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Release date: San Francisco's "Newest" Cable Car Evokes Earthquake Days

*** Press Release ***

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which operates the Municipal Railway (Muni), has welcomed back to our city’s streets one of the original cable cars that survived the 1906 quake. SFMTA craftsworkers have finished rebuilding an 1890 cable car in anticipation of decades of additional service and painted it in colors not seen on Powell Street since the 1906 Earthquake and Fire.

Customers board car 25 at the intersection of Hyde and Lombard

Powell Street cable car number 25 was originally constructed 118 years ago in the shops of the Ferries and Cliff House Railway on the site of the current Muni cable car barn at Washington and Mason Streets. The cable car was heavily rebuilt by Muni craftsworkers in 1976 and rebuilt again even more extensively over the past two years. Car 25 is now virtually new, with very little of the original car remaining. To celebrate its place in San Francisco history, the car has been painted in the red and cream livery displayed by Powell Street cable cars at the time of the Earthquake and Fire of 1906.

“The cable cars are the symbol of San Francisco around the world. They are ambassadors on wheels for our unique city,” said Nathaniel P. Ford, Sr., Executive Director/CEO of the SFMTA. “The skills demonstrated in the rebuilding of this cable car serve as the highest tribute to the quality of Muni craftsworkers, who carry on a century-old tradition. The 1906 paint scheme will serve as a continuous reminder to our customers of San Francisco’s long history as a transit-friendly and Transit First city,” Ford continued.

A little-known fact about the surviving original cars in today’s Powell Street fleet is that they originally ran on Sacramento and Clay Streets. The company that built the Powell Street lines in 1888, Ferries & Cliff House Railway, operated four cable car lines using identical cars. The cable cars assigned to the Powell Street lines were incinerated, along with the Washington-Mason powerhouse and car barn, in the fire that followed the April 18, 1906 earthquake. But 27 cable cars assigned to the Sacramento-Clay line were stored outside the fire zone and survived. Those cars, including car number 25, were transferred to Powell Street service when the line reopened, and have worked there ever since.

Since 1951, Muni has been systematically rebuilding original cable cars where possible. When an original car proves too deteriorated for further service, completely new cars are constructed in Muni’s shops, taking the roster number of the car they replace. Such is the case with brand new Powell cable car number 15, which is now at the cable car barn awaiting final preparation before entering service. Car number 15 will be painted in the bright yellow and cream livery used on the Powell-Mason line in the 1890s. When car number 15 enters service later this year, the Powell Street cable car fleet will include cars painted in every major color scheme used on the line since it opened in 1888.

Next Tuesday, June 3, the Powell Street cable car fleet will serve as a dynamic back drop to the 46th annual Cable Car Bell Ringing Contest to be held at 12 noon in Union Square. Come listen to history!

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