Passengers sit on a new M-Ocean View Muni train as it prepares to depart Civic Center Station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Muni fixes faulty train doors, couplers on new trains

Repairs allow agency to begin running longer trains, ease overcrowding

Muni’s new trains are back on track.

Agency officials said Tuesday that they have fixed faulty doors and bad couplers on the recently-purchased light rail vehicles, part of a $1.2 billion fleet of new train cars the agency is working to acquire, allowing them to run more cars together at once.

The fixes were completed in time to run two-car trains on Muni’s J, K, L, M, N and T lines, which serve more than 161,000 daily riders, starting Monday.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency locked the back doors on its new Siemens-built trains in late April after an investigation by the San Francisco Examiner revealed those doors had caught a woman’s hand and dragged her to the tracks at Embarcadero Station earlier that month.

SFMTA also stopped running two-car trains around that time after an NBC Bay Area investigation revealed the couplers had a design flaw that caused them to break. A coupler is a mechanism that hooks trains together.

Both issues have since been rectified in Muni’s new fleet, SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, which met in its capacity as the San Francisco County Transportation Authority.

“Starting yesterday, we’ve been able to resume full service,” Kirschbaum told them.

Both measures will help ease crowding, Kirschbaum told the Examiner after the meeting. Locking the back doors led to Muni riders bunching in certain parts of the train car, and now they’ll be able to spread out. Running two-car trains will also allow more people to board during rush-hour. The agency has 55 new Siemens cars available for service, and runs about 20-25 at any one time, as some train cars are regularly out of service for maintenance reasons. Within 90 days, Kirschbaum hopes to get the number of new train cars running daily up to 35.

SFMTA said train manufacturer Siemens will pay under warranty to repair and redesign faulty train doors to have more door sensors, so they won’t close on people’s hands, and to feature couplers that don’t break in action. The woman whose hand was caught in the Muni door and dragged to the tracks of Embarcadero Station, Sunset District resident Choi Ngor Li, filed a claim against The City seeking help paying medical bills from the incident, a precursor to a lawsuit.

At the transportation authority meeting, one member of the public who is a retired Muni instructor, Alvin Ja, expressed outrage that the incident happened in the first place.

“I was dismayed and disgusted by it. Reason being, it was a design flaw from the very beginning,” Ja told the board. “It was a known issue from troops at the lower levels from two years ago.”

Kirschbaum did warn the board that the efforts to fix the fleet’s issues means Siemens cannot fill an order of new Muni trains early, which SFMTA hoped would allow the agency to retire its aging Breda-built trains early. Those trains are known for breaking down often, leading to backups during commute hours.

The new fleet purchase is scheduled to arrive over the next decade: 68 new trains by the end of 2019, 151 new trains by early 2027, and 45 more trains by mid-2030.

Some of those trains may still be able to manufactured early.

“It’s still possible to shave off time at the end” of one of those shipments, Kirschbaum said.

The Board of Supervisors expressed hopes that Muni riders’ commutes would ease up soon.

“I ride the N-Judah all the time,” said Supervisor Vallie Brown. “People just pack in there.”

joe@sfexaminer.com

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