A new M-Ocean View Muni LRV train arrives behind an older train at Civic Center Station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

New Muni trains breaking down far less often

SFMTA working to resolve mechanical problems and improve reliability

Muni’s high-tech, futuristic new train fleet breaks down every 8,000 miles as of August this year, an agency official revealed to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

And while that may not sound great, agency officials said that number is actually good news for the light rail system’s 161,000 daily passengers, given that the new trains were breaking down every 3,300 miles right after they were purchased.

Over the last 90 days Muni has fixed a whole suite of issues plaguing the $1.2 billion new train procurement, from broken doors that a San Francisco Examiner investigation showed dragged a woman onto the tracks of Embarcadero station, to faulty couplers linking train cars together that were outed by an NBC Bay Area investigation.

The time between mechanical failures reached the 8,000-mile milestone in August.

When a train goes out of service, it often causes a bottleneck that cascades into a slowdown affecting tens of thousands of Muni riders. So an improvement to 8,000 miles between mechanical failures is being hailed as a win.

“The new trains are starting to deliver on their promise,” Julie Kirschbaum, SFMTA director of transit, told the Examiner.

That steady increase in reliability is something Kirschbaum said she wants to monitor. Should things go smoothly, Muni will move ahead with an expedited order of new trains to help ease crowding and boost service availability in February or March next year.

While the distance between breakdowns is certainly an improvement, it isn’t the standard SFMTA set out for themselves. The agency aims to reach 25,000 miles between breakdowns by mid-2020, according to agency documents.

At a briefing of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority on Tuesday, Supervisor Gordon Mar questioned Muni’s ability to achieve such a lofty goal.

“I just wanted to ask if that’s realistic,” he asked Kirschbaum.

Mar’s Sunset District constituents rely on both the N-Judah and L-Taraval, which are frequent sore spots in neighborhood meetings.

“We’re certainly learning as we go,” Kirschbaum answered, but, “This curve is based on what we see in a lot of new vehicles” in other cities.

Kirschbaum said she intends to hold the train manufacturer, Siemens, “accountable to this plan.” Siemens is scheduled to deliver the last vehicle in Muni’s first 68-car future fleet procurement in October.

San Francisco officials have held Muni accountable for the problems as well.

Mechanical issues leading to systemwide service outages were among the reasons Mayor London Breed cited when calling for the ouster of Muni’s former head honcho, Ed Reiskin, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s director of transportation.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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