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Muni to speed up purchase of new Muni trains to ease commute crowding

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A new M-Ocean View Muni LRV train arrives behind an older train at Civic Center Station on Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Sardine-packed riders of the N-Judah, L-Taraval and other Muni train lines have reason to celebrate: more than a hundred new train cars are on track to arrive four years earlier than expected.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors signaled their support for transit staff to speed up the purchase of new Muni trains at their regular meeting, Tuesday.

The SFMTA Board of Directors previously approved the purchase of roughly 250 new “future fleet” light rail vehicles, for the J, K, L, M, N and T lines to help ease the commutes of tens of thousands of riders. That purchase was set to roll out over the next decade: 68 new trains by the end of 2019, 151 new trains by early 2027, and 45 more trains by mid-2030.

But staff said Tuesday they were already on track to deliver the order of 68 new Siemens-built train cars early, and may be able to purchase the other orders within four years.

“They are desperately needed for our crowding and our customers,” said Julie Kirschbaum, acting director of transit at the SFMTA.

She told the board that the older train cars, produced by a company called Breda, are so out of date that SFMTA has to fabricate replacement parts, a costly and time-consuming situation that exacerbates commutes for riders. It’s also costly — ordering the Siemens car early could save SFMTA $85 million in Breda train car overhauls, and $12 million in preventative maintenance, she told the board of directors.

“The bad news is that the Bredas are old, and they’re getting older,” Kirschbaum said.

Though there was no formal vote, board members expressed enthusiasm for moving up the timeline.

SFMTA board chair Cheryl Brinkman told the San Francisco Examiner Thursday that “they should be good to go.” It’s “exciting” to have more new trains, quickly, she said.

And in additional good news, modifying the order of 151 train cars will give SFMTA time to adjust the layout and type of seating used, which drew rider complaints the Examiner has previously highlighted.

“We’ve gotten so many complaints about the seating,” said SFMTA board director Art Torres.

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin told Torres that the agency will soon collect its feedback on changes to the seat designs that “we can potentially pilot in the existing fleet.”

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