Labor of Love

On this Labor Day, we honor all vintage transit operators in San Francisco by sharing this story from our Member magazine, Inside Track, published in early 2020. Our nonprofit continues to advocate for more F-line service and restoration of the E-Embarcadero line, along with resumed service by vintage streetcars including the Melbourne and Brussels/Zurich trams pictured here.

Operating transit vehicles is a challenging job, in any environment. Right now, it’s more challenging than ever in San Francisco, given justified concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus along with all the other issues they encounter every day.  So, as part of our year-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of the permanent F-line, we’d like to give a shout out to three current E- and F-line operators, some of the many who show love for the vintage streetcars and offer their riders great service.

ALEENA GALLOWAY

Aleena joined Muni in 1995, the year the permanent F-line opened, so she’s celebrating her 25th anniversary this year too. She’s passionate about the historic streetcars in general and the E-line, her current route, in particular. Her favorite car to operate, by far: Melbourne 496. Whenever she can get a conductor, she brings the Australian car from Cameron Beach Yard to the waterfront to delight riders. “It’s very durable, number one. It does what you tell it to do. I like the woodwork inside the car, the fact that it’s open and breezy, I like talking to people about the car,” she says. “I’m a people person, so I like being the conductor as well as the motorman. When I’m in a chilling mood, I’m driving, when I’m in a talkative mood, I’m in the back with my megaphone,” she adds with a laugh.

 A native San Franciscan, she applied for several civil service positions out of school, passing tests for the police, sheriff’s and fire departments, “but Muni came through first”, she recalls. She first became enamored of trolley coaches, “because they don’t pollute the air,” and operated them for 20 years before moving over to the vintage streetcars. She has been an official of Transport Workers Union Local 250A and continues to serve on safety committees.

Aleena is known for giving detailed announcements to her riders, especially important on the E-line because many riders who board at the Wharf end of the line aren’t aware E cars don’t go up Market Street. On a recent trip aboard one of the double-end PCCs, she gave very clear and cheerful instructions to riders as the car approached the Ferry Building stop, about how to catch an F-line car up Market, and where her car was headed.“Communication is the key for passengers to get from point A to B, and it’s also the key to making the system work, when you’re talking to supervisors or managers. It’s very important, and people tend to forget that. And how you talk to people is very important.” she notes. 

Aleena pointed out several areas where the E-line could be improved. For example, she reminded us how long it has taken to get informational signage on the N/T line high platforms south of Market, telling people where to go to catch the E. “I see people waving at me from the high platform, wanting to go up toward the Wharf, but I’m already past the E-line stop.  All I can do is just point them in the right direction and tell them to wait for the next E.” (We have been trying to get that signage up for four years, and a test sign recently went up at the Caltrain N-line platform, but Aleena inspired us to follow up, once again, directly with Jeff Tumlin and Julie Kirschbaum. Literally the next day, temporary E-line directional signs appeared on the other high-level platforms along The Embarcadero.”) She made several other practical observations, which we are following up on.

Aleena believes the E-line is extra special: “One other thing I like about the vintage cars is getting to go along the waterfront. It’s just so calming; every day, I’m like ‘I get to do this?’ I just love it.”

MIKE DELIA

In his always-impeccable uniform and a variety of hats to match the weather, Mike Delia makes the PCC he operates look even more like a time machine. And he went out of his way to make that happen. “I’m from Boston; I was a transit operator there, and I moved here to work for Muni,” he says. “I wanted to drive all the ‘old stuff’ and I’m happy that I landed here and Muni gave me the chance to do it.” He put in his time on buses to gain adequate seniority, “and now I’m on the F-line every day, and I’m thankful for that. It’s unique. I wouldn’t drive anything else at this this point.”

The operator known to many peers and riders as “Mr. Boston” knows his adopted city well. “This is Kearny and Geary and Third Street. Buses to Chinatown and the Avenues,” Mike calls out over the car’s public address system. One thing that distinguishes Mike is his stop announcements, made in his native BAH-stin accent. “The thing about the automated announcement is that every intersection on Market Street is three streets, but they only call out two streets, and they don’t call out transfers, or points of interest, so it helps to have that added information, I think,” he says. (It’s worth noting that Mike’s Boston pronunciation of MAH-kit Street matches the way it was pronounced 80-100 years ago here, possibly because of the large Irish immigrant population in each city then.)He calls himself fortunate to have a lot of regular riders on his run, and enjoys interacting with them, even though at times it’s a “mixed blessing”. “There’s always going to be some of them that love ya; there’s always going to be some that can’t stand ya. But I’m thankful and blessed to have a good following. Your passengers can look out for you. And they do.”

