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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

California Sun - An interlude

Winter chills on the Fylde coast (and elsewhere) prompt an excursion to the West Coast and peek at probably the most visited tourist tramway in the world - in San Francisco. Here one has the choice of the famous cable cars delivering a real service, the Muni Metro light rail and trolleybus (and bus) lines, the Market Street Railway vintage lines that serve Fisherman's Wharf among other tourism destinations, and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) lines.

While the cable cars climbing halfway to the stars are the indeed the inevitable stars in the eyes of tourists coming to the city on the Bay for the first time - in fact the success of heritage streetcar services are by now equally compelling rides for visitors. A mix of classic American PCC cars (many being acquired from other systems such as Newark, Philadelphia, Toronto and elsewhere); and equally classic 1920s designed Milan trams, comingle with exotic examples naturally enough from Blackpool, Melbourne and a host of other systems. Milan cars are presented in several variants of that Italian city's tramway colours through previous decades, whilst the PCC fleet capture individual US transit systems which formerly operated familiar American trolleys. These were spread across the continental United States, as well as three Canadian cities (Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto).

Two versions of San Francisco trams in action - in that all too familiar green and cream.

Milan's green and green styling on 1814 with an elderly passenger carefully negotiating the high steps. Shades of Blackpool's Centenary cars...

A further green example this time of the Brooklyn, New York system. I believe this is an ex SEPTA (Philadelphia) PCC car, one of several which were bought by MUNI to strengthen their earlier PCC car fleet on the F Line.

New York had three distinctly different streetcar operations. One being Brooklyn which actually was the first US city to trial PCC cars after testing of the design on Brooklyn's tracks.

The other large operator was Third Avenue Transit which built many of its own cars in later years. These operated in Manhattan and the Bronx as well as into Westchester County to the north of the city. A much smaller line crossed the 59th Street Bridge linking Queens and Manhattan in what essentially was a short shuttle service from one side of the East River at Queensborough Plaza to 59th Street Manhattan. The service was maintained by a second hand fleet of Osgood Bradley built trams from New Bedford. One example still exists at the Kingston Trolley Museum, New York, albeit awaiting restoration.

And now for something different, a red clad PCC representing the Hollywood line of the Pacific Electric system - sweeping majestically down a San Francisco boulevard. Left : These are the colours of Dallas which operated double ended PCC cars, quite rare types with some seventeen examples migrating north to Boston where they were conveniently used on a suburban service requiring double ended cars. The line still runs and is one of the very last services still to operate with PCC cars. Right ; This is a former Newark, New Jersey PCC car, itself originally from the Twin-Cities system in Minneapolis, now transferred to the sunshine of California along with several other ex Newark PCCs. This example is in the fleet colours of Birmingham, Alabama - the only operator in the south to opt for PCC cars. Several were sold to Toronto when Birmingham closed its final lines, and some of the expatriates found a further home in the US after Philadelphia's SEPTA system suffered a major car barn fire in the 1970s. An urgent search for replacement cars saw both former Kansas City and Birmingham PCCs then heading south (from Toronto) to Philadelphia. San Francisco's MUNI also acquired some of Toronto's PCC cars - this time formerly from Kansas City. If you can follow that story line then you earn a credit from Rigby Road Publishing!

And finally - a colourful contrast which could only be found in San Francisco with a Milan car passing a PCC this time in the colours of Los Angeles City Lines - their corporate 'fruit salad' green and pale orange and white of the 1950s. Note the trolleybus overhead in this electric energy focussed city. All images : Gail Woodman

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