A single MUNI train stops at the very end of the Montgomery Station platform to pick up mid-day travelers. The SFMTA received state approval to allow multiple trains to enter the stations at once in order to better serve the public and relieve congestion at peak commute hours. Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner

Muni double-berthing trains still delayed over ‘software bug’

A plan to berth two Muni trains in stations at once is still stopped in its tracks, because of a computer glitch.

Originally called double-berthing, then later redubbed “double-stopping,” the practice would allow travelers to hop off-board more quickly. The practice was approved by regulators in April but has failed to launch, since.

More than half a year after it was announced, the problem continues. But it’s not the double-berthing that doesn’t work (trains roll in without a hitch). The digital signage is the issue – it won’t display two trains arriving at once due to a bug.

The SFMTA wants those signs fixed before the project is allowed to move forward.

“The SFMTA postponed double-stopping last May after our staff discovered problems with overhead messaging in the subway,” wrote San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Robert Lyles, in an email to the Examiner.

“After investigation,” he wrote, “it was determined that there was a software bug that prevented the system from triggering proper notices of incoming vehicles – when two trains were at one platform.”

The issue was first reported by SFBay.CA, and later followed by the Examiner’s media partner Hoodline, a local news blog. The problem was not in the automatic train control software – which makes double berthing possible – but with the digital signage which signals an oncoming train.

The two did not work in concert, Lyles said, so SFMTA asked the software designer, Thales Group, to fix the code.

“We are disappointed that Thales has been unable to engineer a software fix for full system integration,” Lyles wrote.

More than a half-million lines of code “must be individually reviewed” to find the problem, Lyles wrote, but SFMTA’s commitment is to “the safety of more than 700,000 boardings” each day.

“We will not activate any service enhancement that does not meet our high standards of safety,” he wrote.

Thales Group was awarded numerous SFMTA contracts to implement changes to software in Muni trains.

Thales was recently budgeted $15.8 million to update the automatic control software in Muni trains, and in June was awarded $4.8 million to modify that software further, according to SFMTA Board of Directors documents.

It may be the only company SFMTA can turn to when it needs to modify its automatic train control software – as Thales wrote the software in the first place, according to SFMTA documents.

“The (automatic train control software) is proprietary to Thales Transport & Security (“Thales”), which is the only source for ATCS equipment and services necessary to maintain and expand the ATCS,” according to SFMTA agenda documents.

In a press release, John Brohm, head of Thales transportation activities in the United States, touted pride in being awarded a contract by SFMTA for the Central Subway in Chinatown.

“SelTrac CBTC will enable more efficient, environmentally conscious, and a more enjoyable riding experience for operators and commuters on the Central Subway Line,” he wrote.

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