Mike is aware of the importance of the F-line to businesses along the route. “I have a special fondness for the Castro neighborhood because I’m friendly with quite a few of the business owners there. Like the coffee shops, the deli, I go in there every day, so they’re like fixtures to me. And the residents of the Castro, they certainly appreciate the F-line and what it does, so I’m thankful for that, too.” Mike has also developed a rapport with the beat cops that walk the Castro, who have offered him assistance on a few occasions. “I’m pleased to say we look out for each other, and that’s a step in the right direction – one civil servant helping another.”

Mike loves greeting visitors from other cities, especially railfans. “You can tell what a railfan looks like, right? I’ll ask them, where are you from, you got any questions about the cars, and I thought I knew a lot, some of them know a lot more than me. You try to make it fun for them, the kids especially. Little kids love trains, and if we’re stopped somewhere in a safe location, I might ask them, ‘Hey you want to ring the bell?’ That always makes a little kid’s day.”

Perhaps his greatest experience with a kid came when a family boarded his car, obviously having a trying morning. Turns out they were in San Francisco from New Jersey on a Make-A-Wish Foundation trip for their son. By coincidence, Mike was operating Car 1070, an ex-Newark streetcar in its original livery. He pointed this out and they perked up. He let the boy ring the gong and open the doors at several stops, and it made that family’s day.

Of course, he regularly meets riders from all over the world and often hears from Italians and Australians looking for their trams. “It can be culturally broadening to work on the F-line because you meet all these different people.” 

As might be guessed, his favorite PCC is Car 1059, wearing the tangerine and silver Boston Elevated Railway livery. And discreetly tucked away on that car’s interior is a little sticker, saying “Boston Strong!”  Just like “Mr. Boston”. 

DAVID GUNTER

            David has been with Muni 21 years. Another native San Franciscan and resident, he loves operating the Brussels car.  “It’s very smooth. It’s like a Cadillac instead of a Volkswagen. It’s a unique piece of equipment. And I like the unusual. David’s seniority allows him to choose what was, at the time of the interview, the only pull-out, pull-in run on the F-line schedule, “so I get to operate the special equipment I’m qualified to do”.  (On this run, the same operator takes the car from the carbarn, operates it for their shift, and brings it back to the barn. Other F-line runs change operators in front of our museum during the day, allowing the car itself to stay on the line for two operator shifts. We’re told there will be more pull-in, pull-out runs coming to the F-line this summer.)   

“Most of your operators on the F-line are good operators. That’s the positive, because you’re working around people who enjoy what they do. They’re willing to work with each other and they’re willing to help each other. That makes you more at ease. And our support team, the mechanics, they’re willing to talk to you when you pull in, and when you’re out on the road, and that helps them repair things that we see as a constant problem every day.” David also gives a shout-out to our museum staff as a resource he can send his riders to with questions, and for the things they do to support the operators. He calls out the museum every time he announces the Steuart Street F-line stop.

Like the other operators we profile here, and the many we’ve talked with on the line, their personal security while operating is an issue to David. All would like to see a more visible presence from uniformed San Francisco Police officers, in exchange for the millions of dollars Muni pays the SFPD for security services every year.

As for what David would like to see in the future? “More use of the cars we don’t get to see often. Bring back the historical operations we used to have where we had vintage cars on the E-line all day, like Car 1 and others.” 

We agree, David, and we’re working on it.

Thanks to all the operators who make Muni’s vintage streetcars and cable cars even more special. If you have a favorite operator, let us know at info@streetcar.org.

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Crazy Day on the Waterfront

PCC 1077, heading back to the F-line at Oracle Park, missed the opportunity to pick up a platform full of postgame E-line riders.

Yesterday (July 25) was an action-packed day on the waterfront, and included an opportunity seized, and one missed. Here’s what went down.

E-and F-line service north of the Ferry Building was disrupted by a power problem at the Wharf and a couple of streetcar breakdowns (not sure if they were related). This occurred around the time EuroPCC 737 arrived at Don Chee Way to go into service. Inspectors sent several cars south on the E-line to get out of the way. This coincided with the crowds headed to the Giants-Cubs game, which 37,000 attended. The crew of at least one of those southbound cars, 737, took the opportunity to pick up intending ballpark passengers — a full load on that car, we’re told.

