Muni derailments raise concern about potential injuries, damage

In less than a week, five trains derailed at a Muni storage facility, a development operators say is due to a lack of investment, raising concerns about potential injuries and damage.

Between Jan. 9 and Friday, five light-rail vehicles slipped off the tracks at Muni’s Green Division rail yard, which is located near the Balboa Park BART station and acts as the departure point for trains.

The trackway at the yard has been battered by years of overuse and is no longer fit to support the 70,000-pound light-rail vehicles that use the facility, according to Rafael Cabrera of the Transport Workers Union Local 250-A, which represents Muni operators. He said the tracks were originally designed to carry vehicles the size of Muni’s historic streetcars, which weigh only 40,000 pounds.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages Muni, is aware of the problems, but due to The City’s lengthy procurement process for capital projects, it will probably be a year before any major improvements can take place, said John Haley, Muni’s director of transit. Muni is undergoing a $63 million citywide rail-replacement program, which includes planned upgrades at Green Division.

In the interim, Haley said he has shifted much of the yard’s daily activity to the Muni Metro East facility on Third Street. Also, he has assigned track workers to assist operators moving vehicles along the Green Division railway. Additionally, Haley said at least two derailments were directly attributed to errors by operators.

But Cabrera said Muni should immediately invest in upgrading the trackway at the Green Division yard before a serious accident occurs. So far no one has been injured, he said, and damage to the vehicles has been minimal.

Cabrera said operators are not to blame for the shoddy condition of the facility, which for years was the only storage site for Muni’s light-rail vehicles. In 2008, before Metro East opened, Green Division was addressing the needs of 151 vehicles, even though it was designed to accommodate 80.

“The MTA is fixing this problem in a patchwork way,” Cabrera said. “They need to repave and rerail the whole yard before something real bad happens.”

Operators are not only nervous that they will be injured in a future derailment, but also that they will be blamed for any damage to the vehicles, Cabrera said.

“This is potentially a very hazardous situation,” he said. “And if anything bad happens, of course management will point the fingers at the operators.”

Dated Muni storage yard

The SFMTA’s Green Division facility is not designed for heavy light-rail vehicles.

40,000 pounds
Weight of vehicles originally serviced at facility

70,000-80,000 pounds Weight of vehicles currently serviced

80 Vehicles originally slated for facility

151 Vehicles using facility in 2008

85 Vehicles using facility before derailments

44 Vehicles currently using the facility

Source: SFMTA

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