Historic streetcar frequently-asked questions

PCC 1057 on Market StreetCincinnati, Ohio — represented here on PCC No. 1057 — is just one of the many cities represented in Muni’s historic streetcar fleet.

Why is it called the F-line?

Since its inception in 1912, the San Francisco Municipal Railway has assigned letters to its streetcar routes. Originally, this was done to distinguish its routes from those of its private competitor, the Market Street Railway Co., which numbered them. Muni route designations were assigned in alphabetical order. The first two lines, the A and the B, both ran on Geary Street. Muni worked through the alphabet (including such lines as the E-Union and F-Stockton) until it reached the letter N in 1928. The N-Judah was the last permanent Muni streetcar line to open for almost seventy years.

After World War II, Muni began converting many streetcar lines to bus service, changing the letter designations to numbers as they did so. For example, the B-Geary streetcar became the 38-Geary bus. The E-Union streetcar ultimately became the 41-Union bus, and the F-Stockton streetcar became the 30-Stockton bus.

In 1979, Muni proposed a new streetcar line to run along The Embarcadero on the City’s northeast waterfront. It was assigned the letter E to match Embarcadero, and perhaps because the original E-line ran a few blocks along The Embarcadero. The following year, Muni proposed another new streetcar line, to take over surface streetcar service on Market Street after the existing surface streetcar lines (J, K, L, M, and N) moved into a new subway beneath Market. This line was designated F-Market simply because it followed the letter E.

The proposed E and F lines had a number of supporters, but did not appear to be moving forward in the planning process by 1983. There was growing doubt they would ever be built. Then a group of interested business people and preservationists, including several individuals who later led Market Street Railway, petitioned Mayor Dianne Feinstein to approve a vintage streetcar demonstration project using the Market Street tracks. It was called the San Francisco Historic Trolley Festival, and was intended to be a substitute attraction for the city’s famed cable cars, which were then shut down for complete rebuilding. The organizers thought about what route designation to use for what they thought would be a one-time event, and embraced Muni’s F-Market designation, because F could also stand for Festival.

The Mayor and Board of Supervisors approved. The event, during the summer of 1983, was such a success that the mayor asked that it be repeated. It ended up running five consecutive summers, by which time city leaders had agreed to rebuild the Market Street surface track and make the line permanent. The F-line designation stuck. So, too, has the E-line designation, still applied to the route along The Embarcadero, now expected to open in 2012. For more information, read our F-line History page.

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What does ‘PCC’ stand for?

PCC stands for Presidents’ Conference Committee. This refers to the Electric Railway Presidents’ Conference Committee, a group of transit company executives that got together in the early 1930s to bring modern looks and technology to American streetcars, mainly to compete more effectively with the growing threat from private automobiles.

The car they designed ended up being the most successful streetcar in history. Some 4,500 were built in North America, running in 33 cities, including San Francisco. The technology was later exported to Europe, where PCCs ran in many cities for decades.

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Are the PCC cars really from all those different cities?

The PCC cars in the operational F-line fleet come from three sources: thirteen acquired second-hand from Philadelphia, eleven acquired third-hand from Newark, New Jersey (which obtained them from Minneapolis-St. Paul) and eight that have always run in San Francisco. These 32 streetcars have all been completely rebuilt and painted to represent some of the cities that originally ran the PCC car.

There was considerable debate about how to paint the fleet, with some in Market Street Railway and Muni believing that all the PCCs should be painted in a single Muni paint scheme. The multiple-city approach prevailed, because it demonstrates the continent-wide popularity of this car type, acknowledges the fact that individual cars often ran in more than one city in their operating lifetimes, and adds color to the route. The paint schemes are as accurate as possible, and are wildly popular with riders and onlookers alike.

Even though the provenance of the cars is made clear in the informational material on board the cars, many San Franciscans have ‘adopted’ individual cars because they remind them of their hometown or a city special to them. In fact, on several occasions, visitors from cities represented in the PCC fleet have insisted that the car they see on the streets of San Francisco actually ran in their town, even when they are told it is merely painted in tribute to their city. To them, it is the real thing.

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How many cities ran PCC streetcars, and which ones are represented in the F-line fleet?

PCC streetcars ran in 33 North American cities. The F-line has 32 PCCs, but some cities are represented by more than one car, because of different operating companies or liveries that represent different periods. A total of 22 cities are represented in the F-line fleet, but several cities offer multiple paint schemes, so there are a total of 29 different liveries worn by the fleet. Check out our roster for a list of the cities represented.

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Are the historic cars (such as the Streetcar Named Desire, the Boat Tram, etc.) authentic?

