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Posts from the "Light Rail" Category

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

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

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Muni to Test Seat Reconfiguration to Make More Room on Light-Rail Vehicles

Muni is looking to change its current train car seat configuration (seen left) to an arrangement more like the one on the right. Photos: SFCTAa

After a nudge from two city supervisors, Muni is looking to convert forward- and backward-facing seats to side-facing seats in its light-rail train cars as a way to squeeze in more passengers and speed up boarding.

A common scene for commuters on Muni's metro lines. Photo: torbakhopper/Flickr

The SFMTA plans to run a trial starting in January by putting one reconfigured prototype car into service, which would be monitored over six months before reconfiguring other train cars.

The pilot is moving forward at the behest of Supervisors Scott Wiener and London Breed, who called a hearing held yesterday on how the agency can increase capacity on its metro system while Muni riders await a new, larger train fleet due to arrive in 2017. By converting most seats to a sideways-facing orientation, planners estimate they could allow room for five to eight more passengers per train car while removing obstacles that can create bottlenecks when riders squeeze in and out at stops.

“The situation is severe enough that we need to find creative ways” to increase capacity, said Breed. “When a two-car train pulls up at Carl and Cole, that means 16 more people could be able to board, 16 more people can get to work on time, 16 more people will be inclined to keep riding Muni and not use their vehicles.”

Currently, 114 of Muni’s 151 train cars are in service, and most of the rest are in need of repair, according to agency staff. The Muni metro system lacks the number of train cars it needs to make all of its scheduled runs on half of service days.

Among the laundry list of flaws with Muni’s current trains — manufactured by Breda, which has been disqualified from vying for the next production contract — is their unusually inefficient interior design, said Wiener. The expected capacity for Breda train cars is 218 people — 60 in seats, 158 standing.

“We’re going to need [these cars] for a while,” said Wiener. “We need to make the most of the light-rail vehicles we have.”

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Muni’s Next Train Fleet: Breda Disqualified From Another Contract

Photo: Aaron Bialick

As Muni seeks its next-generation fleet of light-rail vehicles to serve the metro system, the manufacturer of its current, notoriously unreliable train cars has been barred from competing for a new contract. Italy-based AnsaldoBreda, which produced the LRVs that Muni riders use today, was the only one of four prospective manufacturers which didn’t meet the new criteria set by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency.

Breda is protesting the disqualification with an appeal claiming that it was rated unfairly, according to a memo signed by company officials and former Mayor Willie Brown [PDF], who is apparently lobbying for Breda. Tomorrow, the SFMTA Board of Directors is expected to decide whether or not Breda will be put on the list of companies invited to make the agency an offer. SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin has issued a memo recommending that the board reject the appeal.

The dispute comes at a time when the SFMTA is looking to replace its aging rail fleet of 151 train cars, the “useful life” of which is expected to end in 2021, with an even larger fleet of up to 260 cars that will be needed to serve the Central Subway when it opens in 2019. Since the Breda trains went into operation in 1996, they’ve continued to plague Muni with a host of mechanical issues and design flaws.

“These problems … have profound consequences for daily experiences of Muni riders,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener at a committee hearing today. “The subway is unreliable and all too frequently melts down. Rush hours are ruined, economic activity is reduced, frustration levels among riders are high, significant gaps in service are all too common. It is a completely unacceptable situation.”

“We need to make sure that as we migrate to the next generation… that we are getting light-rail vehicles that meet the needs of San Francisco.”

The list of problems with the Breda LRVs include frequent malfunctions with its doors and mechanically-raised steps, as well as intake vents placed on the bottom of the trains, where they frequently get clogged by debris and cause costly disruptions to the vehicles’ propulsion systems. Those vents are normally placed on the top or sides of vehicles, according to Muni’s director of transit, John Haley.

The on-time performance of Muni’s metro system is about 50 percent. Haley said 70 percent of the delays are attributable to mechanical failures, and 67 percent of those are due to the peculiar shortcomings of Breda LRVs described above. Only 114 of the system’s 151 cars are in use on an average day, with most others in need of repair.

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Muni Trains Get Slight Speed Boost in Twin Peaks Tunnel

For six years, Muni trains have been running through the Twin Peaks tunnel well below their former top speed of 50 mph due to worn-out tracks, which put trains in danger of derailment, according to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency.

