World's oldest, largest cable car returns to the hills of San Francisco

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No. 19 on a Sept. 8 test run.
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
SAN FRANCISCO – The world’s oldest and largest operating cable car entered revenue service for the first time in 77 years this past weekend in San Francisco.

Sacramento-Clay Line cable car No. 19 – also known as “Big 19” – ran on the California Street Cable Car Line on Saturday and Sunday as part of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s annual MUNI Heritage Weekend. The annual event is organized in coordination with the nonprofit Market Street Railway and allows the public ride historic vehicles that rarely see the light of day.

While there were numerous historic buses, streetcars and cable cars roaming the streets of San Francisco – including two “boat trams” from Blackpool, England, and the world’s oldest operating streetcar still owned by a transit agency – the star of the show was the recently restored No. 19.

Cable car No. 19 was built in 1883 for the Market Street Cable Railway Co., which later became part of the United Railroads of San Francisco. At 35 feet long and 14,000 pounds, No. 19 was among the largest cable cars ever built. The car ran down Market Street until the 1906 earthquake destroyed all of the cable car routes on that thoroughfare and was replaced with electric cable cars. No. 19 survived the earthquake and fires and was later transferred to the Sacramento-Clay Line, where it ran until 1942.

The car was slated to be displayed at a museum but those plans never materialized and so it sat in obscurity at MUNI’s cable car carpentry shop. In the 1990s, Market Street Railway began to advocate for the restoration and MUNI did some work on the car but quickly learned that due to its size it would be hard to run the car on any of the three surviving cable car routes. The car stayed in storage for another 20 years.

Earlier this year, some MUNI employees decided to take another shot at getting the car out of the shop and adjusted its running boards and trucks. In July, the car was pushed through every curve and hump on the California Street Line – a route it had never run before – and it cleared every test. A week later, it was connected to a cable and ran for the first time on its own since World War II.

This weekend, it performed flawlessly on the California Street Line and it’s expected to make appearances at special events in the future.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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