All the historic cars (non-PCCs) are completely authentic in both their origins and their paint schemes. (The one exception is No. 737, actually a PCC itself, which operated in Brussels, Belgium, but is painted in tribute San Francisco’s Sister City, Zurich, Switzerland, which ran similar appearing trams.) Each historic streetcar is maintained in as close to original condition as possible, consistent with operational safety and the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As far as we are aware, no operating transit system in the world can come close to the diversity of Muni’s vintage rail fleet.

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Where can I view the historic streetcars when they’re not in service?

All the F-line streetcars are stored at Muni’s facility at Geneva and San Jose Avenues, in the Excelsior District in the south-central part of San Francisco. They reach their storage facility via the J-Church line, and are supposed to carry passengers when operating on the J-line. However, their storage facility is not open to the public for safety and security reasons, so please do not enter the property. A few of the cars are slightly visible from the sidewalk near the southeast corner of Geneva and San Jose (near the brick building known as Geneva Car House). This facility is well served by public transit. It is adjacent to the BART Balboa Park Station, which is also the termination point for the J, K, and M Muni Metro lines. It is served by Muni’s #8x, 29, 43, 54, and 88 bus lines as well. By automobile, it is located at the Ocean and Geneva Avenue exit from Interstate 280. Take Geneva Avenue south a short block from the freeway and you’ll see the old brick building on the corner.

Market Street Railway’s primary mission is to help Muni create a Museum In Motion, displaying the historic trolleys in their full glory, with the rumble of their motors, the screech of their wheels on curves of the steel tracks, the clang of their gongs signaling their presence to automobiles and pedestrians along the route. These are, after all, street-cars, and MSR’s primary focus has always been returning them to at least periodic operation in their native environment, rather than putting them on static silent display as many museums must do.

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How many of the historic streetcars are operating?

Up to 20 vintage streetcars can be found on the F-line during a typical operating day. Basic service on the F-line is provided by the popular PCC streetcars and Milan trams, all historic in their own right. Most days, you will also see at least one car from Muni’s unmatched international collection of vintage streetcars. You can see images of all the fleet, and by clicking on a particular image, get a page of information on that streetcar.

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What about the rest of the historic streetcar fleet?

Vintage 1895 car No. 578-S, which is Muni’s oldest streetcar, is operational and has made brief appearances for special events tied to the F-line opening. But, because of its antiquity, it does not operate in regular service. The remainder of the historic fleet is not operational at this time, though some are under restoration.
Checkout our roster for a complete list of all streetcars, operational and non-operational, in Muni’s historic streetcar fleet.

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What about the PCC streetcars San Francisco used before the subway opened? Are any preserved?

Yes, quite a few have been preserved. First a little history. San Francisco’s history with PCC cars tells a lot about the City’s governance and politics. When the PCC was first introduced in 1936, it was filled with breakthrough, patented features. A number of cities, including New York, Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Diego, and Los Angeles became early adopters of this bold new trolley. But, San Francisco had a problem. Its City Charter, taken very seriously by voters and politicians alike, forbade the payment of patent royalties. Not only that, but its transit unions, then as now, were very strong and hostile to the idea of the PCC car which was designed to require only one operator instead of the two then required in San Francisco (in fact, the labor movement had just triumphed over an attempt by Muni’s private competitor and our namesake, Market Street Railway Co., to use one-operator cars on some lightly-traveled streetcar lines).

PCC lookalike: Magic Carpets

But Muni still managed to acquire five streetcars in 1939 that looked like PCCs. Called the Magic Carpets, they were numbered 1001-1005, had both a motorman and conductor, and avoided the patent problem by substituting non-royalty features, such as a hand-operated GE Cineston controller for the standard PCC foot pedal arrangement. These cars were assigned to Potrero Streetcar Division at 17th and Hampshire Street, and often worked the L-Taraval line, but with only five cars, they weren’t much of a presence. Muni lacked the money to buy any more, and World War II shut down streetcar production anyway. These cars were retired in the late 1950s. One, No. 1003, is preserved at the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista Junction, Solano County.

Double-ended Big Tens arrive in 1948

After the War, Muni wanted PCCs, but couldn’t afford them. Finally, in 1947, a bond issue passed that allowed rebuilding of the Muni (which by now had acquired Market Street Railway) to begin. The primary emphasis was on replacing streetcars and their tracks with trolley buses, still using the City’s Hetch Hetchy public power in the overhead lines, but avoiding the need to rebuild the tracks in the street, which were completely worn out from the heavy wartime ridership, as were the streetcars themselves. But, Muni knew it would almost certainly have to retain some streetcar lines, particularly those that operated in the Twin Peaks Tunnel, too narrow for bus conversion. So Muni did use some bond issue money to buy ten ‘true’ PCCs, numbered 1006-1015. These looked a lot like the Magic Carpets, but thanks to a change in the City Charter, had the patented features on them. Being double-ended, they could operate anywhere on the City’s streetcar trackage. Oddly, though, they were almost always assigned to lines like the N-Judah that already had loops on both ends, and by the mid 1950s, the cars had been converted to single-end operation. Because of their size and tubular shape, Muni workers came to call these cars the Torpedoes or the Big Tens. Two of these cars, Nos. 1012 and 1013, were scrapped in the 1970s following serious accidents. The rest were retired in 1982, but preserved.

