Manny Enriquez, Muni test and acceptance supervisor, said the agency has made extensive changes to its new light rail vehicles. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)

Muni lobbies for funding to buy more trains after fixing problems with first batch

Muni’s $1.1 billion new train fleet debuted with multiple problems — but now, The City says they’re fixed.

That’s part of Muni’s pitch to the Board of Supervisors for funds to accelerate its new fleet purchase. Cough up the money, they say, and more reliable trains will get here faster.

In April, Muni asked the supervisors for $62 million to replace its old train clunkers.

The supervisors said no. That’s because Muni’s future fleet seemed like it was made up of clunkers too.

Doors caught and dragged people to the tracks. Couplers broke apart, setting train cars free of one another. Brakes hit too hard, wearing down brand-new wheels.

Most of those problems — the doors, the couplers, and the brakes — have already been fixed on the 68 trains that comprise the “Phase 1” batch.

Examiner reporter Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez tests repairs to doors on new Muni light-rail trains. The doors previously closed on passengers hands, causing some injuries.

Emanuel “Manny” Enriquez is Muni’s light-rail vehicle test supervisor in charge of making sure these trains are fit to run. Walking through the Muni Metro East railyard in the Dogpatch neighborhood Tuesday, he showed off the changes to the trains.

“The testing has done a lot,” Enriquez said. “We’ve done so much work on this car, there isn’t a Siemens car like this anywhere else in the world.”

The issue with too-hard braking that shaved down the trains wheels, requiring early replacement, was fixed by adding more friction-style brakes to the trains. There are three braking systems on Muni’s light rail vehicles, but these are the “Fred Flintstone” brakes, he said, much like the cartoon caveman’s habit of shoving his feet to the ground to stop his cartoon-car.

Another issue were the seats, which got an emphatic thumbs down from riders.

They were too tall, too slippery, and the bench-style seating led to discomfort, people complained on social media, to the Board of Supervisors, and to the San Francisco Examiner directly — a lot.

Those have been redesigned, though not all of them have been changed yet.

Now Muni is hitting a major milestone in its deep-pocketed purchase.

Train number 2068, the last of the first batch of future fleet trains to be delivered by manufacturer Siemens, hit San Francisco’s streets just this month.

Now, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency wants the Board of Supervisors — in its capacity as the San Francisco County Transportation Authority — to approve funding to accelerate the purchase of 151 more Muni trains to replace older Breda-model trains. Replacement is Phase 2 of the $1.1 billion purchase.

So will they approve that funding? Supervisor Aaron Peskin, one of the chief opponents of approving the money while Muni suffered mechanical issues, and the chair of the transportation authority board, said SFMTA has stepped up their game.

“I do believe SFMTA made great strides and it’s time to address the myriad issues that have been raised,” Peskin told the Examiner, Tuesday. “I think they’ve almost gotten this thing buttoned up, but I can’t speak for the other 10 members.”

Some funding to accelerate the purchase of new Muni trains has already been approved.

The SFMTA Board of Directors approved $9.7 million in November to accelerate the purchase of Phase 2, but SFMTA will require further approvals from the Board of Supervisors.

The argument goes like this: The sooner SFMTA can get the new Siemens cars out on the street, the sooner they can retire its old Breda-model trains.

Those clunkers break down often. And when trains break down, they can clog up the entire Muni metro system for its 140,000 daily riders.

Failures like those are measured in what Muni calls “mean distance between failures.” In December 2018 that distance was roughly 6,000 miles, but by August this year it was 7,793 miles between breakdowns. With more Siemens vehicles on the road, Muni is targeting more than 25,000 miles between breakdowns by June 2020.

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