not 1912 Car 1, Muni’s flagship streetcar. Not a PCC, the stalwart streetcar of the F-line. But the streetcar that makes everyone smile, Car 228, one of Muni’s two 1934 open-top “Boat Trams” from Blackpool, England.

(L-R) SFMTA Board Chair Malcolm Heinicke, SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeff Tumlin, Mayor London Breed, and Boat “Captain” Angel Carvajal pose onboard during a stop.

Might seem like a detail, but it’s important. New SFMTA boss Tumlin said again at the event how much he loves the Boat Trams. He has already said publicly that he hopes to see them operate even more this coming summer than the two-day-a-week operation of last summer.

Then there’s the Mayor. She was guest of honor at our San Francisco Railway Museum ahead of last year’s Muni Heritage Weekend (August 22-23 this year, by the way). We were celebrating the return to the Sacramento-Clay cable car “Big 19”, which she rode — and continued to ride, beyond the pre-arranged place she was to get off. “Just one more block,” she said then.

“Ride with us up to the 30 stop”. Mayor Breed and new friends before boarding the Boat.

This year, same thing. Just before the Boat Tram left the “dock” on Steuart Street, she encountered a group of senior citizens looking on in curiosity. She asked where they were headed; they said ‘Chinatown’, and she responded, “Hop on. We’ll let you off where the 30 bus crosses.” (Love a mayor who knows the routes.) The mayor herself was supposed to get off at Second Street, and the police motorcycles had stopped for that. But the mayor motioned them onward, riding two more blocks to Fourth Street.

Maybe that’s because she was being given impromptu instruction on operating the Boat by ace Muni motorman Angel Carvajal. At the parade beginning, she was invited to step on the air whistle to start the show, and she proceeded to stand next to Angel headed up Market. He told her that Mayors Feinstein and Lee had operated vintage streetcars in the past and asked if she would like to try. She did, with gusto, letting Angel handle the controller while she operated the brake valve, quite smoothly.

Smiles for Miles: Rookie Operator and Instructor Angel Carvajal.

Bottom line: like a lot of “immigrants” over the past century and a half, the Boat Trams have found a lasting home here and are indisputably San Franciscan now. We at Market Street Railway are very proud that we brought both of them to San Francisco as gifts to Muni, and even prouder that they’ve become so beloved, not only by riders, but by SFMTA and city officials as well.

Gradually, we’re seeing more international streetcars making regular appearances on the E- and F-lines. Melbourne 496 (1929) was out in regular E-line service yesterday, while Brussels/Zurich “EuroPCC” 737 (1951) was on the F-line all day. And the boat itself starting picking up regular passengers after the mayor disembarked (at the direction of SFMTA transit chief Julie Kirschbaum), and then operated the rest of the day in regular service.

We do expect regular operation of the Boats this coming summer. We’ll keep you updated on the details. We’ll also be updating you on how car-free Market Street is working out, particularly for the F-line. Here’s a thoughtful piece on the possible challenges from the Chronicle’s urban design critic, John King.

Thanks to Phillip Pierce, Erica Kato, and all the others at SFMTA who make this celebration run as smoothly as, well, the Boat did.

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Boat Tram to Help Celebrate Car-free Market, Jan. 29

At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, January 29, Market Street will wave good bye to private automobiles from 10th Street to the Ferry. The boat tram will help.

Boat Tram 228 on Market Street with riders in costume celebrating famous San Franciscans in history, for the Centennial of San Francisco Streetcars parade in 1992. MSR Archive.

To symbolize the continuation of rail transit on Market (which began in 1860!), Muni has chosen one of its wildly popular 1934 open-top streetcars from Blackpool, England (both of which came to San Francisco thanks to Market Street Railway). The boat will join a parade up Market from Embarcadero Plaza at Market and Steuart Streets following speeches and general hoopla that starts at 11 a.m. We’re told that after the ceremonial ride, the boat will provide public shuttle service all afternoon on The Embarcadero between our museum and Pier 39. Rides will be free, so come on down. (In the event of rain, we’re told 1929 Melbourne Tram 496 will substitute for the Boat. Either way, it’s a nice nod by Muni to its international streetcar fleet.)

Private autos have driven freely on Market since, well, private autos existed. Even in the days of four streetcar tracks, automobiles were free to drive along the street, with the exception of the period of BART construction during the late 1960s and early 1970s, when they were restricted.

To see how crazy it was in early automobile days, click below. (You can buy this video at our museum or online store):

As bicycle and pedestrian traffic grew on Market in the past decade, the City implemented some rules to turn eastbound private autos off Market east of Van Ness. The changes that go into effect on Wednesday are permanent, and represent the initial implementation of the Better Market Street Project which will in the coming decade remake the city’s main drag with protected bicycle lanes, the ban of all vehicles except Muni streetcars and buses from the track lane along Market east of Gough, and other changes that should result in faster, more reliable F-line service, along with better safety for all users of Market Street, We’ll be talking more about this in the next issue of our member magazine, Inside Track.

Come on down Wednesday morning (Jan. 29) at 11 a.m. and bid farewell to private automobiles on Market!

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Boat Tram Sails Again

Blackpool (England) Boat Tram 228 is scheduled to resume its special service on the waterfront Tuesday, August 13 at 11 a.m., following a time in “dry dock” for motor repairs. You can ride the boat Tuesdays and Wednesdays the rest of August and into September between our San Francisco Railway Museum (across from the Ferry Building) and Fisherman’s Wharf between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.

