San Francisco Municipal Railway

by Joe Thompson

Where Should I Go from Here? Visit the Map

Muni herald
Muni 100 Years -- 1912-2012

28-December-2012 was the 100th birthday of the San Francisco Municipal Railway. Please visit my new page on the 100th birthday
Muni worm

San Francisco's Octopus
Hand Colored Transit Images
Presented by Emiliano Echeverria

Thanks to Emiliano Echeverria for letting me present a series of photos that were hand-colored by Charles Smallwood

San Francisco's Octopus

Washington/Mason Powell/Hyde and Powell/Mason cars meet by the Washington/Mason powerhouse and car barn. Photograph courtesy of the Artcom Museum Tour. Jun, 1998 Picture of the Month.

line: Powell/Hyde

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

gauge: 3'6"

cars: single-ended California cars.

turntables: single track.

Powell/Mason Sign Powell/Mason (Route 59) dash sign. Note the hinge in the middle, allowing crews to switch from this sign to the Powell/Hyde sign. April 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.
Powell/Hyde Sign Powell/Hyde (Current route 60) dash sign. April 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.
Old Powell/Mason Sign Old Powell/Mason dash sign. Note that this sign is not hinged like the current one. Instead, this sign hung on two pegs. From the collection of Val Lupiz.
Washington/Jackson Sign Washington/Jackson (Former route 60) dash sign, on the other side of the Powell/Mason sign above. From the collection of Val Lupiz.

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.
514 in Sacramento Car 514 at the San Francisco exhibit in the California State Fair, Sacramento. Walt Vielbaum photo. All rights reserved.
524 in Los Angeles Car 524 at the Shriners Parade in Los Angles, 1949. Ray Long photo. All rights reserved.

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.

PH anniversary Val Lupiz created this image to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Powell/Hyde line. 507 was the first car to run on the new line on 07-April-1957. All rights reserved. April, 2007 Picture of the Month.

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:

  • 59 - Powell/Mason (read a 1974 Powell/Mason schedule - warning LARGE images)
  • 60 - Washington/Jackson (until 01-Sep-1956)
  • 60 - Powell/Hyde (since 07-Apr-1957)
  • 61 - California Street
  • 62 - O'Farrell/Jones/Hyde
  • 63 - Jones Street Shuttle

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.

6 sign lever The plaque on the side of Car 6, indicating that it was sponsored by Sohio during the Great Rebuilding of the 1980's. December 2003. Photo by Joe Thompson.

Mayor Feinstein on cable car Mayor Dianne Feinstein riding on a California Street cable car. Her forceful personality helped save the cable cars at the time of the Great Reconstruction in 1982-1984. (Source: Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein). October, 2023 Picture of the Month.

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.

Do not pass sign "Do Not Pass Cable Car" sign on car 26 at Powell and Ellis. August, 2015. September, 2015 Picture of the Month.

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.

Do not pass and stop signs "Do Not Pass Cable Car" sign and hand held stop sign on car 5 at Powell and Ellis. August, 2015.

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.

Here is the press release.

Roster of active SF Cable Cars

SF Magazine cover San Francisco Magazine published an article by by Susan Halas around the time of the cable car centennial: "I don't know where I'm going, but let me off when I get there." A great title.

SFMTA In November, 2011, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which controls the San Francisco Municipal Railway, put up some ads to celebrate Muni's distinctive features, like the cable cars, as part of Muni's upcoming centennial year. November, 2011. Photo by Joe Thompson. June, 2018 Picture of the Month.


The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency controls the San Francisco Municipal Railway.

NextBus offers live maps of Muni's cable car lines:


The Friends of the Cable Car Museum, the organization that runs the museum at Washington/Mason. Thanks to them for including a link.

Help Wanted Ad Joe Lacey preserved this 1967 help wanted ad for cable car crew members. $3.22 an hour. Joe Lacey collection. All rights reserved.
Chinatown Sign Chinese-language sign at Powell and Jackson. January 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.
Hyde Street Hill Powell/Hyde car One climbing the Hyde Street Hill in San Francisco. Photograph courtesy of the Artcom Museum Tour. Dec, 1997 Picture of the Month.
WM truck Cable Car Division service truck parked on Mason, across from the barn. Read more about Wreckers and Service Trucks. March 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.
WM exit Car 21 waits inside the Washington and Mason barn exit on Washington. March 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.
WM exit Car 25 pauses as the conductor lifts the lever that releases the lock which is supposed to prevent cars from rolling out the door unattended. March 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.
WM Mason entrance Mason Street entrance. March 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.
Warning Sign Warning sign at the Jackson Street entrance to the Washington/Mason yard. March 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson. June, 2002 Picture of the Month.
WM Jackson entrance Washington and Mason barn Jackson Street yard entrance. March 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.
Replacement bus A bus covers the inner portion of the Powell Street lines during an outage. January 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.
Car 2 Car 2 turns from Washington to the outbound tracks on Powell during a service interruption on the inner part of the Powell Street lines. January 2002. Photo by Joe Thompson.

frontline workers

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.

Prince Charles on cable car "Plainclothes security men hang onto cable car and policeman blocks route as cable car whisks Prince Charles through Financial District." San Francisco's official greeter Cyril Magnin rides next to him. See an article about the visit. (Source: Examiner photo by Bob Bryant. San Francisco Examiner, 28-October-1977 All Rights Reseved.) October, 2022 Picture of the Month.


The Transport Workers Union Local 250A "represents 2,200 men and women through out the city and county of San Francisco. Local 250A members are the Municipal Transit Operators, Transit Fare Inspectors, Automotive Service Workers, Museum Conservators, City Department Health Inspectors, Disease Control Investigators and Curators."

More Muni Pictures

California Street Cable Railroad/ More California Street Pictures

Ferries & Cliff House Railway/ More Ferries and Cliff House Pictures

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