SFMTA Reveals Breda LRV Refurbished with Federal Stimulus Funds

Photos: Bryan Goebel
Photos: Bryan Goebel

SFMTA Chief Nat Ford was joined by members of the SFMTA Board, representatives from AnsaldoBreda and federal officials at an unveiling today of the first Muni light-rail vehicle to be refurbished using federal stimulus funds, part of a $56 million project to upgrade the agency’s fleet of 143 LRVs.

“It’s going to help us keep our passengers safer and make the system more reliable,” said SFMTA Director Cheryl Brinkman, who added that Muni’s LRVs serve 160,000 passengers a day and 50 million passengers a year, or 20 percent of Muni’s overall ridership.

The “LRV Doors and Steps Reconditioning Project” is using $9 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (AARA) funds, and the project was expected to result in “60 new hires or jobs retained.”

While Muni riders won’t notice anything new when they step onto the interior of car 1412, the steps and doors system, automatic couplers and air supply units have been rebuilt, and the articulation pins and wire harnesses have been replaced. For passengers, Ford said it will mean a more comfortable ride.

“We will have more reliable vehicles with more distance between failures,” said Ford. “That really increases our fleet in some aspects, so where we’ll have a percentage of our vehicles in the shop because they failed while in service, there will be less of that type of situation and on top of that, for example, when they do make a repair, it’s much quicker and it’s faster.”


Getting the remaining LRVs renovated and back into the system won’t happen overnight, though. The agency estimates it will take six years to get all the cars up to snuff. Ford said the SFMTA is also trying to identify funding to make improvements to the interiors of the trains and is working with AnsaldoBredo to come up with an estimate for that.

Ford said renovating the fleet is something the agency is required to do by the federal government, but the SFMTA will also begin planning for the future to replace the current Breda cars with lighter, low-floor vehicles.

“A light-rail vehicle with proper maintenance and a midlife overhaul, which we’re doing now, is expected to last 25 years, on average,”he said. “So, we’re going to extend the life of that vehicle another 12 to 13 years, but during that time frame we are beginning to talk about the vehicle of the future. It will take us, to replace this entire fleet, a process that could take between 8 to 12 years, from design, delivery, acceptance and actual revenue service. So, we have to begin that process right now.”

  • Low floor light rail cars? Uh huh, that will also mean massive construction on all existing metro platforms, including metro stations, outdoor platforms, and stops with ramps.

    Low floor trains would be great, but at extreme expense.

  • Alex

    Did they even shop around? Or did they award yet another no-bid bullshit contract? At least BART shopped around when they rebuilt their rail cars. Given how badly Breda botched the original orders, I’m sorely disappointed that they’re getting any more money.

  • East Lake Rider

    I hope one of the improvements to train interiors include space for bikes.

  • poncho

    how old are these cars? i seem to recall they are 10 years old. seems a little premature to rebuild the cars. hopefully they’ll last a little longer than the boeings given that LRVs are supposed to last 40+ years.

  • Andy Chow

    Some of the San Diego Trolley’s vehicles are 30 years old. Muni Metro System is almost 30 years old and has already replaced an older generation of vehicles. The only system that has completely replaced its fleet sooner than Muni is VTA.

  • Jeremy

    The first batch of the Bredas (including 1412) entered service at the end of 1996, so the oldest cars are almost 14 years old. Hopefully this midlife rehab will address any mechanical deficienies in the Bredas so that their second service life can be significantly longer than their first. If Muni can manage to make the junky Boeings last for 20 years, they better make the Bredas last 30+ years.

    Some of the replaced parts in these LRVs are probably licensed to Breda and can only be manufactured by them, which means other companies would have to pay Breda for these parts if they were to rehab them. So I highly doubt it would have been cheaper for Muni to award this contract to another company.

  • patrick

    Future vehicles absolutely have to be low floor. Low floor is the international standard now, going with anything else will mean the vehicles are extremely expensive to build, as well as maintain. Low floor also speed boarding (meaning faster overall service) and are much more accessible to parents, the elderly, and the disabled.

    It will be worth every penny to go with low floor vehicles for the next fleet.

  • Yes, low floor makes a huge difference, especially to parents with prams.

