Will Muni Ever Consider Catenary-Free Light Rail?

It’s hard not to get excited about the new urban rail technology announced this week by Bombardier. Could we ever see something like this in San Francisco? Similar technology has been on Muni’s radar but the future of light rail in the city doesn’t seem to be too high on the MTA’s priority list, at least, not right now.

BT_4086_PRIMOVE_Energy_flow.jpgGraphics by Bombardier.

According to Bombardier:

The new and unique BOMBARDIER* PRIMOVE* system allows catenary-free operation of FLEXITY* trams over distances of varying lengths and in all surroundings as well as on underground lines – just like any conventional system with overhead lines. What makes it outstanding is that the power transfer is contactless; the electric supply components are invisible and hidden under the vehicle and beneath the track.


Tom Radulovich, the executive director of Livable City who sits on the BART board of directors, said he suggested catenary-free light rail to Muni when he read about Alstom’s catenary-free streetcars in Bordeaux.

The city wanted a streetcar to run through the historic center, but
didn’t want the visual impact of the wires. I thought it could overcome
some of the objections about extending streetcars along the waterfront,
especially Marina Green — imagine streetcars gliding along a
re-fashioned Marina Boulevard on their way from the Presidio to China
Basin with no wires!

Radulovich points out fixing Muni’s light rail system — a fleet of 151 vehicles that carries 127,000 riders a day — is not considered in
the Transit Effectiveness Project (TEP).

The way that Muni builds and operates our streetcars generally is quite
backwards; we are one of the last in the world to use high-floor cars
on the street. The Breda cars that Muni and MTA bought may be the
heaviest in the world, which means more noise, vibration, energy
consumption, and track damage.

Judson True, the MTA’s media relations director, said the agency can’t just decide it wants to replace vehicles. He said the “effective life” for many of the current vehicles ends in 2020.

“We will replace our light rail vehicles as established by FTA and MTC guidelines and when we do we’ll definitely look at acquiring vehicles with the best available technology.”

SPUR says regional rail is suffering a midlife crisis. When will Muni come up with a plan to address its light rail crisis?


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