By Rick Laubscher, President, Market Street Railway
Reproduced with permission from the MSR Inside Track newsletter
Muni is facing a severe space crunch and wants to dispose of many of the unrestored historic streetcars in its possession. Market Street Railway has been working with leadership of Muni’s parent, SFMTA, to forge a comprehensive strategic plan for the future of historic streetcar service in San Francisco. That plan is nearing completion, and addresses both the question of how many unrestored streetcars to keep, and the immediate restoration of many historic streetcars.
This is perhaps the most important development involving the historic streetcar movement in San Francisco since the decision to build the permanent F-line 30 years ago. In this issue of Inside Track, we will cover the issue of saving an adequate number of unrestored PCC streetcars for future needs. In our next issue, which we will release as soon as details are finalized, we will report on the firm plans to restore irreplaceable historic streetcars that have languished for decades.
Longtime San Franciscans and history buffs know about the ‘Bone-yard,’ a huge lot at Lincoln Way and Funston Avenue in the Sunset District where our namesake Market Street Railway Company and later Muni stored scores of streetcars they no longer needed—streetcars eventually scrapped.
Today’s Boneyard is on Marin Street, near the shore of San Francisco Bay, adjoining an inlet known as Islais Creek, which divides the Dogpatch and Bayview neighborhoods. That’s where 27 unrestored vintage streetcars, plus several retired cable cars, are stored.
Real estate in San Francisco is among the most expensive in the nation, and the recent residential building boom has wiped away many large parcels once used for industrial or transit uses. For example, one past storage area used for the streetcars, Pier 70, is beginning a transformation costing hundreds of millions of dollars to create housing, office space, bayside parks, and space for artisans.
For more than a decade, Muni has been housing its ‘reserve fleet’ of unrestored PCC streetcars, lower-priority unrestored non-PCC streetcars, and retired cable cars on the Marin Street parcel, next door to the new Muni Islais Creek motor coach division now being constructed. Muni has already started to link these two properties by emptying the warehouse building on the Marin property to serve as an acceptance station for new buses. In doing so, they moved fragile vehicles such as the retired cable cars that had been inside to the open yard to join the vehicles that have been there for years. Now, they want to empty the open yard to the greatest extent possible to provide room for a bus driver training program, a need they’ve had trouble finding space for elsewhere.
CONDITION: DECENT TO AWFUL
Most of the streetcars outside are shrink wrapped in white plastic to reduce their exposure to the elements, though this protection has peeled away in many places. Of the streetcars without intact wrapping, most show advanced deterioration, including rust and corrosion that started decades ago. Additionally, some of the cars were vandalized before they were moved to this location, with parts stolen, heavy graffiti applied, and other damage done.
Muni itself has used some of the streetcars as parts supplies for cars in the operating fleet, leaving little more than shells. For example, of the nine unrestored PCCs of Muni’s ‘Baby Ten’ class at Marin Street, only one—1039—is essentially intact. Two others, 1033 and 1034, might be cost-effective to restore, if and when more single-end PCCs are needed. The other ‘Baby Tens,’ the last group of PCCs ordered new in North America (numbered 1016-1040 and delivered in 1951-52) have deteriorated so badly that they do not appear worth restoring; a sad loss. (Fortunately, at MSR’s urging, Muni has already completely rehabilitated Car 1040, the last PCC ever built in North America, operating in daily service on the F-line.)
The Marin Street yard also holds twelve unrestored ex-Muni PCCs from the 1100-class. As a group, these are more complete than the Baby Tens, though several are quite deteriorated. These cars were originally built in 1946 for St. Louis Public Service and slogged through 10 Missouri winters before coming to San Francisco, exposing them to underframe rust from road salt that the 1952-vintage Baby Tens, native to Muni, never experienced.
Of this group, the cars that appear to be in the best condition include 1103, 1115, 1130, 1140, 1160, and 1168, along with 1704 (originally 1128; repainted in its original St. Louis livery and restored to its St. Louis number in 1983 for the first Trolley Festival). Two other cars of this class, 1139 and 1158, are completely shrink-wrapped for protection from the elements and haven’t been recently inspected.
