Re: Sutro Train Questions

09/15/13 - posted by John Martini

Hi Tim. I'm attaching a excerpt from Gary Stark's excellent website "Cliff House Project." But to start off, here are brief answers to your questions:

1. The Sutro Railroad followed a totally different route from the steam line. While the steam train ran along the cliffs of Lands End, the Sutro cars ran on a jig-jag route along city streets roughly following a Clement Street-Geary Street alignment.

2. Eastern terminal of the steam line was at the corner of California and present-day Presidio Avenue (then called Central or Cemetery Avenue).

3. Are some of the websites you list wrong? Very possibly! Depends what parts you're asking about. For example, some sites claim there was one tunnel along the route, while others say two. Both are correct, depending on the time period.

Here's the most concise history I've found:

1888. Adolph Sutro starts work on a steam train line to Sutro Heights and Cliff House, but sells out to the Powell Street Railroad before it's completed. This becomes the "Ferries & Cliff House Railroad" that runs around Lands End. (Locals sometimes call the route simply "The Cliff Line.")

The inner terminal is at California Street and Central (today's Presidio) Avenue. The outer terminal is located at the corner of 48th and Point Lobos, across from the main entrance to Sutro Heights. Fare is 5 cents each way, with transfer privileges to connecting cable cars.

1893. The Ferries & Cliff House line is bought by the huge Southern Pacific Railroad. (However, the name of the route stays the same.) SP discontinues transfers, so the fare effectively doubles. Infuriated, Sutro decides to build a competing, electric streetcar line called the "Sutro Railroad." It will offer a 5 cent fare -- and transfers.

1896. Sutro Railroad opens on February 1st. Its cars run along city streets and terminate at a large wooden depot near the entrance to Sutro Baths. This terminal, called the Sutro Depot, was east of today's Louis' restaurant. For the next several years, Sutro's new streetcars and the aging steam train run in competition to each other.

1902. A new city-wide streetcar company called the United Railroads (URR) buys both the Ferries & Cliff House steam train line and the electric Sutro Railroad. The two now run as companion lines, not competition.

1905. The old Ferries & Cliff House steam train around Lands End is converted to an electric streetcar line, which is eventually designated the #1 California Street line. (The old Sutro Railroad streetcar route becomes the #2 Clement Street line.) For the next 44 years, both the #1 and #2 lines terminate in the Sutro Depot.

1921. The old United Railroads are bought by yet another company, the Market Street Railway.

1925. Severe landslides in February destroy large portions of the #1 streetcar tracks, and service around Lands End ceases. The #1 line streetcars continue to run to Sutro's but are re-routed along city streets instead of the now unusable cliff route.

1944. SF Municipal Railway buys out the old Market Street Railway, including #1 and #2 lines.

1949. The Sutro Depot burns and MUNI stops all streetcar operations to the Sutro Baths.

(adapted from

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