Muni Metro to Launch Double-Train Loading, Three-Car Trains in October

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Muni is poised to begin double-train loading and running three-car trains at underground metro stations to speed up boarding and increase capacity on the system’s busiest stretch.

As we reported, Muni began testing double-train loading, a.k.a. “double berthing,” in July, but Transit Director John Haley said the agency hasn’t run tests with actual trains yet. Managers have upgraded the train control software, which Muni says is the main hurdle to allowing two trains to board passengers in a station simultaneously, and run simulations.

“The tests on the software so far have been positive with no bugs or glitches found,” Haley told Streetsblog in an email. “The software and hardware are installed and if the Live Field tests go well we would target Late October / early November to start in service.”

“We think the public will love it,” he added.

Meanwhile, Haley told a Board of Supervisors committee last week that Muni plans to start running three-car trains to make short runs within the underground system only, between the Embarcadero and West Portal Stations, to relieve crowding. Haley said Muni had to work out software kinks to ensure that the third car would communicate with the others, and that those trains should begin running by next month.

Those service upgrades are among eight changes that Haley said Muni operations managers are looking to make. See the rest on the table below.

Image: SFMTA
  • Sean

    I just wish I was reading this in 2005. Terrific news!

  • Sean Rea

    *slow clap*

  • @Dissertates

    Me, too. It’s about time they utilized those incredibly long subway platforms.

  • Anonymous

    This is outrageously overdue! I’m so excited.

  • Wait, wasn’t Muni just saying that:

    The Breda train cars also don’t de-couple very well, Haley said, which hinders Muni managers’ ability to add or subtract car capacity where needed and to run three-car trains.

    Something doesn’t add up here.

  • “Muni plans to start running three-car trains to make short runs within the underground system only, between the Embarcadero and West Portal Stations.” Theoretically, these trains wouldn’t have to be de-coupled very often.

  • Anonymous

    My understanding is the 3-car trains will be hardwired as 3-cars due to an issue with signals through the auto-couplers.

  • Anonymous

    The long subway platforms were used to board 4-5 Boeing trains at a time, that would decouple at the portals into individual lines. This ability was lost when Muni purchased the incompatible Breda trainset.

  • Anonymous

    Is this going to result in longer waits between trains, now that multiple trains composed of more cars can arrive, board, and depart at once? Or will the 3-car underground-only trains represent additional capacity?

  • timsmith

    If 3-car-trains (in conjunction with the rest of the solutions Muni is planning) leads to less bunching and trains become better distributed, it will reduce waits. Of course, if it doesn’t accomplish this, then yes, it might extend wait times. If done right, I’m optimistic.

  • timsmith

    Kudos to John Haley and his team if/when they get this done — a great package of improvements. It’s odd though that they haven’t assigned any travel time savings to double berthing. Slow train loading at peak hours is a major source of bunching and cascading delays. Anything that speeds up the overall boarding process should have significant travel time savings and help to better spread out the trains.

  • Anonymous

    I believe that was only four. Back in the mid 90s when I moved here, trains routinely coupled up at both West Portal (K+L or M, etc.) or Duboce and Church (J+N). This stopped when the Breda cars and the new train control system came in in 1996.

  • Alex

    Won’t it be nice to run the three car trains all the way down to 4th and King, the platforms are wide enough and the ridership is there.

  • Jim

    MTA’s original intent with Breda three-car trains was to couple trains that arrived at the same time at Embarcadero or West Portal. Such as when a two-car L and a single-car M arrived inbound at WP, the two trains would couple together. Outbound trains would decouple before exiting WP. This is what they use to do with the Boeings.

    I hope MTA has fixed the switchback track inside the tunnel right before WP. The unreliability of that switch is why shuttles run all the way to St Francis Circle before turning back toward Downtown. I don’t believe the platform at St Francis can fit three-car trains.

  • davistrain

    Since there aren’t any Boeings left in service, the question now is, will the Bredas couple and uncouple reliably? Pacific Electric used to do it all the time with 1913 New York subway technology. And turning back cars at W. Portal during rush hours is nothing new; when I visited MuniLand in 1967, the first PCC I rode got turned back there.