After the game, we spotted Birmingham PCC 1077 coming back from MME, marked “F-Market/”NOT IN SERVICE”. It was piloted by a regular operator (not a shopman). It dwelled at the ballpark E-line stop, but didn’t open its doors, even when an intending rider knocked. It would have been so great if that car had done what the 737 did pre-game and emptied the E-line platform, because it was a long time (surprise, surprise) before a regular E-line car came along. According to our live streetcar map, 1077 went back into service on the F and stayed out late into the evening, so the car itself was operational.

As our members and friends know, Market Street Railway supports Muni, serving as its nonprofit preservation partner. But we are also an independent advocacy group, which concentrates on pushing for the best possible service to riders. This blog and our other publications are heavily read by rail fans, not just locally, but worldwide. That’s great; their support has always been very important to us . But we also constantly think about the San Franciscans and visitors who don’t closely follow the individual streetcars or cable cars; they just want an efficient ride on these unique vehicles.

That’s why we mention this busy day on the waterfront. It shows that unexpected events (the power problem) can disrupt regular service, but it may also provide unexpected opportunities. The crew of 737 took the opportunity to go above and beyond in moving people during a peak period, even though off its regular route; the 1077 did not. We hope the next time something like this happens, putting passengers first will be top of mind for everyone involved with the vintage operation.

We also hope that every operator on E- and F-line pull-in trips will carry passengers all the way to Balboa Park on the J-line, instead of going out of service at 17th & Noe on their pull-in trips, which some still do. (The rules call for rail vehicles to be in-service on all trips between the car barn and their assigned route.) Passing up passengers does not make friends for the streetcars, or for Muni.

We’ll reiterate these observations to SFMTA management.

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The E is Back!

After a hiatus caused by project work on two of Muni’s light rail lines, the E-Embarcadero line has returned to service. Nice writeup in the SFMTA blog.

Show your support for the E-line! Take a ride anywhere between Caltrain and Fisherman’s Wharf along the waterfront, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. seven days a week. We’re going to be strengthening our advocacy to expand the hours of service and extend the line to Aquatic Park and then to Fort Mason Center.

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E-line Shuts Down for Two Months Starting Jan. 22

Beginning January 22, the E-Embarcadero streetcar line will be completely shut down for approximately two months. The shutdown is related to construction of a new center boarding platform on the T-line to serve the new Golden State Warriors’ arena, Chase Center, on Third Street. Beyond the impact on the E-line, the entire six-mile length of the T-Third light rail line will be converted to bus operation for the same period.

Wait, what? That new platform is almost a mile south of the end of the E-line, so why is the E affected? Well, the construction will sever the rail link to Muni Metro East (MME), one of the two service and storage facilities for Muni’s light rail vehicles. MME stores and services vehicles for other lines as well, particularly the N-Judah (but not the historic streetcars, which moved back to their Cameron Beach Yard home near Balboa Park in 2018). So Muni needs room to store those light rail vehicles overnight and are using the track the E-line uses to turn around on King Street, plus the T-line tracks on Channel and Third Streets north of the construction zone. Muni staff was concerned that E-line operations would overly complicate their LRV movements.

It’s not clear how seriously Muni considered constructing a bypass track to carry T-line trains around the one block construction zone, which would have also allowed MME to remain in operation. During BART construction in the 1960s and 1970s, Muni regularly used these temporary track arrangements to carry PCC streetcars on the J, K, L, M, and N lines around the construction of BART stations on Market Street, switching the streetcars from one side of Market to the other repeatedly as the work progressed, with nothing more than occasional weekend substitution of buses. Of course, back then, the alternative would have been shutting down the Twin Peaks and Sunset Tunnels and going to complete bus substitution on all five streetcar lines, an alternative Muni lacked the extra buses to carry out at the time.

But that was then and this is now. Muni’s planning staff did consult with Market Street Railway during the decision, leading to a better result than they initially proposed. Besides the E-line shutdown, Muni Planning initially proposed modifications to F-line service during the T-line shutdown, leading to less frequent and convenient F-line service during this period. Muni staff was concerned about having enough operators to handle the substitute T-line buses, and wanted to take some operators from the F. But after hearing our concerns (which reflected impacts on Fisherman’s Wharf and Castro merchants as well as F-line riders), they agreed to leave F-line service unchanged during the T-line construction.

Muni believes the T-line substitute buses will provide enough capacity to handle intending E-line riders on King Street and the southern Embarcadero. The T-bus terminal is on Market Street at the Embarcadero Muni Metro station, next to F-line stops to and from the Wharf, so there will be a connection there.

