15 Fun Facts About the Cable Cars in San Francisco
Cable cars, also called cable trams outside of the US, are a form of public transport in which rails are carried forward through a speedy cable system. These cars do not have an engine and run without attaching the cable cars permanently to the cable system.
San Francisco once renowned for its vast system of hundreds of cable cars. Widely used by the public for commuting back in the day, it has been in operation for a long time, and anything that goes on for this long is bound to have some secrets and insider information. In this article, you will discover 15 of the most astonishing, unique, and never-before-heard-of facts about cable cars in San Francisco.
Hold on tight! You’re in for a fun ride.
1- It is the world's only remaining manually operated cable car system
Yes! You read that right! Due to the changes in technology and the innovation of electric buses and bullet trains, cable cars have gone out of fashion. However, San Francisco remains the one city that still believes in the charm of cable cars and has been running them manually to this day. At present, only three lines remain in operation out of the 23 lines built from 1873 to 1890.
2- It transports 9.7 million passengers annually
Nearly ten million is quite an impressive number of passengers indeed! While metros and bullet trains may be the preferred option for the daily commute by locals, tourists prefer cable cars. The cable car system of San Francisco is truly an icon in the eyes of its visitors. Their trip to the city remains incomplete without having a ride on this iconic form of transportation that has become a significant part of the city's identity.
3- Passengers may have to wait for two hours for a ride
Why the long wait? Well, the reason is the staggering number of tourists that wish to ride on the iconic cable car. Depending upon the crowd at the cable car turnaround, the waiting can even go on for more than two hours during peak times. The longest wait times are for the Powell Street line at the turnaround at Market Street. However, the long wait doesn't bother the tourists; neither does it lessen their desire to hop on just for the experience of riding one.
4- The death of horses inspired Andrew Smith Hallidie to come up with cable cars
This may sound unusual, but to be fair, it is no different from Newton discovering gravity through a fallen apple. The year was 1869, and horses were used to draw streetcars to travel. One day, the inventor of the San Francisco cable cars, Andrew Smith Hallidie, witnessed a gruesome incident. He saw a team of horses drawing a heavy load uphill over cobblestones covered with water, which led it to slide backward. The horses died in this unfortunate incident, and this brought upon the advent of cable cars.
5- The cable car power plant used to consume 10 tons of coal per day
After their inception, cable cars became popular among the locals and replaced obsolete horse carts. The cars were running in full swing, which required an immense amount of fuel. In 1893, the coal consumption had gone up to 10 tons a day to run the steam-powered mechanisms.
6- There was a fight to keep the cable cars operating
The mayor of San Francisco proposed the closure of the cable cars in 1947. But the opposition groups of the time passed a referendum so that the city charter was amended. The cable cars are now protected from closure indefinitely.
7- The earthquake of 1906 destroyed many cable car lines
When the earthquake of 1906 occurred, the use of cable cars was also affected. It ended up destroying many lines, thus hindering overall cable car services. To save the day, United Railroads stepped forward and ended up converting a good chunk of the city for streetcar services. When the rebuilding began, the continued need for cable cars began to be questioned by local residents. Soon enough, many of the cable cars lines were replaced by streetcars.
8- The signature cable in mining inspired the design for cable cars
Andrew Smith Hallidie worked as a mining engineer, and his experience in the mines came in handy when the foundation for these cars was being laid. He adopted the same conveyor belt technology that is used in mines to design the framework. In this way, the design of a loop cable that could facilitate travel was established. The cable worked by pulling a small car along the track at a constant speed.
9- Cable car transport began in 1873
Andrew Smith Hallidie launched his first-ever cable car project in 1873. This was nearly four years after he witnessed the horse incident described above. In the beginning, the newly established line serviced the area of Clay Street in San Francisco.
10 - The cost of building the first-ever cable car line was $85,150
That's quite an amount back in the day. When calculated in today's money, it is equivalent to $1.64 million. That's the amount it took for Andrew Smith Hallidie to transform his dream into a reality.
11- Only 40 of the original 600 cable cars are operational today
The fleet of functioning cable cars has been reduced to 40. From this, 28 of the cars are used on the Powell Street lines. The remaining 12 are used on the California Street line. This is a staggering reduction since there used to be more than 600 cars at the beginning. The devastating earthquake of 1906 that hit San Francisco ended up significantly reducing the service. By 1912, it was reduced to 100, when the system started converting to streetcars.
12- It is the only moving landmark on the National Register of Historic Places
It’s a kind of funny thing when you think of it, but a very actual fact. The cable cars have been registered in the National Register of Historic Places, which is quite an achievement. They have been around since the beginning of the 19th century and are lovingly preserved for the modern era. The fact that there was a need to preserve a manually operated cable car in today's technologically-advanced era speaks for itself.
13- The weight of one cable car is more than 15,000 pounds
Cable cars are manufactured using fine-quality brass, steel, oak, Alaskan spruce, and canvas. These cars weigh 15,000 Pounds or more! Compare this to a pickup truck, which is considered to be a heavy vehicle item, and weighs much less than that.
14- Cable cars have two bells
The two bells in a cable car used to be necessary. One is more prominent and is used to warn people to get out of the train's way. However, the smaller one is for the personal use of the driver who uses it to send a signal to the person who is in charge of operating the car's grip.
15- Tourists have to pay eight bucks for a cable car ride
To experience the fun of a ride on this national landmark, the cost for a one-way ride is eight dollars. Multi-day use tickets are also available.
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