Market Street Railway's Efforts to Curtail Its Cable Car System
by Walter Rice

When the Market Street Railway re-emerged to take over the operating assets of the United Railroads of San Francisco in 1921, it inherited three separate cable car systems: the five-foot-gauge Pacific Avenue line, the standard-gauge Castro cable and three 3'6" lines based at Washington-Mason -- Sacramento-Clay, Washington-Jackson and Powell-Mason.

Market Street Railway abandoned the money-losing Pacific Avenue line on November 17, 1929. The action met little controversy.

Bus technology had improved so much by the late 1930s that hills, which were unconquerable by rival electric cars, could be mastered by rubber-tired vehicles. The cable car had lost its monopoly position it had held as the only viable mode of transit for many of San Francisco's hills. This factor combined with the Market Street Railway’s desire to reduce operating cost (buses required a single person, whereas cable cars were a two-man operation) and rid itself of the costly infrastructure of track and cable winding machinery combined with declining revenues and ridership lead to the Market Street Railway’s apparent plan to convert all of its cable car lines to buses. The planned conversion included apparently all but the most heavily patronized streetcar lines as well. World War II put a stop to this plan. Evidence suggests that a strong factor in these planned conversions was the generous financial incentives provided by Yellow Coach to the cash-strapped Market Street Railway.

The Fate of the Castro Cable Is Argued

San Francisco News, May 5, 1939.

On August 29, 1907, the United Railroads restored the Castro cable, 18th to 26th Street only. At 18th Street the cable car connected with the No. 8 streetcar that now served the remaining part of the former Market-Castro cable car line. In short, the standard gauge Castro cable car line was now a feeder for the No. 8 streetcar. The March revenues cited of approximately $1,000 equaled about 14,000 paying passengers. It can be assumed an approximate equal number of passengers transferred free from the No. 8 and No. 11 Mission & 24th Street streetcars and the No. 33 18th & Park trackless trolley coach line.

On January 1, 1939, the Market Street Railway increased its fare to 7¢. Competitive Muni lines remained at 5¢. The Castro cable as a result lost ridership to passengers who now elected to walk to and from Muni’s J-Church, K-Market and L-Taraval streetcars. After the Market Street Railway failed in its attempts for outright abandonment of its money losing Castro cable line, it was successful on April 5, 1941 of incorporating the route of the Castro Cable car into the new No. 24 crosstown motor coach line.

Castro cable car 3 Standard gauge Castro Cable No. 3, built as an open car by the Central Pacific Railroad for the Market Street Cable Railway, rebuilt in 1907 by the United Railroads and equipped with a new body during 1926-27 by the Market Street Railway that featured an arch roof and rounded ends, awaits its departure time at 18th Street. Across the street a 1550 class streetcar on the connecting No. 8 line likewise awaits its departure time for its run down Market Street to the Ferry, mid-1930s. The Castro Theatre, still a neighborhood landmark, is visible in the background. December, 2004 Picture of the Month

Cahill Opposes Taking Over Lines of Market Street Railway

Objections to absorbing losing lines of the Market Street Railway Co. were reiterated by Utilities Mgr. E.G. Cahill today as Eureka Valley residents prepared to press for abandonment of the Castro-st cable line and substitution of Municipal Railway service.

Mr. Cahill advised Mayor Rossi that an investment of $80,000 would be required if Municipal Railway trolley buses were substituted for the cable cars. The Market Street Railway’s income from the line in March was less than $1000, he said.

The interest by Eureka Valley residents to substitute the Market Street Railway Castro cable line with a Municipal Railway trackless trolley line arose when the former company successful substituted trolley buses for streetcars on its hilly crooked No. 33 18th & Park line. Pictured here is one of this Brill built fleet, No. 52, shown in 1935 before entering revenue service. MSR trolley coach

"While I do not hold that service should be denied a district because it might not prove profitable, believing with you that the city is in the business of transportation for the best interests of all the people, nonetheless I do desire to draw your attention to the policy which the Public Utilities Commission has adopted with regard to future transportation," Mr. Cahill wrote the mayor.

"We cannot take over the Market Street Railway Co. piecemeal. In other words, we cannot absorb the losing lines of the Market Street Railway Co., leaving the Market Street Railway Co. with the profitable lines, because to do so would mean that the Municipal Railway would probably be in the ‘red’ and have to be supported out of the taxpayers’ pockets."

Mr. Cahill advised the mayor that he had suggested rerouting the Diamond-Eureka bus line to serve a portion of the Castro-st district. The 20 per cent grade on Castro-st hill is too steep for the buses to negotiate safely, the utilities manager said.

The mayor has suggested to the Eureka Valley residents they assist the Market Street Railway in obtaining Board of Supervisors’ approval in the surrendering of its franchise to operate on Castro-st. Mr. Cahill expressed the belief the supervisors would not permit discontinuance of service unless the Municipal Railway was prepared to offer adequate service. The city-owned system is loathe to do so, he reported.

San Francisco News
Friday, May 5, 1939

Proposed replacement bus The Castro cable had been replaced by the crosstown 24-Divisadero motor coach line. Market Street Railway 0916 -- a two cab electric powered work motor -- has journeyed over from 24th Street (11-line) to tow one of the now unneeded Castro cable cars to its fiery death at the Market’s Elkton Yard. Note, the former car house and powerhouse had already been sold, April 1941. Walter Rice Collection. All rights reserved.

