Vintage streetcar to grace downtown trolley tracks

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The Metropolitan Transit System Wednesday unveiled a lovingly restored 1946 streetcar that will carry riders on a downtown circuit.

The Art Deco-style vehicle once traversed the streets of San Francisco and is one of six that the MTS has in its possession. It was “a rusty shell” when discovered in 2003 in South Lake Tahoe and has been turned into “a great beauty,” MTS Chief Executive Officer Paul Jablonski said.

For six years, volunteer and rail experts spent more than 3,000 hours and $850,000 to meticulously restore the vintage streetcar, which is called PCC 529.

MTS Chairman Harry Mathis, who spearheaded the project to make the vehicle operational, said PCC stands for Presidents' Conference Committee, a group of industry leaders that designed upgraded streetcars that were faster and more comfortable than their predecessors. It is numbered 529 because San Diego used to have more than two dozen of them, numbered 501-528, he said.

“I rode these cars as a kid (in San Francisco) in the '30s and '40s,” Mathis said. “They just ate up the miles.”

PCC 529 will operate on weekends and certain holidays starting Aug. 27 on a special downtown circuit called the Silver Line, a clockwise loop starting at the 12th & Imperial Transit Station and running to America Plaza, east on C Street to City College before returning to 12th & Imperial.

The car has been retrofitted to conform with modern requirements, but the fare — $2 for all but seniors, who will pay $1 — recalls an earlier time.

PC 529 is an olive green and pale yellow, with a brown roof and thick black stripe along the side. Welcoming messages are written along the side, like “Ride & Relax,” “Tops in Transportation,” and “Comfort.”

It was in poor condition when first obtained. Mathis said wires needed to be replaced, and when workers poked around the innards of the vehicle, asbestos was discovered and had to be carefully removed.

The streetcars were built by the St. Louis Car Co. from 1936 to 1952, he said.

He hopes the five other PCC streetcars will be introduced to San Diego Trolley tracks in the future.

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