  • gb52

    3 car shuttles are nice, but how well this works really depends on how fast operators and the train control can manage switching back these trains. This has always been a problem even with the two car shuttles or other trains turning back since you absolutely must prevent head on collisions by locking out a section of track.

    My question regarding double berthing is whether or not the second train will have to stop again… If so, this really saves a very minimal amount of time and creates mass confusion on the platform with people running back and forth.. The only benefit would be that people in that second train could actually get off rather than wait in traffic (But only if the combination of trains at the platform are 3 cars or less). So we have an escape route during meltdowns, but how well will this work on the average day? This also doesn’t solve issues with getting trains in and out of the portals faster, or turning trains around more efficiently (esp at embarcadero).

    Oh and just wait for the “runners”… people who catch the rear train and try to make it on the train in front…

  • Alex

    It won’t be necessary to couple or uncouple train at W.Portal since the three car trains will run as shuttles between embarcadero and W.Portal. Even though I think it would be better if the trains would go all the way to 4th and king

  • Mark Dreger

    If the second train empties out while waiting behind the first, even if it has to stop again, it will be ready-to-go for people to board. That could cut a few seconds.

  • Anonymous

    That’s great news! But darnit, I asked for 4-car trains in my letter to the Examiner editor last fall! 😉

  • Mario Tanev

    The estimates from double-birthing and longer car trains are 0. Longer car trains are supposed to increase overcrowding and reliability, and double-birthing is more of a customer convenience.

  • Anonymous

    Doubtful considering the problems they’ve had with the couplers. Don’t you remember when the N went to one-car only service?

  • Anonymous

    Not too surprising. Breda didn’t make the couplers, MUNI / BAH specified them. The biggest problem with making and breaking trains (IMO) is MUNI. It’s the same thing that forced the extension of the T from Castro to Balboa Park, and the same thing that killed the daily Castro shuttle. Watch them take their sweet-ass time and kill any benefit.

    Hell, the MTA doesn’t have enough trains now to run two car systemwide so the only line that sees two car trains (almost) exclusively is the N. If you can’t even run mostly two car trains on the L and M, where are they going to find enough cars to run three car shuttles?

  • Laurel heights

    There was also talk about increasing the speed limit in the Metro tunnel to pre-1950s level. I think it was 50 mph and now around 30 mph.

  • Anonymous

    You are referring to the Twin peaks tunnel. Trains can already run pretty fast in the newer Market St segment. The issue is that the last Twin Peaks rail maintenance was traversing the rails, so that side A goes to side B and vice versa. That allowed train speeds to increase, but rail transverse is using worn metal, and most major railroads (such as CNI) ban the practice for safety reasons. The upcoming Twin Peaks rail replacement will use new metal to allow 50mph to be ran safely.

    The notorious segment for derailments, the Eureka curve near Castro, is new and speeds are slowly increased as it is deemed safe.

  • Jim

    It’s unfortunate that MTA couldn’t figure out how to reliably use the switchback track at Castro. During the PM rush hour, majority of the riders get on at the downtown stations and get off at Castro. This impacts L and M riders the most as those are the busiest lines that go past West Portal. Too bad Muni doesn’t run an announcement to encourage riders, that get off at Castro, to take the K instead when possible.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Does muni even care how long it takes to switch back a train at Embarcadero? I’ve never seen anyone acting with less apparent urgency than the switchback operators at Embarcadero.

  • timsmith

    Thanks for the info, Mark. Do you know of any additional information about the Twin Peaks rail replacement project? I can only find a couple of obscure references to it on the internet.

  • Anonymous

    The SFMTA website is a hot mess, so I can’t link anything to you directly. All I can give you is a screenshot from the SFMTA Quarterly Report from last quarter which I had emailed to me. There isn’t much detail, but it is all I can dig up at the moment:

    If you want more information, I can ask the CAC secretary, but it will take several weeks.

