by Joe Thompson
opened: 07-Apr-1957. Powell St from Market to Jackson, Jackson from Powell to Hyde. Hyde to Beach St, to off-street turntable. Southbound, Hyde to Washington, Washington to Powell.
powerhouse: Washington & Mason.
grip: Eppelsheimer bottom grip, lever-operated
cars: single-ended California cars.
turntables: single track.
notes: The San Francisco Municipal Railway was the first significant muncipal transit company in the United States, opening its first electric streetcar line, the A Geary, on 28-December-1912. The San Francisco Municipal Railway is the only company in the world which still operates Hallidie-type cable cars.
San Francisco voters approved a Municipal Railway on Geary Street in 1909. The city took over the Geary Street Park & Ocean Railway in 1912. The last Geary Street cable cars ran on 12-May-1912. Here are two San Francisco Chronicle articles about the last of the Geary Street cable cars:
Muni operated no cable cars until it took over the Market Street Railway in 1944, when it inherited the former Ferries & Cliff House Powell/Mason and Washington/Jackson lines.
Muni sent several cable cars out of San Francisco to help promote the city of San Franciso. In September, 1948, car 514 went to the California State Fair. In 1949, car 524 went to the Chicago Railroad Fair. In 1950, car 524 went to Los Angeles to ride down Broadway as part of a parade for the Shriners convention.
In 1952, Muni acquired the California Street Cable Railroad's California Street, O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde, and Jones Street shuttle lines. Muni killed the shuttle on 06-Feb-1954 and the O/J/H on 15-May-1954.
Muni decided to close the Cal Cable barn at California & Hyde and consolidate all operations at Washington & Mason. Muni converted the California Street line to use the Eppelsheimer bottom grip between 29-December-1956 and 27-December-1957. Muni combined the Washington/Jackson and O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde lines into the Powell/Hyde line, which opened on 07-April-1957.
The crossing at Powell and California is controlled by a manned signal tower. Read Emiliano J Echeverria's article about the tower.
Muni assigned route numbers to its cable car lines:
San Francisco's cable cars were added to the National Register of Historic Places on 15-October-1966, as entry #66000233.
In 1971, San Francisco voters approved Proposition Q to maintain the cable car lines'
schedules (prohibits cuts). The fight for the proposition was lead by Friedel
Klussmann and her Citizens’ Committee.
On 28-May-1979, cable car service was suspended when a drive shaft broke in the Washington/Mason powerhouse. Service resumed on 03-July-1979.
In Fall, 1979, the system was shut down again for repairs. The city’s engineering staff concluded that for the system to continue to operate, it would be necessary to renew the track, cable channels, and pulleys, as well as the entire barn and power house.
On 22-September-1982, the cable cars shut down again for the epic Cable Car System Rehabilitation Program. The museum was temporarily moved to the Embarcadero Center. This thorough reconstruction lasted until mid-1984. A four-day celebration in June, 1984 included a parade of decorated cable cars. The livery of the Powell Street cars changed from Green to Red.
Mayor Dianne Feinstein persuaded several San Francisco corporations to make large donations to the project. Those who gave one million dollars or more got a plaque on the side of a cable car.
Before the reconstruction, you could see tracks of the B-Geary streetcar line crossing the tracks at Powell, and you could see the slots and at least one track from the Sacramento/Clay line at those streets. I was sorry to see those go.
According to Muni's 2003 draft Short Range Transit Plan, the three cable car lines carried 21,500 passengers in Fiscal Year 2002. The plan contains many interesting items, including some of Muni's plans for the near future: Installing Automatic Vehicle Locator (AVL) Systems on the cable cars; Installing an improved Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) system in the cable car barn; Renovating the Cable Car Museum; Upgrading the terminal at Bay and Taylor by installing a new ticket booth, operator convenience station, and operator restroom; Addressing the "downturn in Cable Car performance" by improving physical training of operators, assigning dedicated inspectors, doing better strength screening of applicants, and adjusting schedules. It also lists the goals of the FY1998-FY2009 Cable Car Infrastructure Rehabilitation Program, which include: Overhauling all four turntables, and redesigning and replacing the outdoors ones in 2008-2009; Implementing more signal preemption; Replacing the computer system in the control room; Replacing track and slot rail in many locations. Thanks to Matt Lee for pointing out the report.
On 11-August-2015, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) issued a press release calling for new efforts to keep cable car personnel safe. This year two conductors have been seriously injured by careless drivers who passed their stopped cable cars while they were trying to help passengers get on and off safely.
These measures include increased police enforcement, do not pass signs on Powell Street cable cars, hand-held stop signs for conductors, a public safety campaign and "Developing a cable car collision reduction program to identify ways to reduce collisions involving cable cars."
According to California Vehicle Code Section 21756: "The driver of a vehicle overtaking any interurban electric or streetcar stopped or about to stop for the purpose of receiving or discharging any passenger shall stop the vehicle to the rear of the nearest running board or door of such car and thereupon remain standing until all passengers have boarded the car or upon alighting have reached a place of safety..." Drivers often ignore this rule.
The San Francisco Municipal Railway reported to the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) until 1999, when Proposition E established the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).
The SFMTA with the support of the Market Street Railway wants to ban private vehicles from Powell Street between Ellis and Geary. Powell between Market and Ellis has been closed to autos since 1973. The two organizations would like to begin and 18-month pilot in November, 2015, but he Union Square Business Improvement District is opposed to the closure and especially does not want it to start in November, right before the holiday shopping season.
Roster of active SF Cable Cars
NextBus offers live maps of Muni's cable car lines:
During the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2020-2021, in order to protect operators, Muni replaced cable car and F-line service with buses. E-line service was cancelled. Muni cancelled 80% of its service except for 17 core lines because shelter-in-place has to a 90% drop in ridership. There were also operator shortages because of sickness. Muni returned the J-Church line to rail on 19-December-2020, but had trains turn back at Church and Market. Most of the Muni Metro lines returned to service in June. Muni's popular F-Line returned to service on 26-June-2021.
Go to SF cable car lines in detail.
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Copyright 1996-2023 by Joe Thompson. All rights reserved.
Last updated 01-October-2023