Purgatory Station

San Francisco’s Boneyard for Zombie Streetcars


The San Francisco Municipal Railway’s Marin Division is a fenced-in yard along the southern waterfront where the city’s transit agency stores various bits and pieces of old transportation hardware.

Today, it’s used mainly as a parking lot for derelict streetcars — a kind of purgatory for old trolleys as they await either restoration or piecemeal cannibalization to sustain the still-active streetcars in Muni’s thriving vintage streetcar fleet. The Marin Yard is protected by a big fence and grumpy security guards, but I was invited in for a tour with Market Street Railway, a nonprofit group dedicated to the preservation of San Francisco’s historic streetcars.

Most of the old streetcars here are streamlined PCCs built roughly between 1940 and 1952. The PCCs were designed at midcentury to improve passenger comfort and (it was hoped) make public transit more competitive with private automobiles. By the 1970s, however, most PCCs looked old and tired and were slated for replacement. At the Marin Yard, some PCCs from that era survive as spooky time capsules of the day when they were removed from service:

Much of the original signage remains:

There’s a PCC from Philadelphia here, looking just as it did when San Francisco snatched it up as surplus from Septa, Philly’s mass-transit agency:

Some of the old PCCs were left exposed to the elements — and vandals — for years until they finally found refuge inside the boneyard fence. They’re now painted blue on the outside, but the scars from those feral years are still clear to see:

There’s a even a faded, former California Street cable car parked among the hulks:

Mixed in with all the American iron, the Marin Yard is also home to an oddball assortment of trolleys from around the world.

This streetcar is from Hamburg, Germany. After retirement, it was imported to the United States and operated in San Francisco for a series of Trolley Festivals held during the 1980s. Now, after years of inactivity, it awaits rehabilitation:

The good news is that as hopeless as some of these old streetcars seem, they remain here because they’re still valuable. Many will enjoy better days again — eventually.

Consider ex-Muni PCC streetcar No. 1040. Built in 1952, No. 1040 is particularly historic, because it was the very last of the more than 5000 PCCs built in the United States. Yet after decades of service and few more decades of storage, this is how No. 1040 looked in 2009:

Shortly after that photo was taken, 1040 was fully rebuilt and restored. And here’s how streetcar No. 1040 looks back on the streets today:

San Francisco’s streetcar boneyard appears lost in time, but that’s not really true. Instead, it’s just a sad waystation between yesterday and tomorrow.

All photos by Todd Lappin/Telstar Logistics, except the final streetscape image of streetcar No. 1040, courtesy of Jim Maurer (used under Creative Commons).

You can follow Todd Lappin on Twitter at @TelstarLogistic.
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