  • Anonymous

    The SFCTA has the following summary in their list of SFTP early action projects:

    “Twin peaks Track Replacement: This project would replace approximately 24,000 track feet of existing improvements with new concrete or composite ties, new 115# rail and modern fastening system: Work would include a new single crossover and 2 turnouts at Eureka shoofly, direct fixation system at Forest Hill Station and West Portal. The turnouts and crossover would include the replacement of switch machines.”

    Also a cost estimate of $46,940,000, and a completion date of 3/30/2016.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, but will they be usable? Or will they be million dollar piles of scrap like we’ve got at Castro, West Portal, and Embarcadero?

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Is $2000/ft considered a good deal?

  • timsmith

    Thanks. This project has been surprisingly under the radar so far. I’m especially curious whether Transit actually plans to increase operating speeds post-rehab.

  • timsmith

    In the longer term, I think tunnel speed and reliability improvements from Embarcadero to West Portal (and surface improvements beyond) could really enhance the quality of life and vitality out west.

  • Jamison Wieser

    It waits to be seen how much time is saved, if any. Time saved boarding two trains at once could be completely eaten away by customers running up and down the platform to catch the right train.

    A lot of emphasis is placed on hardware, but little or none on giving customers information on how to use the system.

  • Jamison Wieser

    The problem – as I understood it several years ago when the subway communications/operations overhaul was still being planned – is the trains only supported a third car in a “tow mode” with the couplers already passing some commands, but not all of them like opening doors.

    Since the subway control system couldn’t handle three car trains, there was no reason – or even a way – to run trains in a three car mode until now.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, when I talked to engineering, they said that the rear car will be to disembark only, and will pull forward to the boarding zone to pick up passengers. This solves some major ADA issues as well. I also got an update on when double birthing will occur. Unfortunately it will not be in October, as some bugs were found in the planned (major) train control hardware/softare upgrade. Phase 1 (local ATCS switch upgrades) has been pushed to December.

  • mikesonn

    How will there be enforcement of “disembark only”? I can’t see that actually being followed.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know. I can only assume the policy is in place so that blind or disabled passengers know that their train will be at the spot historically known as the place to board. The rear platform disembarking is more of a convenience for passengers that are stuck behind a train yet annoyingly parked safely next to the platform.

  • mikesonn

    Makes sense, I can just see people going to the train designated as “disembark only” to try to sneak in before the huge crowd waiting where they should be waiting.

  • Anonymous

    I didn’t mean to create a misunderstanding here, so let me be clear: there was no sense of a policy being made when I was in this meeting, just that the intent of the design was to allowed formally trapped passengers to exit on the platform.

  • Jamison Wieser

    Three-car trains along the Embarcadero to Caltrain could very well be part of the long-term strategy, but right now the focus is rightly focussed on getting the new subway control and communications system in up the subway.

    Now is not the time to be making major changes along the Embarcadero. SFMTA already has some switch improvement plans at Fourth & King, but holding back because the intersection will need to be rebuilt in a few years for the Central Subway anyway.

  • mikesonn

    What about the rest of EMB? Get some signal prioritization already!

  • Anonymous

    The train control upgrade also includes a better way to switch out lines on the fly. Not sure on the details of that though. We’ll find out when they test in production this winter!

  • Anonymous

    Managed to ride a three-car shuttle train today. The first two cars were packed, while the third one was hardly empty. I think the third car was wobbling for a bit, or maybe it was just me. It does seem to result in arcing of the wires, however.

  • John Dunlap

    A three car underground shuttle is an excellent idea.

    FYI I remember when the orange and white double N and single J would link up before going into the tunnel (near Safeway). Often you would have to wait for quite sometime before the for the other car arrived to connect. Of course a double J is needed at rush hour, so am not sure connecting to the double N is feasible, but it would help free up train congestion.

    BTY at some point the N needs to be three cars at least to/from Caltrians to Cole Valley.


Muni Double-Berthing Still Delayed Pending CPUC Approval

The ongoing delays for double-berthing in Muni Metro stations continue, as Muni waits for its training plan to be approved by the CA Public Utilities Commission. After Muni officials demonstrated double-berthing for the CPUC in December, expecting the green light, Muni Operations Director John Haley told Streetsblog that CPUC needed to sign off its training plan, […]