The double-end PCC streetcars normally used on the E-line will appear on the F-line during the shutdown period. No word on whether Melbourne 496, the popular 1928 tram that has been an E-line regular for the past year, will join them on the F once in awhile during the shutdown.

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Buses on F-line, No E-line Sunday, June 24

The Pride Parade has been San Francisco’s summer kickoff celebration for more than decades now, with huge throngs lining Market Street to watch almost 300 parade units go by. Back in the 1980s, historic streetcars were actually part of the parade, shown here in 1983, as a Blackpool boat tram and Muni’s famed Car 1 participated. The boat tram’s authentic destination sign seemed particularly appropriate. This year, though, streetcars will be completely absent from the parade route, not only for the duration… — Read More

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More Muni Mismanagement of the E-line

PLEASE SEE JULY 11 UPDATE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST. Sunday, July 9, has been a gorgeous day in San Francisco, but not a good day (again) for the E-Embarcadero line, which again has been mismanaged, in this case by assigning a streetcar that should have been on the E-line to the F-line instead. In the photo above, you see one of the seven double-end PCCs, the 1007, working the F-line to Castro, not the E. The double-end PCCs… — Read More

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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… — Read More

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E-line NextBus Map Working!

NextBus, Muni’s vendor for live displays showing where every vehicle is on every route, has launched the full-time E-Embarcadero map. You can now see what’s on both the E- and F-lines by clicking here, then selecting the map you want: F-line only, E-line only, or a combination (as shown in the screenshot above). We thank NextBus (which labels its maps here “NextMuni”) for including the icons (which we supplied them) of the actual streetcars that are on the line, a… — Read More

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Buses Back on the F as E Starts Daily Service

Today marks the beginning of daily service on the E-Embarcadero historic streetcar line, which will now run daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Fisherman’s Wharf to AT&T Park and the Caltrain Depot along The Embarcadero and King Street. It’s a major service expansion following nine months of the weekend-only service that inaugurated this long-anticipated line. And what greeted the E-line streetcars on their first day of daily service?  A too-familiar sight on the original historic streetcar service, the F-line:… — Read More

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Boost for E-line Extension to Mission Bay, Dogpatch

Market Street Railway has been strongly advocating for extensions of the E-Embarcadero vintage streetcar line west from Fisherman’s Wharf to Fort Mason, and south from the Caltrain Depot at Fourth and King. The southern extension would use the existing T-line tracks via Fourth, Channel, and Third Streets to serve the proposed Giants’ Mission Rock development and Warriors’ Arena, UCSF Mission Bay, three new shoreline parks, and thousands of new residences now coming on line or in the pipeline in Mission Bay and… — Read More

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F-line Buses, No E-line Labor Day Weekend

  Suddenly, unexpectedly, with only two days notice to business and community stakeholders, including Market Street Railway, Muni’s parent, SFMTA, says it will replace all F-line streetcars this Labor Day Weekend with buses. Last weekend, Muni put out a notice that E-Embarcadero service this Labor Day Weekend would not operate, but there was no mention of the F-line switch. The stated reason for the “bustitution” of the F-line on virtually no notice is that construction work is going on at… — Read More

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E-line Gets Going

The E-line had a successful first day of operation August 1. Five double-end PCC streetcars cruised the waterfront from Fisherman’s Wharf to Caltrain from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., the standard weekend schedule that will be in place until full-time, seven-day-a-week service starts early next year. The stations south of Market Street were very well marked with clearly worded signs and banners in multiple languages, created by SFMTA’s Communications Division. The signs, on both the low-level E-line side platforms and… — Read More

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E-line Kickoff; Boat Tram Debuts

San Francisco’s newest transit line started operation this morning, August 1, 2015, after an enthusiastic kickoff event on The Embarcadero yesterday. This photo, by Scott Badovick, captures the instant when dignitaries led by Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisors Julie Christensen, Scott Wiener, and Jane Kim, SFTMA Board Chair Tom Nolan and Vice Chair Cheryl Brinkman, SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin, and SFCTA Executive Director Tilly Chang, simultaneously snipped a red ribbon to mark the occasion. In the background, PCC No. 1006,… — 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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E-line Opening Now August 1

The opening of weekend service on the E-Embarcadero line has been rescheduled for Saturday, August 1, one week later than originally planned. At a meeting between SFMTA and Market Street Railway representatives on Thursday, July 1, it was agreed that the San Francisco Marathon, which will clog the entire Embarcadero on Sunday, July 26, made it prudent to defer the E-line opening. SFMTA had decided to substitute buses for streetcars on the F-line on Marathon day already, due to the… — Read More

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