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2-Minute Homage to Key Route System

Our article about the BART seat vacated by Bob Franklin prompted John Stashik to pay respects to Franklin's two-minute YouTube video featuring historic photos and a sad, satiric song about the bygone Key Route System.

We'd like to thank John Stashik for alerting us to a short, nostalgic, sad and somewhat ironic YouTube video that pays tribute to the long-gone Key Route System.

We published an article Friday about former Alameda County Supervisor Mary King being appointed to the BART board seat left by Bob Franklin, "." In a comment, Stashik gave a plug to a video directed by Franklin about the Key system.

The 2-minute, 7-second video, "Goodbye to the Key Route System," features many historic photos, including quite a few from Stashik's website, where more can be found.

The video's bite comes from the soundtrack song, which offers a paean to the former network of local trains and mock praise of "progress." The YouTube post lists these credits for the video and music:

Composer/Pianist - Joyce Whitelaw
Vocals by Mel Leroy
Lyrics by Judith Offer
Percussion by Lynn Parker
Photos by John Harder. Other Photos by John Stashik from his website: www.keyrailpix.org
Mural from Piedmont Avenue by Rocky Baird

Beth Weil August 20, 2012 at 08:07 PM
I watched the video about the Key-Route system. I live on Norvell St right near Potrero, and there was an easement in the backyard where a train was formerly run, now part of the backyard. Is that where the Key-Route system was?
John Stashik August 20, 2012 at 08:14 PM
Was it was a mistake to eliminate the Key System trains? I'll answer the question with a question: what would Harre Demoro say? For those who don't know, he was a Chronicle transportation writer who knew everything about the Key System. I think he'd agree that the Key Route had seen its day. John Harder, who rode the trains and took many photos with Harre, would also agree they were obsolete. The state PUC was issuing slow orders for all five remaining rail lines due to beat up track. Key System Transit Lines had no interest in keeping the trains. Berkeley and Oakland wanted them off the streets. Track was pretty rough near the end. The only good rail was on the Bay Bridge and approaches, built by the state to replace the ferryboat connections, service beginning in 1939. The trains were a quaint way to cross the bay and I loved riding the "F" line as a boy. However, BART is faster, more frequent and can carry many more riders. To recall the old days, visit the Western Railway Museum where streetcars and Key articulated units operate east of Suisun City. Visit www.keyrailpix.org and look at my photo collection.
John Stashik August 20, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Key owned property there for a proposed line that never was built. There was a dream to extending the Key's reach to Sacramento. (A similar plan involved a line to San Jose, which never happened.) The line that would have gone through El Cerrito didn't get past Santa Fe Avenue just beyond Berkeley's Westbrae neighborhood and that quit in 1941. The trains to Solano and The Alameda ended service on April 20, 1958. One remnant of the trains is Berkeley's Northbrae tunnel which was used by the Key System from 1941 until 1958. Today it's a busy roadway. Originally constructed by Southern Pacific a century ago (cut and cover) when the area had few homes.
John August 21, 2012 at 11:40 PM
Thanks for sharing that. Having seen the metros/street cars in most of the major cities in Europe (and the new F line in SF), I always wished that the key system was still around. However, I didn't know that the track was worn out and the trains were slow. Was the reason they didn't want to replace the track due to a shortage of material, cost or because GM/Firestone/Standard Oil wanted to have a reason to replace trains with buses.
John Stashik August 22, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Reply to John: The "conspiracy" of GM, Mack, et al. was largely fiction. Fact is, street railway companies were losing riders and didn't have the cash to pay for new equipment or infrastructure. Patronage was on a steady decline except for World War II ridership figures. Key System dumped their streetcar lines in 1948 as buses were cheaper to operate (even labor costs alone). The carmen's union fought one-man cars; buses run with one driver. Key was always a cash short company and upgrading the lines was financially impossible. The municipalities of the East Bay wanted the tracks gone, too. The bridge train service lasted until April 1958. Clearly NCL, parent of Key System, wanted the trains discontinued. But the Division of Highways (Toll Bridge Authority) had plans for the Bay Bridge. Oakland was annoyed with train service on 12th Street; it affected their one way street plans. Berkeley hated the trains on Shattuck Avenue. To be continued....
John Stashik August 22, 2012 at 12:13 AM
Picking up from my previous... The articulated bridge units that ran until 1958 were completely underpowered. The center truck was unpowered. Electrical components were salvaged from the original wooden cars that were built for Key in 1903 (or whenever); only the bridge unit bodies were new. Ventilation was zero; only a retrofitted pair of end doors offered a breeze. Maximum speed on the bridge was 35 m.p.h.; slower on street trackage. The street trackage was beat up, ties were rotten, maintenance was zero. There was no real desire to keep the trains even though they were fun to ride. The trains were replaced by 21 new GM buses and probably a hundred or more ancient White gasoline buses for tripper service. New buses didn’t show up until a year after AC Transit bought Key System in 1960. Fast forward and BART was built. Speedy, efficient, all track on private right of ways, and the railroad hauls an incredible number of riders. The Bay Bridge, with its two decks and one way traffic is an improvement over the two way traffic on the upper deck during the train era and safer, if not congested. It all worked out more or less.
John August 22, 2012 at 05:12 AM
Thank you for the detailed response. It was very interesting

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