Riding the Rails Italian Style: Italian Wheels on the Streets of San Francisco

Italian Wheels, Streets of San Francisco, Tram Milano, Italian culture, Italian heritage, Italian american, Italian news, Italian traditions

Milan streetcar currently in service on Market Street in San Francisco. Photo credit: "SF Streetcar 1" by Daniel Schwen

 

Have you ever noticed the jaunty vintage streetcars rolling along Market Street and around the Embarcadero?  Have you ever wondered why some of them have foreign identifications on them? That would be because they are vintage streetcars from around the world, including Milan, Italy!
 
In 1962 San Francisco county voters approved several bond measures that included funding for the construction of the Market Street subway, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), and for street reconstruction and beautification.  The saga of the historic streetcars actually began a few years later in 1971 when a proposal was made for a line along Market Street (the F line), and in 1974 for a line on The Embarcadero (the E line).  Finally, in 1981, historic streetcar service began but only on summer weekends.
 Milan, Italy streetcar as it appeared when in service during the 1920s 
 
By 1986 support for permanent service was overwhelming and the non-profit organization, the Market Street Railway Company, dedicated efforts to the acquisition, restoration, and operation of historic rail vehicles. Construction and improvements on Market Street continued until, on September 1, 1995, the F Market Street historic streetcar line began service between Castro and Market Streets to the Transbay Terminal at 1st and Mission Streets.  Service was extended to Fisherman’s Wharf beginning on March 4, 2000.
 
Of course, San Francisco’s original light rail service began well before the F line and actually dates back to the 1800s when electric streetcars replaced horse drawn carriages on Market Street in the 1880s.  The original F line began in 1915 but it was on a different route than the current one, connecting the Marina District with downtown.  Service on that line was discontinued in 1951.
 
Da Milano Con Amore 
It has been many decades since the days of horse-drawn transportation on the streets of San Francisco, and, since then, streetcars from all over the world have been added to the fleet, including the classic "Peter Witt" streetcars from Milan which feature stunning hardwood interiors.  These Italian cars, originally built in 1928, were acquired by Muni specifically for the F Line. The cars are called “Peter Witt” cars because they are based on Cleveland transit Commissioner Peter Witt’s design from 1915.  Nine of the Milan cars are currently in service to Fisherman’s Wharf, and others will be ready for service in the future.  Most of San Francisco's Peter Witt cars are currently painted in the overall orange color scheme that they carried in Milan. Many European countries use the word “tram” rather than the American word, “streetcar.”  
 Milan, Italy streetcar as it appeared when in service from the 1930s to the 1970s 
 
In Milan, trams are an important component of the city’s transportation network which is comprised of about 200 kilometers, or approximately 124 miles, of rails used by the Milanesi every day.  Milan acquired the first trams in 1876 after the inauguration of the Milan-Monza tramway.  At that time, they were operated using animal traction.  In 1892 a project began to electrify the urban tramway network and by 1901 the electrified system was completed. In 1917, the comune (an administrative division in Italy) of Milan assumed direct control of the city's tramway network through the Ufficio Tramviario Municipale.
 
By the 1920s, Milan’s tram network was crowded and overworked so in the late 1920s the  famous 1500 series trams were added to Milan's fleet. These trams, many of which are still in service, were modelled on the American Peter Witt streetcars.  Fast forward to present day and we find Azienda Trasporti Milanesi (ATM), responsible for Milan’s public transportation.  It operates 18 tram lines, some of which are still Witt’s from the 1920s, along with various other bus lines, carrying over 734 million passengers in 2010.
 
San Francisco’s F Market Streetcar Line 
San Francisco’s F Market Streetcar Line begins at Fisherman's Wharf, a few blocks from the Hyde Street cable car turnaround.  It travels along the Embarcadero, San Francisco's waterfront,  to San Francisco’s Ferry building then turns onto Market Street, up to the cable car turnaround at Powell and Market near Union Square. From there the street cars continue up Market Street past the Civic Center and City Hall into the upper Market area.  
 
F-Market & Wharves Historic Streetcar Line (the F-line), is operational 365 days a year from 6:00 a.m. until midnight. 
 
For more information on riding the rails, check out the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SF-MTA), website at http://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/transit/routes-stops. For more information on Muni’s preservation partner, the Market Street Railway organization, visit their website at www.streetcar.org.
 
Residents and visitors to San Francisco have the amazing opportunity to travel Italian style in “Museums in Motion”.  Very few cities in the world can offer what San Francisco does every day, the opportunity to enjoy amazing vistas, historic sites, colorful neighborhoods and unforgettable attractions, all from a seat on an Italian streetcar.  Areas waiting to be explored by riding these historic rails are along The Embarcadero, the Ferry Building, Fisherman’s Wharf, Aquatic Park, Russian Hill, Ghirardelli Square, and North Beach.  
 
Riding the rails Italian style is not quite like travelling to Milan, but, if you think about it, it is quite a treat to ride Italian style down the streets of San Francisco.  And, these rails are available for charter! Godetevi  il vostro viaggio sul tram!

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