Contract approved to replace cable car gearboxes


The sound of cable car bells will fall silent one line at a time in order for San Francisco’s transit agency to overhaul and restore four gearboxes inside the Cable Car Barn that help move the cable cars.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency approved a $3.49 million contract with UNICO Mechanical Corp. replace all worn parts, bearings, seals, and gaskets. The contractor will also inspect additional parts of the gearboxes once they are disassembled, according to a SFMTA staff report.

The gearboxes have been in service since 1984, the report said:

“The gearboxes are nearing the end of their service life and are in need of a complete overhaul and inspection to continue cable car service.”

Residents and tourists though will face some challengers as the overhaul of the gearboxes will require the shutdown of cable car lines, but not all at once. The first gearbox crews plan to fix first is the spare, which is storage located at the Burke Storage Facility at 1580 Burke St.

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the overhaul of spare gearbox will begin sometime in the summer, but will not affect cable car service.

Work on the California line would begin in fall 2017 followed by the Powell lines in the spring 2018.

The replacement of the gearbox for the Mason line would start in the fall 2018 and the Hyde line would conclude the repair work in 2019, said Reiskin.

Each shutdown will be for eight continuous days.

Reiskin added that the repairs to the gearbox on Hyde line may require the complete shutdown of the entire system.

The total cost of the project is $6.97 million and is funded by local and federal funds.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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