    The construction work at platforms is not *that* complex and it does not have to be done all at the same time. Where I live, platforms have been converted over several years, starting with the more central ones, slowly working towards the periphery.

  • Andy Chow

    I think SF missed the true opportunity for low floor LRV at least 10 years ago. SF might as well still use high floor LRVs. Companies will continue to make high floor LRVs since some systems (like LA) have high platforms at all of their stops.

    With level boarding already exist in downtown and on 3rd Street, going low floor won’t add any value there. It would only add value in areas with lower boarding counts per stop.

    Many stops on the west side don’t have standard length platforms (some only cover 1 of the two cars, or none at all). Without raising the boarding islands, level boarding is not possible with low floor cars.

    Most North American LRVs only have low floor area in the center of each car. Some lose their doors to the edge of the vehicles (like VTA’s), or have steps in the front door (like Boston). If you go without the front door, it makes onboard fare collection impossible. Also without the front door, you’ll need longer platforms has people need to wait and board further behind from the intersection.

    Boston spent years to introduce its low floor LRVs (also made by Breda) as it faced numerous performance and safety issues. Boston however doesn’t have high platforms so transition to low floor is a natural course to take.

  • Actually, converting Muni to low floor will be complex. The metro stations are high platform, either Muni has to raise the entire subway trackbed to meet the proper boarding level or they will have to grind down the platforms to low level.

    If Muni grinds down the platform, they will have to rebuild the escalators so the bottom meets the new lower level. There could also be some concern of stations that are above BART platforms if it could damage the foundation.

  • Muni will need creative solutions to the mess they’ve gotten themselves into with the current fleet. My proposal is still this:
    – Use LRVs only within the dedicated ROW subway tunnels
    – Stop maintaining the extra vehicles and track required for shared ROW surface operation
    – Take the hundreds of millions of dollars you just saved and replace the train control system. Upgrade all the platforms and go to driverless operation to save millions more in ongoing labor cost. You also just eliminated all the subway delays caused by vehicles stuck in traffic on surface streets or the obsolete control system having issues
    – Take some of the remaining savings and buy a new fleet of BRT vehicles to replace LRVs on shared-ROW surface streets. They will do these routes faster than the LRVs they replaced (can go around traffic/track obstructions, lighter, more boarding doors, etc) and at lower cost. Make all the street boarding islands level with the new low floor vehicles – much cheaper than trying to convert the subway platforms. Install station amenities needed for transfer from LRV to bus at West Portal and the J, N and Embarcadero surface points.

  • Converting the Muni Metro to low floor is an incredibly straight-foward process.

    God only knows what Akit is smoking — probably the same “can’t do it” “this is the way AMERICANS do it” “we know better than everybody else” “screw you!” hash that Muni and its contractors have been smoking for the last 30 years, most particularly when the castastrophically stupid Third Street “Light” Rail line was “designed” and installed.

    In fact all the Metro platforms, including Van Ness to West Portal, are long enough to allow a hybrid transition phase with obsolete BS Muni crapmobiles and post-1980 low floors in service at the same time during transition.

    In fact all the downtown Metro platforms can be incrementally reconstructed to provide vertical access (escalators, stairs, elevators) from the obsolete high and the new low level sections of the platform.

    God only knows why anybody would go out of his/her way to defend the proven, uniformly wrong, limitlessly incompetent, cash squandering cretins at Muni when there are several hundreds examples that show that those clowns never once get anything right.

    If the answer to a question is “The Muni Way”, the answer is wrong.

    On high floor transit vehicles especially.

    (Quick, Akit, explain how your tunnels and platforms theory explains high floor transit buses ordered any time after 1995? Good God! But Muni did it.)

  • Richard – remind me why you aren’t on the MTA board?

  • Alex

    Why on earth would we want or need a low platform subway?? It would only perpetuate the idea that we should have subway cars running on the street. This works well enough for, say, Stuttgart, but they’ve committed to having high platform stops (and thus fixed high platforms) on the street.

    Steve’s idea is almost exactly what the MTA needs to do. A proper hub and spoke system would allow proper subway cars to be used in the subway and proper streetcars or BRT vehicles to be used on the streets. The one problem I see are areas where there are dedicated RoWs such as the Sunset tunnel and near Church St, and converting to bus use might not make sense.

