San Francisco’s 2nd Gift to the World: Working steetcars

1007.jpgIn the last twenty years or so, so-called light-rail systems have become common in American cities. From Tacoma to Tampa, cities are realizing that streetcars are a clean, efficient and attractive way to get people around.

San Francisco has had streetcars of some kind since 1860 — horse-drawn, steam-driven, cable-driven, and finally the electric cars of the type seen today. And though the number of lines was drastically reduced in mid-century, the city always had at least five lines: the J-Church, N-Judah, and the three Sutro Tunnel lines K, L, and M. But in 1982 these lines disappeared from Market Street as the surface cars were replaced by space-age “LRV” (for Light Rail Vehicle) cars.

More after the jump.
(Photo of double-ended PPC car no. 1007 by Telstar.)

Around the same time, the city took the cable car system offline to completely refurbish it prior to the Democratic National Convention being held here in 1984. While the cable cares were down, there had to be something cute for the tourists to ride, it was thought. So a summertime “Historic Trolley Festival,” featuring some restored cars running from the Ferry Bldg. to the Castro during the summer months only, premiered in 1983.

To the surprise of Muni, locals as well as tourists rode the “historic” streetcars up and down Market. Everyone liked them so much that it was decided to restore streetcars to Market Street full-time, beginning in 1995.

Several years later, when the remodeling of the Embarcadero was finished, the reborn F-Market line was joined by the E-Embarcadero line.

Now San Francisco has, in addition to the quaint and touristic cable car system and the “heavy rail” BART and Caltrain systems, two separate and complimentary streetcar systems: the Muni Metro, running cars under Market Street, and the E and F lines, running historic cars on Market and on the Embarcadero. Some of these cars, refurbished by hand — partly by volunteers — are the familiar PCC type seen in many American cities throughout the mid-20th century (and in San Francisco until the advent of the LRVs). Some of them are from overseas, from the unique topless “boat” streetcar from England to the small fleet of orange trams from Milan. And some of them are practically ancient relics from the Market Street Railway itself.

They’re beautiful, rumbly, and a great ride! I love the streetcars, and I love the fact that San Francisco never completely abandoned them.

Market Street Railway
Flickr results for streetcar AND (“San Francisco”)

6 Comments so far

  1. Aaron (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 7:19 am

    Nice note. New Orleans has had operational streetcars since the 1830s. They’re pretty cool.

  2. Ryan (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 8:51 am

    I am absolutely 100% convinced that the F-Market trains are haunted.

  3. anna (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 9:43 am

    Hey there’s a new streetcar museum down at Steuart & Mission- in the Hotel Vitale building. Last time I visited they were going to add a hands-on part where you could steer a streetcar. Lots of cool old signs, too.

  4. TinMan (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 10:18 am

    Also, the Cable Car Museum is pretty interesting too. It’s not just a museum; it’s located in the Washington-Mason powerhouse (the operational facility).

    Every time I’ve gone there’s a cable that’s in the process of being spliced together (there’s an overlap of something like 50-100 yards); that’s sorta neat.

    And the museum is free!

  5. SEAN (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 11:30 am

    I’m especially happy whenever I see the Boston trolley trundle by – as those are the ones my mom took to school as a kid. It’s nice to fantasize that that could be *the very one* in front of my eyes. [aaaww…]

  6. cd (unregistered) on November 28th, 2006 @ 6:09 pm

    I like riding the Milan car – the original (or re-created) ads inside give me a chance to practice my Italian.

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