Renovating the 1100s would require making the cars closely compatible with the current PCC fleet, replacing the unique St. Louis two-pedal operating system with the standard PCC three-pedal system to reduce training costs and avoid possible operating mistakes. (Trivia: the 1168 is the streetcar that Clint Eastwood, playing “Dirty Harry” in the movie of that name, rode through the Twin Peaks Tunnel.)
So it seems likely that eight to twelve ex-Muni PCCs will be preserved, with parts taken off other cars if they could be useful in future restorations. Also likely to be preserved are Car 4008, a rebuilt (but non-standard) PCC from Pittsburgh, and possibly one of the two ex-SEPTA cars on the property, the 2147, which would primarly serve as a replacement body should a future catastrophic accident destroy one of the 13 ex-SEPTA cars (the 1050-class) currently in the F-line fleet.
While of course no one wants to think about such an accident, a mangled ex-SEPTA streetcar currently stored at Marin, the 1054, is proof that it can happen. Rear-ended on San Jose Avenue by an LRV while being tested in 2001, the 1054 has already been stripped of all useable parts and will be scrapped. The second Pittsburgh car, 4009, will not be retained either.
All the surplus PCCs would be offered to museums on an as-is, where-is basis, and then to a recy-cler. In addition to the 1054, 4009, and ex-SEPTA 2133, at least ten ex-Muni PCCs are also likely to be sent away: unrestored ‘Baby Tens’ 1023,1026,1027,1028,1031, and 1038; and unrestored 1100-class cars 1106, 1108, and 1139, and 1158. Further inspections may change the final choices and number of cars preserved slightly.
To reiterate, the primary consideration for retention or disposal is an evaluation of the car body’s structural integrity, which is the biggest component of restoration costs, and to a lesser extent whether key components that are difficult to replicate, such as the ‘bulls-eye’ interior lights and window frames remain on the car or are obtainable from other cars at Marin Street.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
All the PCCs at Marin Street are single-ended. The new streetcar strategic plan now nearing completion puts the highest priority on restoring additional double-ended streetcars, including the two ex-Red Arrow cars just acquired from a Connecticut museum. Double-end cars can switch back at several locations on the E- and F-lines where single end cars cannot, providing greater operating flexibility during events, breakdowns, and surges in demand along one part of a line.
This makes the cost of restoring even deteriorated double-end cars justifiable, whereas a similarly deteriorated single-end PCC would not be cost-effective to restore under these criteria. (As mentioned, surplus single-end PCCs would be first offered to museums to take away at their own expense, but all the streetcar museums we know already have one or more PCCs in their collections.)
BIG PRICE TAG
While virtually any PCC can be restored if money is no object, money is a key object here. Costs of streetcar restoration have climbed sharply since the F-line opened in 1995, both because of general inflation and because of additional modern safety and security requirements.
In the past five years, Muni has invested in total rehabilitation for four badly deteriorated double-ended PCCs from its own fleet (Cars 1006, 1008, 1009, and 1011) because those double-enders were required to start up the E-line. Improving E-line reliability and ultimately expanding and extending service are key considerations in the overall streetcar strategy.
Restoring any additional single-end PCCs from among the batch being saved will depend on increased demand on the F-line in years to come. We will discuss this further in our next issue.
MILANS & HISTORICS FIRST
It’s important to remember that while the PCCs are the core of the historic fleet, the E- and F-lines cannot successfully operate long-term with just PCCs. Muni also owns eleven ‘Peter Witt’ trams from Milan, Italy, built in 1928, plus eighteen historic streetcars from around the world that Market Street Railway helped Muni acquire. Thirteen of these are double-ended, and most of these could easily be converted to operate with a single operator, making it much easier to get them into regular revenue service. (Note: such irreplaceable vehicles as Muni Car 1 from 1912 and Market Street Railway Co. ‘dinky’ 578s from 1896 are reserved for special occasions.)
In our next issue, we will share the exciting plan, now nearing completion, to bring several of these double-end historic streetcars into service soon. Details are still being finalized. Knowing the salvation of these historic cars is near makes it easier to accept the departure of some very poor condition PCCs.
Both developments show that Muni leadership is now thinking strategically about the future oi historic streetcars in San Francisco, working collaborative!) with Market Street Railway to achieve a realistic and sustainable outcome that will give the E and I lines room to grow for decades to come.