Cable car accidents to cost San Francisco millions

San Francisco is poised to shell out more than $2.1 million to settle lawsuits related to a 2008 cable car derailment that injured four people, while a separate crash that resulted in a passenger having his foot amputated could result in an even larger payout.

In the July 13, 2008, accident, a Powell-Mason cable car became stuck at the intersection of Mason and Washington streets, prompting both operators — Herbert Lynn Anderson and Lemuel Jerome Muldrow — to exit the vehicle to dislodge it. After the conductors freed the trapped car, one of the men fell while attempting to board, while the other was unable to access the front brakes because a door was jammed. With neither operator in control, the cable car careened off the rails at 15 mph — twice as fast as normal speeds — and onto a Powell Street curb, violently flinging passengers off the vehicle.

Lawyers for The City have offered Alma Del Bosque $2 million to compensate her for injuries, including a fractured femur, suffered in the crash, according to Bosque’s ­attorney, Spencer J. Pahlke.

Two other passengers injured in the accident, Marie Romo and Dyllan Lopez, are set to receive $50,000. The board of directors for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages Muni and the cable cars, will consider whether to authorize the settlement deals at its meeting Tuesday.

Walter Scott, the secretary-­treasurer of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni operators, said it is common for cable cars to become stuck at Mason and Washington streets due to a design flaw in the tracks. Scott said Muni management knew it was common practice for operators to push the vehicles in those situations.

“These guys involved in the accident weren’t doing anything unusual,” Scott said. “It was just one of those days where everything went wrong.”

The hefty settlements related to the July 2008 cable car derailment are unlikely to be the last legal woes related to the agency’s “moving landmarks.”

In December 2009, passenger John Gainor was seriously injured when the cable car he was traveling on crashed into a double-parked car, according to court documents.

In his lawsuit, Gainor said the operator of the cable car, Ellis Joseph Cato, neglected to stop or even slow down before plowing into the parked Honda Element. Gainor’s left foot was crushed in the accident and later had to be

According to SFMTA documents, the City Attorney’s Office offered Gainor $2.75 million to settle the case.

However, Gainor rejected that proposal in favor of a jury trial set to take place in June, officials said.

The three operators involved in the two accidents remain employed by the SFMTA, according to agency spokesman Paul Rose.

California line shuts down earlier than expected

Anyone hoping for a last-minute ride on the California Street cable car line this week is out of luck.

Though it was scheduled to shut down Jan. 3 for a major rehabilitation project, the line has closed a week earlier than planned after a cable snapped on Christmas Eve.

The broken cable would have taken several days and hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix, according to Paul Rose, a spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages the vehicles.

Rose said it just is not worth the time and money for the agency to make the repairs for about two days of
service. Plus, with the early shutdown, there is a chance the SFMTA’s six-month rehabilitation project will be finished early, he said.

The infrastructure and roadway along the California Street line has not been upgraded in 26 years — a state of neglect that has left the cable car system in sore need of repair.

To address those needs, the SFMTA and two other city agencies are collaborating on a $24 million improvement project, which includes the repaving of California Street, replacement of old cables, tracks, pulleys and switches, and the installation of a new communications and alarm system on the line.

Tourists account for many of the 24,000 daily passengers carried by Muni’s three cable car lines. Of that total, 6,596 travel on the California Street cable car line daily, although that route caters to commuters more so than the Powell-Mason and Powell-Hyde lines.

Chris Engle, a Nob Hill resident who frequently takes the California Street line to his gym on The Embarcadero, said he had no idea the vehicles were being taken out of service.

“The cable cars are a very unique San Francisco thing,” Engle said. “I know they’re touristy, but I have fun going on them, and for me they actually have a utilitarian purpose.”

All aboard

6,596 Daily passengers on California Street cable car line

6,578 Daily passengers on Powell-Mason line

10,905 Daily passengers on Powell-Hyde line

$24 million Cost of rehabilitation work on California Street line

6 months Duration cable cars will be out of service on California Street

Source: SFMTA

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