Proposed replacement bus San Francisco Police Captain Munn (Southern Station) wanted to get rid of the city's cable cars, which he contends are a traffic hazard (September 1940). Munn suggested that buses of this type (Twin Pusher, with the engine mounted in the rear window) -- note the absence of a top -- could be substituted for the cable car system. In inclement weather, canvas tops would protect customers. Munn stated that the "romance of the cable cars would be replaced by scroll work and pictures of San Francisco scenes painted on the sides of the buses." The bus pictured was one of four Model 23-R parlor cars ordered from the Twin Coach Company in 1937 by the Santa Catalina Island Co. Most of these coaches ran for approximately 30 years on the island. They were said to have been the last pre-war Twins in regular service. (Source: Don Holmgren) Photo Credit: SF Public Library AAC-7760.

Castro Cable Eliminated; Sacramento-Clay and Washington-Jackson Cable Lines Next?

San Francisco News, August 8, 1941.

On April 5, 1941, the company had replaced its Castro Cable with motor coaches. It was now the turn to eliminate the Sacramento-Clay and Washington-Jackson cable lines. The Market Street Railway would trade street repairs for bus substitution. The Sacramento-Clay line had lost much of its ridership due to the opening of the Bay Bridge and the subsequent sharp decline in ferry boat operation. Also, it suffered from charging a 7-cent fare, compared with the rival Cal Cable fare of a nickel. There was virtually no mourning of the passing of any cable route until a "Save the Cable Car League" was formed in an unsuccessful attempt to save this line, the successor to Hallidie’s original line on Clay Street. This line became the No. 55 motor coach on February 16, 1942. The cars remained at the Washington-Mason cable car barn by order of the Federal government because of wartime concerns, until after the 1944 purchase by the City.
Sacramento-Clay car at Greyhound Depot Outbound Sacramento-Clay cable car No. 24 passes the newly opened (March 1, 1941) Greyhound Interurban Depot, located on the southeast corner of Sacramento and Sansome Streets. This depot opened when Greyhound took over Marin County commuter service from the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. The cable car line was closed on Valentine’s Day 1942, and the bus depot closed December 1, 1950. On that date Marin County Greyhound commute began using north end of the Ferry Building. Photo: Val Lupiz Collection. All rights reserved.

Because of the war the Washington-Jackson line (one of the two Powell Street cables) survived until September 2, 1956, when it was shut down was "due to the necessity of installing new track connections and cable installations at Hyde & Washington, and at Hyde & Jackson" for the future Powell-Hyde cable car line. The Powell-Hyde cable began service on April 7, 1957. This new line was created by cutting back to Hyde Street the Washington-Jackson line and combining it with the former Hyde Street leg of the O'Farrell, Jones and Hyde cable car. WER

Sacramento-Clay car 15 An empty Market Street Railway Sacramento-Clay cable car lays over at the Ferry building before another trip out Sacramento Street to Fillmore.

San Francisco News
August 8, 1941

City-Market Street Ry. Deal May Bring Some Street Work

Possibility that the Market Street Railway Co. would undertake immediate repaving of a number of downtown streets today hinged on the Board of Supervisors' approval of a "deal" Mayor Rossi proposed yesterday to the trolley company.

The company recently sought permission to substitute buses for the Washington and Clay-st cable line, but the supervisors voted down the petition on the mayor's request that no further "favors" be extended until the company agreed to make some badly-needed improvements on its own.

A conductor pushes a Washington-Jackson cable car off the famous Powell & Market turntable on a rainy day, late 1930s. Car pushed off turntable

Yesterday the mayor agreed to withdraw his ban when company officials promised, in return, to lift the car tracks on Leavenworth-st from McAllister to Ellis-st, on Battery-st from Market to California-st, on Bush-st from Sansome to Battery, and on Sansome-st from Bush to Sutter.

Parking Facilities

The company also promised to remove 305 feet of tracks on Fillmore-st north of Chestnut, so that the middle of the street may be used for a parking area.

The company was to pay for the track-lifting, for filling in the ruts and for taking down the wires and poles. The city, according to the "deal" with the mayor, was to pave the concrete fills on Fillmore-st and Leavenworth-st, and the company was to do the remainder of the paving.

Resurfacing planned

The city, as part of the bargain, also was to resurface the rest of Battery, Bush and Sansome-sts, in the financial district. The city was to spend about $3600; the Market Street Railway Co. about $8500 to fulfill its promises.

As for the rails on the Sacramento-st line, which the city also would like to see removed, the company agreed to do that within five years if allowed to substitute buses. It would repave only the part of the street occupied by the rails, however, leaving the cable slot in the center. The same procedure was followed in abandoning the Castro-st and Fillmore-st lines.

However, before the "deal" may be consummated the company must resubmit its application to the supervisors. There was some indication that it might again be rejected, despite the mayor's revised attitude.

Would Build Nuisance Value

Some supervisors pointed out that the improvements would have the effect of enhancing the value of the company, which the city is contemplating seeking to buy out.
Permission to substitute the buses would have the effect of becoming a revised "operating permit" for the company, but would not extend the term of the company's franchise, which expires in 1956. The buses would be substituted for the unexpired term of the franchise.

tracks being removed Although abandoned in 1942, the cable car tracks of the Sacramento-Clay cable car were not removed until 1949 as shown in this view of Sacramento Street east of Fillmore.

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Additional Text Copyright 2002-2004 by Walter Rice. All rights reserved.

Last updated 01-Nov-2004