    Proper low floor street vehicles aren’t the worst idea, but the high floor buses that the MTA’s got are, unfortunately, heads and shoulders superior in nearly every possible way to the low floor Orions. It’s symptomatic of the atrocious procurement process at the MTA, sure… but it’s a problem that must be overcome before new vehicles are purchased.

  • Why on earth would we want or need a low platform subway?

    Your word for the day is “pre-metro”. Google is your friend.

    Or, board a plane to a backward country such as Spain that hasn’t gotten the memos from Muni’s experts at Booz-Allen and Parsons Brinkerhoff about how to design and build and operate tiny tram networks.

    Get off pretty much anywhere. Look around. Try to stop the high-floor trams or buses. Good luck. Next try to act all cool and unflustered when the low-floor trams takes a detour into a tunnel for a short part of its route … eventually those backwards foreigners will learn from San Francisco’s Muni how to do things, but it may take time. They don’t speak English, so it may take them a while to catch up with us.

    PS A question in return: why on earth would a small city like San Francisco, with extremely generous public rights of way, do something as stupid as build a segregated “metro” system when a combination of reptilian-hind-brain-level underground train operations management competence and reptilian-hind-brain-level overground traffic management would deliver a superior system at a tiny fraction of the cost?

  • Alex

    In case you haven’t noticed, this isn’t Spain. Your pie in the sky rant is great. Jack of all trades, master of none. Why optimize the vehicles for one purpose? Why not stick expensive to maintain articulation joints in every vehicle? Why not compromise interior room in all of the vehicles? Yeah, that sounds just peachy keen. To take your integration rant to its logical conclusion, why not extend BART to run down Geary on the surface on its own dedicated right of way? That sounds BRILLIANT.

    BTW, I hear the Madrid metro is utter trash. With those high platforms, they clearly must not know what they’re doing.

    1: http://giancarlodeleon.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/2.jpg
    2: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Madrid_Metro_flickr_1.jpg
    3: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Madrid_-_Estaci%C3%B3n_Marqu%C3%A9s_de_Vadillo_-_20060910.jpg

    Boy that sounds TERRIBLE. I guess you could even look at cities like London, Stuttgart with their modern high floor streetcars and metro cars point out how they’re really just backwater towns. I hear that Milan’s high floor metro cars are just horrible too.

    Streetcars belong on the street, subway cars belong on the subway. Otherwise you get a jack of all trades that’s a master of none and is simply there to make everyone else suffer.

  • Andy Chow

    Muni Metro so far is a decent system. Having to break it into two systems (surface and subway) will cause inconvenience and really won’t add value to the city.

    Market Street already has a true subway system on most portion, which is BART. Other than the portion that’s already duplicate BART is the portion on upper Market Street and the Twin Peaks Tunnel.

    If somehow the two system have to break then the stations will have to be reconfigured to facilitate transfers. Some people would rather drive to West Portal or Market and Church to catch the trains, which will add more problems.

  • Alex

    If by working decently you mean has had major problems pretty much every week for a month including the Embarcadero turnback being out of commission for most of today, then, okay. As it stands, shuttle bus service was deployed along Taraval, and presumably along Judah today for much of the day. If the metro were properly isolated from the surface routes, this wouldn’t have been a blip on the radar. Service along West Portal would have been fine, and instead of bringing in extra drivers for the West Portal (or Duboce Portal) to the beach portion, the extra (expensive) labor could have been used where it is needed the most: along Market Street.

    The problem isn’t that street cars cannot run underground, it’s that there are a bunch of conflicting demands in San Francisco. Short of removing a few houses and thus the 90 degree turns or moving to much, much shorter vehicles and loosing capacity, you’re not going to get rid of the expensive and problematic articulation joints. Short of going to longer cars, you’re not going to solve the capacity issues inherent to low floor vehicles.

    That said, encouraging street cars to board in the middle of the street without any sort of protective platform seems ludicrous to me. High platforms properly separate bicycle/automobile traffic from pedestrian/LRV traffic. They’re, IMO, a good thing.


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