Muni's largest light-rail vehicle procurement in its history, signed off by Mayor Ed Lee on Friday, will be a custom fleet designed through a technology-driven testing system.
Siemens Industry, awarded the $648 million contract for 175 new light-rail vehicles and an option to add 85 more, will manufacture vehicles — the largest contract in the company's history — in Sacramento. To determine the best design for San Francisco's curvy terrain, Siemens is installing a track geometry measurement system on some existing vehicles used to figure out the ideal wheel-rail interface.
After a news conference Friday, Ryan Parkinson, lead test engineer for Siemens, explained how the system installed aboard a light-rail vehicle works. As the vehicle moves, one monitor shows its wheels streaming from a camera installed below where the operator sits. Another monitor displays bumps and movement in the form of a wave animation, and a third monitor displays a Google map as the system uses GPS to track the data by location.
“It's to optimize the wheel design for noise, stability and life,” Parkinson explained during the ride. “It allows us to optimize the design of the new vehicles so that the wheel-rail profile is optimized and so that the suspension is optimized to have the best, safest vehicle we can design.”
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors in July and the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 9 approved the contract “with confidence because of the phenomenal, thoughtful, meticulous work that was done,” SFMTA Transportation Director Ed Reiskin said.
The new light-rail vehicles — the first which will operate by the end of 2016 — are expected to improve Muni's on-time arrival performance. Currently, 15 million, or about a third of riders, experience delays, according to John Haley, transit director for the SFMTA. That should go down to about 1 million, around 2 percent, with the new procurement.
Data collected through the system has an additional use for the SFMTA.
“We'll have to have Siemens help us interpret this, but we'll get a set of baseline data and the conditions that exist on the system,” Haley said. “Plus, they will highlight for us any areas that they think need some special attention, so what that will do is help us put a more focused set of maintenance programs and even capital investments together if we need to do it.”
Lee, who watched the system on the light-rail vehicle Friday, asked about integrating another feature in light-rail vehicles.
“One of the conversations we've been having recently is we are investing in early earthquake warning systems,” he said. “And down the road, do we have the ability to attach that early-warning system to track and technology?”
A Siemens representative said yes.