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U.S. Streetcar Systems- California – San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco Muni “F” Line

Began Operation: 1995

Route Miles: 5.8

Stops: numerous street stops

Org: transit agency + non-profit

Schedule: daily

– John Smatlak photo

Operated as part of the city’s municipal transit system, San Francisco Municipal Railway, the “F” line provides a direct rail link between Downtown and the Fisherman’s Wharf area. The line operates from Market and Castro, down the surface tracks on Market St., and along the northern waterfront to Fisherman’s Wharf at Jones and Beach Streets (near the terminus of the Powell-Hyde cable car line). The “F” line has the highest ridership of any U.S. streetcar line, with 25,000 daily riders by 2007 (well over 8 million riders a year). Muni is in the process of completing additional cars to increase capacity on the “F” Line and expand service with the creation of the new “E”-Embarcadero Line.

The “F” Line is public transportation with a definite historic flavor; base service is provided with 17 refurbished PCC cars and 10 ‘Peter Witt’-type cars imported from Milan, with a variety of other historic cars from around the world filling in where needed. Each of the PCC cars is painted in a different “vintage” color scheme, representing classic paint schemes from cities around the country. It should also be noted that while operating to and from the maintenance facility where they are kept, the “F” line streetcars also share tracks with modern streetcars. The new “E” Line service will also feature old and new cars sharing the same tracks.

Serving in a “friends of the streetcar” support role is the volunteer Market Street Railway, providing assistance with historic car acquisition, restoration, interpretation and serving an important general advocacy role. Through their cooperative arrangement with the Muni, the MSR has a small office and work area at Muni’s Duboce Yard on Market Street, where volunteers take on a variety of projects. In 2007, the MSR also opened the San Francisco Railway Museum in a storefront at the foot of Market St.

There’s nothing quite like riding one of Muni’s historic cars down Market St. Especially during rush hour when the street is packed with traffic and the sidewalks crowded with humanity. The buildings at the Embarcadero end of the line tower over the scene, creating a canyon below for the the artery that is Market Street. It’s a once commonplace scene that was repeated daily in every big city in the United States- streetcars faithfully moving the masses through the crowded urban center. And with the public’s overwhelming response to the new service, its a scene that will be repeated daily for many years to come!

“F” Line- Market Street

“F” Line streetcars operate along the length of Market Street, a total of three miles from the Castro Street terminal to the Embarcadero. Market Street is one of the country’s most famous “streetcar thoroughfares”, and was equipped with four tracks from the late ‘Teens into the 1950’s. Following completion of the BART heavy rail subway and the streetcar subway above the BART tracks, surface operation of streetcars on Market was scheduled to end altogether in 1982. However, the start of the San Francisco Historic Trolley Festival the following year changed that. The Trolley Festival had been created to provide an interim replacement for the cable car system that was then being rebuilt. The festivals were such a success, however, that they continued even after the cable car system returned to operation. Regular “F” Line historic streetcar service on Market began in 1995.

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PCC and trolley bus
on Market St. 

 PCC bound for
the Castro district

Market Street

130 and a trolley coach take the turn at the foot of
Market St. 

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Passing the
Powell Street cable car terminus.

F Line cars
frequently carry capacity crowds

Milan car
on Market Street
PCC trip on Market
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operates both historic and modern streetcars; the F Line is worked
exclusively by the historic cars, while a fleet of Ansaldo Breda
streetcars operate the remaining subway / surface lines. These
modern streetcars board from both high and low level platforms, and
operate in fully automatic mode in the subway. 

952 on the "J" Line,
used daily to access the line’s maintenance base.

“F” Line- Embarcadero

The long-awaited extension of San Francisco’s “F” historic streetcar line opened on March 4, 2000, combining the existing service on Market St. with an additional 2.8 miles of new trackage along the waterfront Embarcadero. Prior to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, the Embarcadero had been covered with a freeway. Instead of rebuilding the heavily damaged freeway after the earthquake, the City instead re-visioned the area and created a grand waterfront boulevard, with accommodation for streetcar service in the median.

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stop at the Ferry Terminal

130 in front of the Ferry Terminal Building

Milan car turns back toward Market.

Milan car turns onto the Embarcadero.

