Muni’s transit chief and a San Francisco supervisor are offering differing accounts of a bizarre Friday incident in which a train sped through The City’s underground tunnel system with a door open.
Supervisor Scott Wiener was on board an outbound L-Taraval that zipped from the Van Ness to Church Street stations with one of its doors open at about 6:30 p.m.
A passenger and amateur cameraperson recorded the trip, which prominently featured Wiener and other riders looking surprisingly stoic during the open-door excursion.
Wiener said the reason for his relative calm was that the train’s operator notified passengers that he was aware of the broken door, and that all riders should stand back from it. The trip lasted only a few minutes, and when the train arrived at Church Street station, passengers were ordered off and the vehicle was taken out of service, Wiener said.
However, John Haley, Muni’s director of transit, said that based on his investigation of the incident, he doesn’t think the operator knew the door was open during the ride.
Doors malfunction frequently on Muni’s light-rail vehicles. But instead of taking the trains out of service — especially during rush hour — operators are taught to isolate the problem and move on. This requires disarming the system that prevents trains from moving with an open door, then closing the door and using a pin to prevent them from reopening.
Haley said he believes the operator disarmed the door, but didn’t pin the latch. By closing the door but not pinning it, the operator would have violated protocol. Haley doesn’t believe he intentionally left the station with the door open.
He said the operator’s onboard announcement could have been to warn passengers against standing near the door. He said operators frequently make announcements reminding passengers not to lean on the doors.
The operator, a 10-year veteran, has been placed on nondriving leave. Once the agency’s investigation into the incident is completed, Haley said it will determine whether disciplinary measures are warranted.
Walter Scott, secretary-treasurer for the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents 2,200 Muni operators, said he has not talked to the driver in question. He did ask why Wiener didn’t stop the train from moving.
Wiener said he didn’t want to pull the train’s emergency brake because he was afraid it would jostle the passengers next to the open door.
Haley said that whenever passengers are in this situation — and he said it has only been reported once in the 14 months he’s been on the job — they should pull the emergency brake, a lever located next to the train door. Although the train will stop more abruptly than normal, he said it’s still better than traveling with an open door.
How it’s supposed to work
Operator procedure for dealing with a broken door:
- Operators are alerted to malfunctioning doors via a red light in their cab. The first step to fixing the problem is to hit the train’s emergency brake and get out to investigate the incident.
- After closing the door, operators are taught to disarm the system that prevents trains from moving with an open door. This allows the operators to isolate the door — it won’t work during the trip — while continuing to run service.
- The last step is for operators to place a pin in a latch at the door. This is designed to ensure that the door won’t come open during service.