Muni received authorization on Tuesday to move ahead with the purchase of 219 new train cars. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/S.F. Examiner)

Muni to accelerate purchase of 219 new train cars

Agency says it has fixed mechanical issues with new cars, will lower seats

Muni will finally move forward with purchasing 219 new train cars to bolster its aging, breakdown-prone fleet.

And after a public outcry, the agency will lower some seats aboard the new trains, which riders complained were too tall for some adults to comfortably sit in. “Butt divots” will also return to the now-flat seats, officials said.

The purchase of the new cars had been delayed last year due to mechanical issues with doors that clamped down on human hands, dragging a woman to the tracks, and large “shear pins” that hold the trains together.

All of those problems led the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to withhold roughly $61 million in needed funding to accelerate the purchase of the 219 new trains in April last year.

Muni officials say those issues have now been fixed, and on Tuesday the $61 million was finally approved.

Muni will now purchase its new trains from Siemens manufacturing, and transit service for some 140,000 daily passengers aboard the J, K, L, M, N and T lines is expected to improve.

The 219 new trains are expected to be fully delivered by the end of 2025, with trains first arriving in May 2021, according to public documents.

The total cost of the new trains is roughly $962 million.

“We all know there is urgency here, and the Bredas are getting older and older,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said Tuesday, referring to Muni’s older, frequently defective Breda-manufactured train cars.

SFMTA had hoped to have the new train order accelerated, beginning in late 2020 and for the final new trains to be delivered by 2025. But after various mechanical issues cropped up, the Board of Supervisors, in their secondary role as the board of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which controls transit-related tax dollars, asked for an independent review of the new Muni train mechanical issues before they would authorize the funding.

The new seating aboard the Siemens trains also proved unpopular with riders. They feature bench-style smooth seats, much like are used in East Coast subways, which led San Franciscan riders to slide around during train stops. They also were too tall for people above 5’4”. Now, the design for subsequent train cars will feature lowered seats and dents to stem the sliding.

The fixes for mechanical failures were addressed by an independent auditor, T.Y. Lin International, which presented a final report to the Transportation Authority Board in February and concluded that SFMTA and the new train manufacturer, Siemens, had made good progress resolving mechanical issues and implementing recommended upgrades to the trains.

The need is dire, the public and SFMTA have warned. Its Breda-manufactured fleet sports mechanical breakdowns that slow commutes for thousands every week, and need to be replaced in order to see service improve for Muni riders, SFMTA officials said.

Failures like those are measured in what Muni calls “mean distance between failures.” In December 2018 that distance was roughly 6,000 miles, what some officials called an abysmal figure. With more Siemens vehicles on the road, Muni is targeting more than 25,000 miles between breakdowns by June 2020.

The new Siemens cars are up to 22,000 miles between failures, SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum told the supervisors, Tuesday morning.

Only one member of the Board of Supervisors voted nay on the funding: Supervisor Sandra Fewer. She said issues around frequent part replacement to keep the Siemens train cars running were “excessive.”

“I’m uncomfortable spending this amount of money on a product that may not meet standards,” Fewer said.

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