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PCC car turning off the Embarcadero, while a shuttle car waits
in the background.

junction is a remarkably busy place, not only streetcars
but plenty of auto traffic.

of Muni’s double-ended PCC cars pass near the Embarcadero Plaza station.

line is double  track, with a single track loop
arrangement on separate streets at the Wharf end.

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of the trackway along the Embarcadero is lined with paving blocks that
discourage pedestrians from walking on the tracks, but
permit operation of buses when necessary. Much of
the route is also lined with palm trees, creating a
dramatic visual corridor. The photo at right illustrates
one of the mid-block pedestrian crossings.

paralleling sidewalk is quite wide, providing further incentive for
pedestrians to stay off the trackway

is provided on very close headways throughout the day.

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left turn pockets are provided at all cross streets- a
necessity given the traffic volume.

left turn phase in process.

turn phase ended. Note that the truck has stopped beyond
the curbside signal

signals across the street reinforce the no left turn
phase. Note the "streetcar coming" illuminated

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stops are simple affairs. A shelter is provided, along
with an ADA access ramp.

fill in when there are not enough streetcars to carry the

Embarcadero is graced with a number of restored historic

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 The route changes to a one-way loop
as it reaches Pier 39.Outbound
cars use Jefferson St. The tracks are in a shared right
lane, except for this brief section of exclusive lane.

operator has deployed the bridge plate between the
hi-block platform and the car to assist two elderly passengers.

short-turn loop has been built adjacent to Pier 39 to
allow cars to turn back early if needed.

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Pier 39- note the taxi encroaching on the streetcar.

Pier 39 on Jefferson. Note the shared traffic lane.

in the background. Note the median to prevent last- second
right turns in front of the streetcar.

1 on Jefferson. The ADA access ramps in the wharf area are
more ornate than on other parts of the line.

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can get quite heavy in the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

two automobiles have illegally pulled in front of the
streetcar in order to make right turns.

Fisherman’s Wharf terminal at Jones St. is a simple

Blackpool Boat Car at the Wharf

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along Beach St. Note the ornamental additions to the
trolley wire bracket arms.

of the ornamental addition to the trolley wire support

Milan car boarding on Beach St.

Passing Fisherman’s Wharf
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1 and 130 are among the oldest in the fleet, and are
typically used only along the Embarcadero, shuttling
between Market St. and Fisherman’s Wharf. The photos
illustrate portions of the turning loop utilized at the
Market St. end.

Car No. 1 inbound on Beach. 


Smatlak photos

“E” Line- Embarcadero

The southern portion of the Embarcadero was rebuilt with a connection to the Muni Metro Subway, and currently hosts modern streetcars operating to the Caltrain commuter rail station, a new ballpark, and the new Third Street “T” Line. Plans call for extension of historic streetcar service to the ballpark / Caltrain terminus, pending funding and the availability of additional historic cars. Click here for more information on the “E” Line.

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few blocks south of Market, the Muni Metro subway emerges
onto the Embarcadero.

This informal
"E" Line "preview" took place in 2007. Muni hopes to extend
historic car operation on the Embarcadero south to the Caltrain
commuter rail station and the ballpark. Separate low-level boarding platforms for the
historic cars have already been installed.

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around the Caltrain terminus. The new Third Street "T"
Line branches off here.

Smatlak photos


News & Updates

12/10 Update: The first of the rewired PCC cars returned to San Francisco from Brookville Equipment during November. The car’s original GE PCC propulsion system has been completely replaced with a new Westinghouse-type PCC system supplied by Bombardier through their Woltan subsidiary in Poland. The new system remains basically true to the original Westinghouse PCC electrical design, although the original MG set / blower has been replaced with a modern low voltage power supply / inverter / blower package.

On December 2 another Muni streetcar milestone took place when a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the official opening of the new car storage building at the Geneva Carhouse. At long last much of the historic fleet will now have an indoor shelter! Thanks to Karl Johnson for the news and pictures.

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5/10 Update. Brookville Equipment continues to work on the complete rebuild of historic streetcar No. 1 and is also making progress with the work on the single and double-ended PCC cars. Click here for an entry on the Market Street Railway blog covering the news. The big news is that construction has finally started on the historic streetcar carbarn at the Geneva maintenance facility. The new building will provide shelter for 24 historic streetcars which until now have been stored outdoors, exposed to the weather. See the photo below and check the Market Street Railway blog for more details. The pictures also document a recent charter using Market Street Railway Car 578. Built in 1895, it survived as a work car, and was restored in 1956 for the 50th anniversary of the 1906 earthquake.

