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Muni’s new future fleet debuts on the factory floor

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The inside of a new MUNI light rail vehicle is seen while under construciton at Siemens Mobility in Sacramento, Calif. Monday, August 29, 2016. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Like a model train fresh from the box, the plastic wrap protecting the floor of the first of San Francisco’s new Muni trains has yet to be broken.

And, yes, it has that new train smell.

That first new Muni light-rail vehicle, and its 23 sister vehicles, are set to arrive months late to Muni’s facilities in San Francisco, but transit officials cautioned Monday that the delay won’t affect when the vehicles actually hit the streets in late 2017.

The delay follows a number of approved last-minute improvements to the trains, said Michael Cahill, rail systems division president at Siemens Industry Inc., which is constructing Muni’s new trains in its 60-acre Sacramento facility.

During a tour of the site with reporters and politicians — including Mayor Ed Lee, Supervisor London Breed and Assemblymember David Chiu — Cahill stood inside the first of the new vehicles to showcase the under-construction trains.

Wires bundled like hay hung from the walls and ceiling of the new light-rail vehicles, and wooden slabs substituted for panels that would later be installed.

Cahill said the delays were due to new LED lights, radio charging systems, computer “systems integration” and more improvements that were requested this month by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

With that, he said, comes a renewed “level of effort.”

John Haley, director of transit at SFMTA, told the San Francisco Examiner that while those trains will be delayed in getting to Muni, they’ll still start rolling down the tracks in time for the launch window, which is late 2017 for the first 24 vehicles in Muni’s future fleet.

“We gave them an aggressive schedule,” Haley said of Siemens.

Funding woes

Sitting in the vast Siemens facility next to Muni’s first new train was the agency’s second.

That vehicle lacked the Muni grey, black and red of its more complete sister train. Inside sat Michael Arnaut, an electrical engineer. His head-strapped light shone on a metal panel as he wore down a portion of it with a screwdriver.

“I’m making it a little bit bigger,” he said, so the screws will fit.

In a similar way, The City is still trying to expand its funding sources so it can afford 22 of its new trains. Standing just 20 feet away from Arnaut, Lee said The City would aggressively pursue state and federal funding.

The November ballot in San Francisco includes Propositions J and K, which would, respectively, create a Transportation Improvement Fund and a 0.75 percent sales tax to partially fund transportation.

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said some trains in SFMTA’s order to expand its replacement fleet are not yet funded.

Reiskin said other options are available to fund future train procurements, such as future bridge toll increases, state cap and trade funds, and a local vehicle license fee.

In a flip, the mayor may also have softened his stance on a vehicle license fee, which he opposed in 2015.

“We’re definitely open to it,” Lee said Monday.

Train improvements

Boarding Muni’s new light-rail vehicles is both familiar and foreign.

The seats are still fiberglass. But the individual seats, lined in a row, have been replaced by benches. Bright red, the surface has a slight texture, which was added for “grip,” according to Siemens’ designers.

The box of sand has moved, too. Well-known to riders of the N-Judah train, the sand is dropped to create friction while the train brakes. Now, instead of sitting underneath the seats, the sand box is hidden beneath a panel containing buttons to release seats for wheelchair access.

And perhaps the brightest new feature is LED signage within the streetcar, so riders always know what train they’re on.

All told, said Haley, there are more than 50 discrete design improvements throughout the trains, the result of months of public surveys.

Below, see a live stream video tour of one of the new Muni trains, still under construction.

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