Muni officials are investigating whether missing automatic train controls might have prevented a train from ripping wires and concrete supports off a subway wall, causing massive delays throughout Thursday’s commute.
Traffic was stopped in both directions on the J-Church, K-Ingleside, L-Taraval, M-Ocean View and N-Judah lines, which are ridden daily by about 200,000 commuters. The commute was particularly nightmarish for Sunset and Noe Valley residents, whose trains were out of service most of Thursday.
Around 11 a.m., the electrical harness on an eastbound N-Judah train was damaged near Second Avenue and Irving Street. By the time the train went underground at Church Street and Duboce Avenue and began accelerating, tension pulled down about 500 feet of wires and concrete supports between the Van Ness and Church stations, Director of Transit John Haley said.
“It’s a huge mess,” Haley said. “It’s a very complicated problem.”
Service to the K-Ingleside, L-Taraval and M-Ocean View were restored around 5:30 p.m. Bus shuttles in lieu of the N-Judah and J-Church were expected to continue throughout the night, but spokesman Paul Rose said service would be restored by this morning.
The California Public Utilities Commission recently criticized Muni for safety conditions near the outage. In February, the agency said Muni should have an automatic control system in the Sunset tunnel, through which the N-Judah travels. Such a system could have alerted the driver to Thursday’s problem.
Shortly after the state released its findings, the San Franciso Municipal Transportation Agency said there was no need for such controls in the tunnel. Thursday evening, Rose said the agency is determining whether such a system would have made a difference.
Muni also is investigating why the train’s operator didn’t stop the vehicle during the roughly two miles between the incident’s onset and its conclusion. Rose didn’t know whether the operator has been placed on nondriving status.
The calamity thrust Thursday’s commute into chaos. Riders were delayed for hours. Although Muni quickly deployed up to 15 shuttle buses between the Embarcadero and Castro Street stations, commuters had long waits just to leave downtown.
Dennis Low said all the shuttles were too full for him to board, so he walked all the way from Van Ness to Castro to catch an L-Taraval.
“This is why San Francisco hates Muni,” he said.
Emma Larkin said that Thursday was the first time in years she had tried to take the N-Judah on the trip from her Sunset district home to her Walnut Creek office. She picked a bad day.
“This is worse than Bay Bridge traffic on game day,” Larkin said.
Muni employees attempted to direct the swarms of people throughout the day. At Church Street Station, a handwritten note in pink highlighter was taped to the Clipper turnstiles announcing “no inbound service.”
But riders trying to get out of downtown had a different experience. One said two drivers tried to explain the incident to thousands of riders and that “Muni had no information” posted at Embarcadero station.
Examiner staff writers Ari Burack and Will Reisman contributed to this report.
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