Six of these ten double-end streetcars have been or are being fully renovated as double-end cars and are or will be used daily on the F-line. (Nos. 1006 and 1008 are painted in their original 1948 green and cream “Wings” livery. No. 1010 is painted blue and gold to honor its predecessor Magic Carpets. Click on the numbers of the remaining four streetcars of this group to learn the story of the paint schemes they now wear: 1007, 1009, 1011, 1015. Car No. 1014 was put on permanent loan by Muni to theSydney Tramway Museum in Australia, where it was restored to double-end status and is very popular with riders.

Single-ended ‘Big Tens’ 1951-52

In 1951, Muni ordered 25 additional PCCs, numbered 1016-1040, which came to be known inside Muni as the Baby Tens because they were somewhat smaller than their predecessors. However, they were full-width PCCs (at nine feet, almost a full foot wider than the ex-SEPTA cars Nos. 1050-1063 now on the F-line) and among the largest single-end cars built (with the notable exception of Chicago’s giants). The Muni operators’ union still opposed one-operator streetcars, so these, like the Big Tens, were delivered configured for two operators. Passengers boarded via the rear door and paid the conductor there. As it turned out, No. 1040 was the last PCC ever built new in North America, and for this reason, it is the first of its class to be restored by Muni. At first, this class was limited to lines with loops (the B, K, L, and N lines), though they rarely appeared on the B-Geary. By 1957, with the installation of turning wyes on the J and M, and the abandonment of the B and C, these cars were working every line in the system. All these cars made it to the end of the first PCC era in 1982. Several cars were then given to museums, while No. 1040 was preserved and used in the Trolley Festivals. Muni also retains nine other cars from this class, including four reacquired for Muni in 2001 by Market Street Railway. Some of these preserved “Baby Ten” streetcars are in very poor condition due to vandalism and theft over the decades since their retirement, and will almost certainly be stripped for parts. However, it is possible that a few could be restored to join No. 1040 in the future. By the way, the first streetcar of this class, No. 1016, has been fully restored to its as-delivered appearance and operates at the Western Railway Museum in Solano County.

Second-hand St. Louis single-enders 1957

By the mid 1950s, Muni knew it needed more PCCs to replace its remaining Iron Monster fleet, which by then was 30-40 years old and still required two operators. (Muni had finally won the right to run PCCs with one operator, like buses, by this time, and had converted its existing PCCs to this system.) With no one making PCCs new any more, the only option was second-hand cars. Muni found seventy of these cars in St. Louis, Missouri. Built in 1946, they were slightly smaller than the Baby Tens, and had a two-pedal reversed accelerator, deadman, and brake arrangement unique to St. Louis Public Service. Muni couldn’t afford to buy them outright, so a lease arrangement was arrived at, though the cars were later purchased outright. These cars were numbered 1101-1170. A couple of the cars in this class were scrapped after accidents, but the rest made it to retirement in 1982. One car, No. 1128, was repainted into its original St. Louis livery, restored to its St. Louis number (No. 1704) and operated in the Trolley Festivals. Several others were given to museums. Muni has preserved 12 of these cars for possible rebuilding in the future. However, none is currently on Muni’s list for complete restoration.

Temporaries from Toronto, 1970s

Muni also briefly owned eleven additional PCC cars, which it acquired third-hand from Toronto (originally from Kansas City.) These cars, numbered by Muni Nos. 1180-1190, were intended to meet the extra car requirements imposed by a track detour on 17th and Church Streets imposed in connection with the construction of the Market Street subway in the late 1970s. But the cars had operating and maintenance characteristics uncomfortable to Muni, and only Nos. 1190 and 1183 ever operated with any regularity. They were disposed of in the early 1980s. A couple of cars from this class went to museums, but the years of corrosion born of Toronto winters have badly damaged these cars, perhaps beyond repair at this point.

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Are animals allowed on the historic streetcars?

Any number of working dogs—guide dogs, signal dogs, or service dogs—for the disabled may ride free at any time. Working dogs for the disabled do not have to be muzzled, but must be on a leash.

Persons boarding with an animal that is not a working dog for the disabled must pay the same fare for the animal that they do for themselves. These animals are allowed to ride on Muni vehicles from 9am to 3pm and from 7pm to 5am on weekdays, and all day on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Only one of these animals may ride per vehicle. Dogs must be muzzled and on a short leash or in a closed container, and other animals must be carried in closed containers.

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