While the Muni shops were fixing the motor problem, the shops also replaced the clouded old plexiglass windshields with fresh new ones. Longer-term, they’ll install split glass windshields like the other boat tram has.

Hope you enjoyed the vintage streetcars that pinch-hit for the boat the past few weeks: the Melbourne tram and the EuroPCC. You’ll see them both, and many others, during Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Boat Tram Still Sidelined

Update: 1928 Melbourne Tram 496 will continue to substitute for 1934 Blackpool (England) Boat Tram 228 on The Embarcadero Tuesday and Wednesday, July 16-17, while Muni maintenance crews analyze the problem with one of the motors or bearings. We will provide updates on the progress of fixing the boat tram as available.

Muni Maintenance management tells us they will work to get the other Boat Tram, 233, operational for Muni Heritage Weekend, September 7-8, should the problem with 228 be worse than expected.

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Boat Tram About to Land

You may have already caught a glimpse of it along the J-line, or Market Street, or The Embarcadero, this week. Here are a couple of shots from Jeremy Whiteman’s Behind the Lens Facebook Group. Blackpool, England Boat Tram 228 is celebrating its 85th birthday this year by taking San Franciscans and visitors for a cruise along our waterfront boulevard, The Embarcadero, from the Ferry Building to Pier 39 (gateway to Fisherman’s Wharf) starting the day after Memorial Day. The past… — Read More

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Friday Fun and Fantasy

  It’s amazing how Muni’s historic streetcar operation has garnered fans and created fantasies all over the world. The wonderful “fictional image” by artist Garry Luck above is an example. It came to our attention today as part of a post and comments in a Facebook group called Blackpool’s Transport Past. It’s a modification of an artist’s conception of a decapitated version of Blackpool, England “Coronation” Tram 663. (The name refers to their construction date, 1953, the year of the… — Read More

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Boat from “Beach to Beach” May 6

UPDATE, April 6 — This event SOLD OUT in record time. We’ll announce future excursions through a blog post here or in our monthly email newsletter. To subscribe to either or both, click here. We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary year of the Twin Peaks Tunnel with a special excursion along the streetcar lines it created. Though we’d love to go through the venerable tunnel itself, the overhead wires were converted years ago to allow only modern light rail vehicles. But… — Read More

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Boat Cruising This Weekend!

In a welcomed decision, Muni has launched one of the 1934 Blackpool “boat trams” to help carry crowds along The Embarcadero enjoying Fleet Week 2017! Open-topped boat Tram 228 will be shuttling between The Ferry Building and our San Francisco Railway Museum and Pier 39 Saturday and Sunday, October 7 and 8 from 11 am to 6 pm. Come out and enjoy a ride. Thanks to Muni for operating it on one of the most warm and beautiful weekends of… — Read More

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New Boat at E-line Ceremony July 31

Muni’s new “boat tram,” Blackpool, England open-top Car No. 233, will officially debut on July 31 at the opening press event for the new E-Embarcadero line. The new boat tram, Muni’s second example of this popular 1934 design, was acquired for Muni by Market Street Railway in 2013, thanks to a very generous donation by the Thoresen Foundation, and ocean shipping subsidized by FedEx Trade Networks.  The boat, pictured above when on display during 2013’s Muni Heritage Weekend, has been… — Read More

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Toot Toot!

Muni’s “newest” streetcar, 1934 Blackpool boat tram No. 233, ran under its own power today at Cameron Beach Yard, less than a week after it arrived in San Francisco from England. Enormous credit goes to Muni’s vintage streetcar shop crew, who swarmed the boat upon arrival. They repaired bumper and panel damage incurred at the museum that had custody of it (that’s the repaired end in the photo), painted all the seats, cut down the tower atop the center cab… — Read More

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New Boat Could Be on Display This Weekend

Muni’s Otto Granados working on the body of Blackpool boat tram No. 233, October 29, 2013. George Bernal photo from our Facebook group. The second Blackpool Boat Tram that Market Street Railway just acquired for Muni may be ready to show off as part of Muni Heritage Weekend this Saturday and Sunday. The Muni shops have already shortened the trolley pole tower that sits above the tram’s center cab (used in Blackpool because their double-deckers require higher trolley wire, but… — Read More

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New Arrival

Blackpool, England "boat tram" No. 233 arriving at Cameron Beach Yard October 25, 2013, following its trip from England. It becomes Muni’s second boat tram. As our members learned first in their exclusive newsletter, Inside Track, Market Street Railway has acquired for Muni a second boat tram. We’ll have much more to say about this here in a few days, but for now, we just want to thank Michael Thoresen, the most generous donor who made the acquisition possible through… — Read More

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Call Me Ishmael

Actually, Pequod is more appropriate, because we’re talking about the ship, rather than the crew here. It’s the wildly popular Blackpool boat tram, that 1934 Deco delight, posing at the Pier 39 turnback track in front of a breaching whale off to starboard. No, it wasn’t white nor named Moby. Actually, we’d never endanger our 44 guests, out for a cruise this last Sunday on one of our Market Street Railway-City Guides tours. We especially wanted a smooth ride for… — Read More

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Ahoy! Sail the F-line in Style on October 23

UPDATE: WE’RE SOLD OUT FOR THE TOUR! THANKS. Our trolley tour is back on track, with a nautical theme this time! Market Street Railway and San Francisco City Guides are again collaborating on a memorable vintage streetcar ride along Muni’s historic F-line on Sunday, October 23 from 1-3pm. This extra special history tour in the fabulous open-top “Boat Tram*” (Blackpool, England, Car No. 228) offers a fresh-air view of the sights and sounds along the F-line on Market Street and… — Read More

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