Muni History with….The People’s Railway

One of the coolest gifts I’ve ever received was a copy of “The People’s Railway” by Anthony Perles a few months ago from “Mason Powell.” This is not always an easy book to find, especially one in such nice condition, so to finally own a copy, much less have one that only has a few dings from shipping (via a bookstore in Georgia!) is nice.

Perles’ book covers Muni from its inception up until the LRV era and slightly beyond. It’s particularly interesting because it isn’t just a book about trolley cars and nostalgia – there’s some detailed coverage about the politics surrounding Muni and the many changes it went through over the years, and its interactions with the old Market Street Railway, United Railroads, etc.

It’s also useful to read as we discuss things like the Central Subway, the bazillion dollar project that has the unquestioned support of certain politicians and politicos, regardless of any facts that suggest there may be more cost effective ways to serve Chinatown.

How, you ask? Well there’s a particularly fascinating read on the creation of the original F-line (not to be confused with our awesome F-Line of today), which served Stockton Street, and went through the tunnel (built for the line) all the way to Chestnut and Scott for the Exposition.

In other words, we had a line there, we ripped it out, and are now rebuilding a half-assed part of it for a bazillion dollars and it won’t serve nearly as many people as a Geary underground would, etc. etc. etc.

I suppose in 50 years we’ll be blowing up the Central Subway for another bazillion dollar rail project. That is, if dollars are even used anymore.

Anyway, the book is worth reading sometime, you can find copies in the library that you can examine on the premises. Check it out!

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10 Responses to Muni History with….The People’s Railway

  1. mikesonn says:

    I’d love to read that sometime. I’ll be heading to the library. The F-line story has always interested me, especially the Stockton tunnel and how it now relates to the CS boondoggle.

  2. Karl says:

    How is the current F-Line awesome? From Castro to Embarcadero it’s a total waste of the city’s asset in tracks down Market. This should be served by high capacity, prioritized LRVs, as opposed to twiddly 30’s era street cars.

  3. david vartanoff says:

    indeed a great reference.
    @ Karl, when the Market St segment of the F opened it tripled the ridership of the previous trolley coach within 6 months. Riders define the value of a transit route.
    As to the LRVs, yes they should be better managed. But they are the ‘expresses’ the F is the local; each is useful to riders.

  4. anonymouse says:

    @Karl, the 30s era streetcars are pretty high capacity as it is, and work pretty well as a practical transit system. Transit priority is something the city needs everywhere (and has trouble with everywhere), not just Market.

  5. Bob Davis says:

    Two companion books to “The Peoples Railway” are “Inside Muni”, which goes more into the “nuts & bolts” details of Muni history, and “Tours of Discovery”, a photo-album book with pictures that the authors didn’t have space for in the first two. I also recommend “The White Front Cars” by Charles Smallwood, the story of Market Street Ry., which was bought out by Muni in 1944. (I will admit that two of these books are more for hard-core railfans than general students of city history)
    Regarding the classic streetcars on the “F” line, if you want to ride LRVs, just go downstairs to Muni Metro. The PCCs and older cars are a proper “fit” for the “F” line and there are a number of electro-mechanical reasons why suggestions for using LRVs have been rejected. And you’d have a fight on your hands from all of us vintage streetcar enthusiasts.

  6. Karl says:

    “Karl, the 30s era streetcars are pretty high capacity as it is, and work pretty well as a practical transit system.”
    Questionable. Why then do people go through the exercise of squeezing into already overloaded trains at Castro and Church to get to the FD in the morning and back in the evening. Answer: Because the 30’s era streetcars don’t cut, in comparison to the tunnel, no less. I say get rid of that old stuff and limit it to tourist rides up and down the Embarcadero.

  7. david vartanoff says:

    @Karl. BOTH services have markets. As long as they both attract riders, they should continue. BTW, the ## on Muni’s website show that the F attracts nearly 2k more riders than the J. Now tell me again which should be shut down.

  8. Karl says:

    All I am saying keep the F but run modern and high capacity vehicles with transit priority on the surface to take the pressure off the tunnel between Embarcadero and Castro.
    And yes, I consider the 30’s era clunkers junk. Hopelessly inadequate and a safety hazard to boot. Lousy access for wheelchairs.

  9. Greg Dewar says:

    PCC cars are some of the most reliable ever built. In many countries they are still using the same basic platform as the PCCs (with minor adjustments) the only thing different are the exterior body, etc.
    The historic streetcars have added value. The same arguments you make against them were made against the cable cars, which I can’t imagine anyone would be glad to throw away.

  10. m says:

    do people ever really ride the F instead of the metro when the metro is running? not for capacity, but it’s much slower–i do it sometimes if nextmuni suggests the timing lines up: i’d rather wait on the F than in the station, but i’ll switch at civic, which the lrv will have caught up to (or often passed) 10 minutes later. and it only gets slower as it gets closer to the financial district.

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