At an SFMTA Board of Directors meeting today, Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said the tracks had finally been replaced between Castro and West Portal stations, and that the speed limit on the Eureka curve, which approaches Castro Station, was raised from 15 mph to 25 mph. Reiskin said the SFMTA will evaluate whether or not train speeds on the curve could be raised further, but that the higher limit wouldn’t exceed 30 mph. Along most of the Twin Peaks tunnel, train speeds are capped at 35 mph.

Director Cheryl Brinkman said she and her husband noticed the speedier trip over the weekend. “I’m sure that’s going to be much appreciated by the passengers,” she said.

The issue was raised at an SFMTA Board meeting in late 2009, when former board member Cameron Beach (who has since passed away) grilled agency staff on the lack of progress getting the K, L, and M metro lines back up to their historic speeds. In response, the agency said it was studying if and when trains could run at 50 mph again, but didn’t provide a timeline. Nat Ford, who was head of the SFMTA at the time, said increasing speeds could also increase train congestion at West Portal.

We have a request in with the SFMTA about whether the agency plans to raise train speeds along other sections of the tunnel.

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Supervisor Wiener Calls for Hearing on Improving J-Church Reliability

Flickr Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/theoverheadwire/##Transit Nerds##

Flickr Photo: Transit Nerds

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who has pledged to make transportation issues a priority, today called for a hearing to address a growing number of complaints about unreliability from riders on the J-Church line.

“It’s a major line that carries a lot of people, and it’s very unpredictable for reasons I do not understand and want to understand,” Wiener said. “I want the current, up-to-date information from the MTA in terms of what’s going on with the J-Church and what they have been doing recently to try to improve service.”

He cited known physical challenges presented by the turn from Church onto 30th Street, “stops and starts” on Church Street, “inconsistent frequency”, and seemingly “random” NextMuni arrival predictions, which he said doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem on other lines.

He expects to have the hearing within 30 to 60 days and may even propose some physical changes to improve the line.

Wiener, who represents District 8, said he will work with D11 Supervisor John Avalos, whose district also encompasses the J line. Avalos has also expressed concerns about Muni reliability, and recently called for a hearing on the problem of switchbacks on the 14-Mission line.

“Over the last few months we’ve seen improved service reliability due, in part, to preventing sander hoses from severing the signal cable, upgrading system software to improve the switch from manual to automatic, and addressing maintenance issues, such as switches and other mechanical issues,” said SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose. “We will continue to work with the Board of Supervisors to further improve service in the future.”

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SFMTA Transit Director Predicts Better Muni Metro Service in Coming Months

A problem with signal cables being torn by sander hoses on the trains is one reason for all the recent Muni Metro delays. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/timmy/4598573869/##Timmy Denike##

A problem with signal cables being torn by sander hoses on the trains is one reason for all the recent Muni Metro delays. Photo: Timmy Denike

The series of frustrating and consistent delays that have plagued the Muni Metro system for the last few months have been narrowed to three causes that SFMTA Transit Director John Haley told the SFMTA Board yesterday have mostly been fixed for now.

Still, according to Haley, it’s “too early to declare victory” on a problem with the sander hoses under the Breda light-rail vehicles that have been tearing the automated signal cables that sit between the rails.

Haley, who updated the board at the request of SFMTA Director Malcolm Heinicke, explained that the vast majority of delays have been caused by signal failures with the Automated Train Control System (ATCS) when the trains have to switch from manual to automatic as they exit the surface streets and enter the underground tunnels at West Portal, the Ferry Building and Church and Duboce streets. Problems with the ATCS have persisted since Muni first acquired the system 11 years ago.

On average, the ATCS failed to get a signal from trains more than 200 times each month in September and October. Every time that happens, the system “fails safely,” and slows down every line.

“The cause of that is either something in the wayside or something in the vehicle,” said Haley. “The impact of that from a service perspective is when the train’s not recognized it puts it in manual. There’s a restrictive set of procedures that must be followed. The safety spacing is increased so the system is slowed down.”

Haley said the agency has been working in concert with the signal manufacturer, Thales, to try and resolve the problem. Last month, the ATCS got a software upgrade and since then the signal failures have decreased by more than 50 percent.

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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.”

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Eyes on the Street: Replacing the Rails on the J-Church Line

SFMTA capital crew ripping up the existing street and replacing track. Photos: Matthew Roth

SFMTA capital crew ripping up the street and replacing track on Church at 30th St. Photos: Matthew Roth

Taking advantage of a long weekend, a capital construction crew of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), which runs Muni, spent three frenzied days working around the clock to replace aging J-Church tracks at the intersection of Church and 30th streets.

