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Twin Peaks tunnel repairs could speed up Muni commute

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A worker stands on scaffolding to perform repair work inside the old Eureka Valley Station, which now makes up part of the eastern entrance of the Twin Peaks Tunnel The tunnel was closed for track work over the Memorial Day weekend and will be closed again for additional work this summer. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Muni trains chug through the century-old Twin Peaks tunnel at 40 miles per hour because they’re traveling over old tracks, but soon they might get a bump in speed.

Construction taking place this past weekend and for roughly 60 days this summer to replace the tunnel’s tracks could allow the K-Ingleside, L-Taraval and M-Ocean View lines to speed along at 50 mph, said John Haley, director of transit at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

“The biggest thing holding the speed back is the condition of the track,” Haley told the San Francisco Examiner at a press tour of the tunnel work on Memorial Day, as he stood at the mouth of the Eureka Valley tunnel at the bottom of Twin Peaks on Market Street. Construction crews in the tunnel behind him jack-hammered tunnel walls.

On the older tracks greater speeds rattle the trains uncomfortably, Haley said, to the point that “your fillings will fall out.”

Faster speeds will mean quicker rides for those taking the estimated 80,000 daily trips along those lines, but first those riders will need to deal with the headache of tunnel closures. This Memorial Day weekend the Twin Peaks tunnel was closed for construction and SFMTA replaced the K, L and M train lines with shuttle buses.

That closure will be repeated for a longer period in late June through the end of August.

That’s okay by Muni rider and San Francisco native Linda Quan, who now lives in Pacifica. Quan takes the L-Taraval on weekends when visiting her friends in the Sunset District. She said the Memorial Day weekend Muni tunnel shutdown ran smoother than closures she’s experienced before.

“I’ve seen some bad ones,” she told the Examiner, while waiting for an L-Taraval shuttle bus on Market and Divisadero Streets. This, however, was one of the “best (train to bus) transitions I’ve seen.”

That’s no accident, Haley said. Muni operators running shuttle buses were previously told to adhere to strict schedules. Now, however, they’ve been instructed to drive whenever they’re full. Additionally, SFMTA said they deployed 26 staffers at any one time to help train riders connect to bus shuttles. That number will increase during the months-long shutdown in June.

“This is really the kickoff in delivering a major capital investment” Haley said of the Memorial Day shutdown.

That’s a $40 million investment, to be exact, awarded to contractors Schimmick Construction and Con-Quest Contractors, Inc. The SFMTA has said that Con-Quest laid 3.2 miles of the wrong kind of track on the Central Subway project, installing “standard strength” rail even though the contract called for “high speed” rail. The company has maintained it complied with its contract.

Haley said construction crews are installing “high strength” steel in the Twin Peaks tunnel.

Crews will also replace track switches and add new “crossover” tracks to steer broken trains off the track near West Portal Station, speeding up morning commutes, and seismically upgrade the Twin Peaks tunnel portal to downtown at Eureka Valley, among other improvements.

Monday at noon, those crews were hard at work under Market Street reinforcing the tunnel walls. Dust filled the tunnel around Haley as he walked atop the tracks of the 100-year-old tunnel, first planned by city engineer Michael O’Shaugnessy to bridge the West Side to downtown by rail. Haley’s mind was to the tunnel’s future.

“This is about preparing it for the next hundred years,” Haley said.

For a full guide to the Twin Peaks tunnel closure and shuttle buses, visit sfmta.com/TwinPeaks.

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Ferdinand Cadelina, left, field manager for transit services with the Municipal Transit Agency, and John Haley, SFMTA director of transit, walk down a set of old tracks to an entrance for the old Eureka Valley Station, which now makes up part of the eastern entrance of the Twin Peaks Tunnel, on Monday, May 28, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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