A personal highlight of this past weekend was not America’s Cup, but the transit service that was a byproduct of America’s Cup. I am speaking of course about the special service on the E-Embarcadero historic streetcar line. Rail service along the portion of the San Francisco waterfront between the Wharf and Mission Bay is split in two, with F-Market & Wharves historic streetcars serving the Ferry Building and points north, and Muni Metro light rail vehicles serving Embarcadero Station and points south. The E-Embarcadero line runs along this whole section of the waterfront, linking the two halves using a segment of track between the Ferry Building and the Folsom platform. This track is currently not used for regular revenue service but sits awaiting full-time service on the E line.
It was a great weekend for San Francisco streetcar fans. Despite the crowds, E line operators appeared to enjoy rider enthusiasm for the new service, and if you wandered around long enough, you were bound to meet other railfans and volunteer docents along the route. With E-Embarcadero demonstrations as rare as they are, this weekend provided an excellent opportunity to photograph historic streetcars in the shadow of the Bay Bridge, alongside Muni Metro vehicles, in sight of the growing condo canyons of Mission Bay and Rincon Hill, and at other locations outside of the usual vintage streetcar habitat on Market Street and the northern waterfront. And that, in a nutshell, is how I spent the weekend. I posted a new set of E-Embarcadero photos on my Flickr account, tagged by number if you are interested in a particular streetcar.
Five cars ran on the E line throughout the weekend, including car No. 1008, a 1948 Muni PCC with green and cream livery that hit the streets for revenue service for the first time this weekend:
1948 Muni PCC painted in Philadelphia Red Arrow livery (No. 1007):
Blue and gold 1948 Muni PCC (No. 1010):
“Illinois Terminal” 1948 Muni PCC (No. 1015):
And the Melbourne tram (No. 496):
Of course, there were operational issues. Although the E line fleet this weekend consisted of only 5 cars (one of which was not in service on Sunday), those cars were not evenly spaced along the route. For example, on Saturday, 3 of the 5 cars bunched together, which significantly lengthened wait times despite the advertised 15-minute headways. This uneven service led to crowds even on E platforms located south of Market, lengthening dwell times and delaying some Muni Metro trains that waited to access the high platforms. In addition, the combination of Giants game Muni Metro service and the E line generated a lot of streetcar and LRV movement at 4th and King that was slow to coordinate. Nonetheless, combining America’s Cup and two Giants games in one weekend provided a valuable opportunity to test the E line in a crowded but relatively forgiving setting.
By eliminating a surface-to-subway transfer at Embarcadero (or a surface transfer with a long walk), the E provides a one-seat ride from neighborhoods north of FiDi through to the ballpark, Caltrain, and other destinations south of Market. Major events held on both the north and south ends of the E line this weekend helped clarify the value of that direct connection, as there was not a complete rider shuffle at the Ferry Building. Although that was a popular transfer point, anecdotally, many riders stayed on the car straight through to the ballpark. If operated as a permanent service, the E could join the Stockton-Kearny and Van Ness corridors to provide additional north-to-south capacity in the northeast quadrant of the city. Like the F, the E would serve local and tourist trips alike.
In other words, this is not just about running vintage streetcars in highly visible locations for the benefit of streetcar foamers, nor is it just about the aesthetic sense of unifying the waterfront with a single transit line. The F serves real transportation needs, and even this past weekend’s spotty service suggested that the E could do so as well — in addition to enhancing connections to neighborhoods like Rincon Hill and Mission Bay, where so much of the new growth on the east side of town is being concentrated.
E-Embarcadero service will return in the first weekend of October. As usual, we must thank Market Street Railway for its continued efforts to advance improvements to streetcar service and its work in general on behalf of the vintage fleet — a true local treasure.
For more photos of the E-Embarcadero, please check out this Flickr set with photos from the weekend. Additional photos may trickle in over time, but there are about 50 photos there now.