Muni officials say a defect in a part pulled down part of an overhead wire and caused it to wrap around the structure on top of a train in San Francisco’s subway on April 26th, 2019, shutting down service for most of the day. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Muni officials say a defect in a part pulled down part of an overhead wire and caused it to wrap around the structure on top of a train in San Francisco’s subway on April 26th, 2019, shutting down service for most of the day. (Ellie Doyen/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Muni service breakdown could have been prevented

‘Routine inspection’ missed defect that led to day-long subway service outage

April’s Muni Metro mess — which brought the subway system to its knees — was preventable, transit officials said Tuesday.

Muni workers missed a defective part in an inspection that ultimately led to a single train pulling down 1,000 feet of overhead cable wiring, said Julie Kirschbaum, acting director of transit at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni.

Those inspections are conducted weekly, she told the San Francisco Examiner.

With trains out of service for 13 hours that Friday, SFMTA ran bus shuttles for the roughly 80,000 morning riders of the J, K, L, M, N and T lines. The incident was so severe, and followed so many other high-profile agency stumbles, that it led Mayor London Breed to announce The City should seek a new head of the SFMTA to replace director Ed Reiskin.

In her report on the incident to the SFMTA Board of Directors, at its regular meeting at City Hall on Tuesday, Kirschbaum called the service outage the “worst incident” at Muni she had ever seen.

“We missed something important as part of a routine inspection and it is something we are taking extremely seriously as we move forward,” Kirschbaum told the SFMTA board.

A part called a splice serves as a connector between two pieces of overhead wire, clamping the two together. A “defect on that part,” meaning the splice, contributed to the incident, she said.

“We had warning indications that we could have caught in advance,” she said.

While the defective splice caused the overhead wire to come down, Kirschbaum said the severity of the service outage came down to “bad luck.” In similar incidents, smaller sections of the overhead wires are pulled down, which can lead to short delays. But, Kirschbaum explained to the Examiner, in this particular incident the overhead wire wrapped around the train’s pantograph, essentially the antennae of a train that connects to overhead wires.

With the overhead wires wrapped around the pantograph, the Muni train managed to pull down 1,000 feet of wiring.

“It took two hours just to cut the wires off the pantograph,” Kirschbaum said.

Speaking to the board, Kirschbaum added that the overhead wires are usually dependable and do not traditionally lead to delays on the Muni Metro system.

SFMTA Board of Directors Chair Malcolm Heinicke tasked Kirschbaum with identifying every possible pinch point the subway has that could cripple it.

“I know no one did this on purpose. This should have been prevented,” Heinicke told Kirschbaum. “I apologize to the city. This happened on our watch. It happened on your watch as well.”

joe@sfexaminer.com

Transit

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted changes to The City's streets including Slow Streets closures to increase open space access and the Shared Spaces program, which allows businesses to use public right-of-ways for dining, retail and services. (Examiner illustration)
COVID is reshaping the streets of San Francisco

Walk down Page Street, which is closed to thru-traffic, and you might… Continue reading

At a rally in February, Monthanus Ratanapakdee, left, and Eric Lawson remember Vicha Ratanapakdee, an 84-year-old Thai man who died after he was pushed to the pavement in San Francisco. (Ekevara Kitpowsong/Examiner file photo)
The criminal justice system can’t fix what’s wrong in our community

My 87-year-old mother walks gingerly, slowly, deliberately, one step in front of… Continue reading

Superintendent Vincent Matthews said some students and families who want to return will not be able to do so at this time. “We truly wish we could reopen schools for everyone,” he said. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SFUSD sets April reopening date after reaching tentative agreement with teachers union

San Francisco Unified School District has set April 12 as its reopening… Continue reading

José Victor Luna and Maria Anabella Ochoa, who cite health reasons for continuing distance learning, say they have been enjoying walking in Golden Gate Park with their daughters Jazmin, a first grader, and Jessica, a third grader. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Some SFUSD families prefer distance learning

Health issues, classroom uncertainties among reasons for staying home

Most Read