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new carhouse under construction 5/20/10

passage of a presidential motorcade on Fourth St. on
5/19/10 created temporary chaos on Market St. What is
already a very busy street became a solid line of
streetcars and buses.

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to depart Geneva, next to the old office building that
was once part of the original carhouse

the Fisherman’s Wharf area

at the F Line terminus at Fisherman’s Wharf
at the Ferry Terminal Building
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on Market Street
classic scene on the J Line, looking down over the

uphill, outbound on the J

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at 30th & Church

the hill on the J Line

a former streetcar stop in the middle of the hill
Church Street
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back adjacent to the Ferry Terminal

5/09 Update. Muni has awarded a $1.9M contract to Brookville Equipment for the complete overhaul of historic streetcar No. 1. Work is scheduled to begin this summer. In anticipation of the car being moved to Brookville PA., it was moved to the new Muni Metro East facility where it can be stored under cover until it leaves for Pennsylvania. Click here for an entry on the Market Street Railway blog covering the news.

07/08 Update. As ridership on the “F” Line continues to grow, the Muni is working to field additional cars to meet the demand. The eleven PCC cars overhauled in 2005-2007 are now scheduled to receive additional work, including complete rewiring and conversion of control systems to match the balance of Muni’s PCC fleet. Additionally, four more double-ended PCCs are to be rebuilt, along with historic PCC 1040 (the last PCC car built in America, delivered in 1952) and Muni historic car No. 1. A pre-bid conference for the contracts to perform the aforementioned work was held in late July, with bids due in August. Work is expected to take approximately two years.

In other historic car news, Muni Car 162 is poised to re-enter service following a multi-year restoration effort. The car was acquired by the Muni in 2003 from the Orange Empire Railway Museum in Southern California with help from the MSR. Restoration was a cooperative venture between Muni and MSR. The car made its debut for the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) Rail Transit Conference, hosted by San Francisco in June of 2008. The car is expected to enter regular passenger service shortly.

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162 at the Ferry Terminal loop, Embarcadero & Market,
June 2008
Smatlak with car 162
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returns to the historic Geneva Carhouse

on an evening trip for the APTA Heritage Trolley and
Streetcar Subcommittee, June 2008.

Smatlak photos

06/06 Update. Brookville Equipment Corporation is making excellent progress on the refurbishment of the eleven PCC cars acquired by Muni from New Jersey Transit. Based on the experience of refurbishing the first of the cars in 2005, the scope of work was expanded to cover additional needed work. The cars are now expected to enter service later in 2006, adding badly needed capacity to the F-Line, which continues to carry record numbers of riders.


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eleven PCC streetcars now being refurbished will continue
the San Francisco tradition of painting each one in a different
heritage paint scheme, representing cities throughout
North America.  

03/05 Update. In late 2004, Muni awarded a contract to Brookville Equipment to refurbish the eleven PCC cars it acquired from New Jersey Transit . The cars will hopefully begin arriving in late 2005, adding badly needed capacity to the F-Line, which continues to carry record numbers of riders.

11/03 Newark PCCs purchased. The Market St. Railway, which supports Muni’s Vintage Trolley operations, has announced that the Muni has reached a deal to purchase 11 PCC-type trolley cars which Newark retired in 2001. Over the last few years, Muni has purchased a number of other PCC cars from various owners around the country, and in addition to the 11 Newark cars, now owns 31 unrestored PCC cars/carbodies.

At minimum, the Newark cars will require several modifications prior to being used in San Francisco, but their acquisition demonstrates Muni’s ongoing commitment to its popular Vintage Trolley operations.

12/01- Planning for Muni’s next historic streetcar line, Route “E- Embarcadero” continues. One proposal receiving consideration is an extension of the route, beyond the current F-Line terminal at Fisherman’s Wharf, to serve the Fort Mason area. The Market St. Railway website has an excellent write-up on the proposed service here. Source and photo: Market St. Railway.

8/01- Muni is seeking to expand its PCC car fleet, and has already purchased several additional cars.