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Muni: Fix For San Francisco's Shuttered Cable Cars May Not Arrive For Days

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – San Francisco's famed cable cars were shut down for most of the pandemic, so when service resumed on September 4th, tourists were delighted. Now the cars have stopped again and officials say a fix could still be days away.

On normal mornings, the turnaround at Powell and Market is jammed with tourists waiting for little cable cars to take them halfway to the stars, and then down to Fisherman's Wharf.

Lately, the roundabout is deserted and the tracks leading up Powell Street are eerily quiet.  Community Ambassador Rigo Medina said tourists are wondering where the trolleys are.

"Yeah, especially this morning, throughout this morning and part of the afternoon, yeah," Medina said told KPIX 5. "They started asking and wondering why it's down."

Last Thursday, the trolleys stopped dead in their tracks.  The fire suppression system in a Cable Car Barn on Mason Street spontaneously triggered, killing the power and shutting the entire line down.

San Francisco Cable Car Shutdown
San Francisco Cable Car line several days into a shutdown, September 13, 2021. (CBS)

That's left the community ambassadors with little to tell the tourists.

"Well, I let 'em know that the cable cars are down for right now," said T. Sagote, also a community ambassador. "They told us they're not going to be running until at the end of this week.  But they're not really sure if they're going to be running at the end of this week either, because they're waiting for a part coming from somewhere."

A group of tourists from Los Angeles were in town for a baseball game and seemed disappointed they didn't get their ride.

"It's a staple of San Francisco.  It's a piece of history," said Chava Montoya. "We were looking forward to it and it's not here."

For four days, Muni hasn't had much to say about it.  Late Monday afternoon, officials with the transit agency put out a statement explaining that the loss of power put stress on the 40-year-old electrical system and it's taken a while to inspect and test it.

Muni is now waiting for a giant fire extinguisher canister to be assembled and delivered by truck from Ohio. That part will have to be installed and tested and they don't expect the system to be running before the end of next week.

"I was planning in my three days here, 'oh, I'm going to hop on one of those,'" said tourist Michelle Ruiz.  "So yeah, it's a bit of a disappointment to hear that they're not running, but it's not going to stop me from having a good time."

Muni said the cable car system was last renovated in the 1980s and they are planning a modernization project of the entire propulsion system that would cost about $625 million.

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