The work on the intersection cost $1 million and was part of the SFMTA’s Rail Renewal Program, a $141 million effort to rehabilitate ten key sections of Muni’s more than 70 miles of track much of which is more than 30 years old.

The tracks at the intersection had worn down substantially, leading to increased wear on the trucks and other equipment on the Breda light rail vehicles (LRVs) and noisy conditions with each passing vehicle. The SFMTA hoped that by working 24 hours a day over a holiday weekend, when many people would be out of town or spending the beautiful late summer days at the beach, the clamor of construction wouldn’t too greatly inconvenience the neighborhood.

“San Francisco’s infrastructure is at the core of our quality of life,” SFMTA boss Nat Ford had said in a statement leading up to the construction. Ford also thanked businesses in the construction zone for their patience and encouraged neighbors to frequent them during the project. “The SFMTA will continue to aggressively prioritize keeping Muni in a state of good repair in order to provide safe and reliable service to our customers.”

As a resident living very nearby (30th and Church is my regular J-Church stop), I received one of 8,000 direct mail inserts that were sent out weeks in advance of the project. I knew there would be some traffic and Muni service disruptions, but I had no idea the process of digging up the tracks and replacing them would be so interesting and involved.

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SFMTA Board Approves $32 Million Contract to Repair LRV ‘Piles of Rubble’

The interior of one of the damaged LRVs that will be rebuilt.

The interior of one of the damaged LRVs that will be rebuilt.

The SFMTA Board last week approved a $32 million, six-year contract (PDF) with AnseldoBreda to repair and rebuild seven damaged light-rail vehicles, including four LRVs described as “piles of rubble.” At least one board director, however, Malcolm Heinicke, wanted to know if the agency would be better off buying new LRVs, instead of spending all that money to repair damaged cars.

“The additional thing that concerns me about this is six years. That’s six years or up to six years with seven of our…LRVs that it could take to repair versus buying them new. I realize you don’t just go down to Cal Worthington’s LRV lot and drive seven home,” said Heinicke.

Carter Rohan, the director of SFMTA’s capital program and construction projects, responded by saying a new LRV might cost about $4 million, but only if it were part of a bigger deal. Minneapolis, he pointed out, recently approved a $153 million contract with Siemens to build 41 LRVs at its light-rail manufacturing plant in Sacramento. SFMTA Chief Nat Ford said purchasing only seven LRVs wouldn’t make much sense, and might even cost more and take longer, considering the RFP process, the design and the engineering.

“You really don’t get the economies of scales on these rail cars until you get to the 40, 50 and above number. So, we’re in a very difficult situation here as it relates to these seven cars,” said Ford, who added that he also wanted to make sure the agency had enough vehicles in time for the 2018 opening of the Central Subway.

The LRVs sent in for restoration include two vehicles involved in last year’s West Portal crash that injured dozens of passengers, one damaged in a June 15, 2008 collision at 4th and King streets than sent 12 people to the hospital, an M-line LRV involved in a crash with a garbage truck on April 20, 2006, two LRVs that collided on the M-line on June 3, 2004, a J train involved in a September 23, 2003 crash, and two LRVs that collided at St. Francis Circle in 2002.

Rohan said three of the LRVs will be repaired for $2 million each and should return to service “within 20 months.” The remaining four vehicles could take up to six years to rebuild. At least two of them will get new propulsion systems.

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Streetfilms: Seattle’s Link Light Rail — The Start of Something Big

Right now, Seattle is making as serious a commitment to transit as any city in the nation. Recently, Streetfilms got to take a tour of the newest addition to the city's network -- the 13-station Link Light Rail, which opened in mid-2009.

The route is beautiful, swift, and has great multi-modal connections. Service is frequent, with headways as short as 7 minutes during rush hour, and never longer than 15 minutes. And like many of the newest American light rail systems, the stations feature copious art.

Seattle has a lot of car commuters, but in a sign that many are looking for more efficient and environmentally friendly ways of getting to work, the new light rail line will be followed by several more additions to the city's transit network. As Seattle's Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl told us:

[Voters] in November 2008, by 57 percent -- which was a thrill in a recession economy -- voted to expand our light rail system, and our commuter rail system, and our buses... to add another 36 miles of light rail in the region. And to add 65 percent more capacity to our commuter rail system.

We'd like to thank everyone who talked to us for this shoot, especially Bruce Gray from Sound Transit, and Andrew Schmid for arranging it all. And of course a big shout out to the intrepid scribes over at Seattle Transit Blog, who cover the local transportation scene with zeal and gusto.