SFMTA Board Approves Contract for New Fleet of Muni Metro Trains

A rendering of one of the new trains that Muni will purchase for its metro system. Image: SFMTA

The purchase of Muni’s next metro train fleet took a major step forward today as the SFMTA Board of Directors unanimously approved a manufacturing contract with Siemens.

Muni officials lauded the design of the new trains as far superior to the current, abysmally breakdown-prone fleet of light-rail vehicles, which were built by AnsaldoBreda. The fleet of 260 new trains will be manufactured by the German company Siemens at its Sacramento factory, and will roll out in phases starting at the end of 2016.

The contract approval “will put us on a structured, long-term course to take care of our most immediate and pressing service need right now — to fix the very heart of our transit service network,” said Muni Operations Director John Haley.

Muni metro riders can expect breakdowns to become much less common with the new fleet. The current Breda trains have a “mean distance between failure” rate of fewer than 5,000 miles, according to Haley, which means that they break down routinely. A city audit painted an even more dire picture, finding that Muni metro’s aging trains break down every 617 miles on average — far more often than any comparable transit system.

The Siemens trains have proven to break down every 59,000 miles in service elsewhere, more than double the minimum of 25,000 that Muni officials had set as a minimum for qualifying contract bidders. It’s also “more than twice around the equator,” said Haley.

As an example of the improvement of what Haley has called Breda’s “high-failure design,” the current trains have over 220 moving parts in the doors and raising steps alone. The Siemens trains have 20, Haley said.

A rendering of two Muni trains at King and Third Streets. Image: SFMTA

Breda was disqualified from bidding for the new contract, and successfully appealed, but did not bid anyway, according to SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose.

The SFMTA Board authorized the agency to spend up $1,192,651,577  to purchase up to 260 Siemens trains, to be rolled out in phases by 2028. The first batch of 24 trains is expected to be phased in from the end of 2016 to 2018, and thus ready in time for the completion of the Central Subway in 2019.

Haley called Siemens an “industry leader,” and said the company has a proven record, with about 1,300 of its trains used by North American transit systems. He said that Siemens has a “strong and consistent track record of meeting delivery schedules.” The bidding price also was better than expected, and so Muni will be able to buy 215 within the same budget allotted for 175 cars.

The Siemens trains are expected to be lighter than the Bredas, feature more efficient motors and brakes, and require far less maintenance, said Haley. The operator cabs will also feature a more open design, making it easier for operators to see pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers on the street. The specifics of the interior design are expected be vetted through a public process.

The new models will come with several variations [PDF], and will be able to couple with Breda trains — which will continue to run in conjunction with Siemens trains for years, until the current fleet is completely retired. Haley noted that the train cars will also be able to couple and de-couple easily, and allow Muni to run trains as long as four cars long.

Haley said the SFMTA currently has most of the funding to replace the 151 Breda cars, and to buy the 24 additional train cars needed for Central Subway service. Funding for the remaining 85 cars would need to be secured down the line.

  • Aron

    Still no low floor/level boarding huh?

  • shanand

    this actually sounds like a good deal.. but. I feel like I’ve heard the “new fleet less breakdown prone” before. These sort of pre-approved decisions always sound very optimistic, nary a doubter anywhere. I suspect we heard the same things before we bought those breda trains.

  • Mike

    So… They’re not low floor?

  • Meanwhile, Van Ness BRT is apparently giving up on level boarding?

    http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Muni-opposition-to-level-boarding-hinders-bus-5623779.php

  • Jim

    Level boarding was never part of CTA or MTA’s original development plans. I don’t believe any transit line with BRT features in the US currently features level boarding. The Orange Line in LA, which earned a “bronze” ITDP rating, doesn’t feature level boarding throughout its route. Level boarding is a nice to have, but I’d much rather have a dedicated transit way and transit signal priority first. This is SF, it’s taken over 10 years of planning just to get this close to reality.

  • baklazhan

    The real question I’d like answered is this: what other transit systems use Breda trains, and what sort of mean distance between failures do they experience.

    That would tell us if it’s the quality of the Breda trains, or if it’s the way we do maintenance here– in which case, we’re unlikely to see improvements from new trains.

  • BBnet3000

    Its really too bad that theyre stuck with high floor (unless they wanted to spend a bunch of money to convert the subway stations). Its really lame for the street running segments.

  • shanand

    or if SFMTA bid requirements around hills, sand, stairs, doors, etc. make them ridiculous to maintain. I suspect it is a combination of all of these.

  • Jamison Wieser

    The current fleet of trains was custom designed by a sketchy manufacturer (LA and Boston have both had problems with Breda too) which the SFMTA disqualified from competing again because of all the troubles.

    The Siemens trains on the other hand are the latest version of a proven design. This time they aren’t just making up performance numbers and hoping, they had real-world data to judge them by. The SFMTA got to demo them this time.

  • Gordon Werner

    Breda makes shoddy products. In Copenhagen their Breda trams are rusting … in the Netherlands their high-speed trains can’t be used because of snow buildup. in Seattle our dual-mode Breda trolleybuses were grossly overweight and were constant maintenance pigs.

    it goes on and on and on.

    Siemens on the other hand … makes rather outstanding products and being that their long-time factory is in Sacramento … they can actually offer decent support to MUNI

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Historic Streetcars!

    20 years out of date today, 40 years out of date when they’re finally retired.

    America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionals, on the job.

    Made in California! USA! USA! USA!

  • Jeffy

    Do you ever leave your spider hole to go out or do you continuously comment on everything? You really seem to have the answer to everything. Put that brilliance to use. Start executing and stop commenting. The world really could use you.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Looks great!

    Bike racks on the trains? Most German train products have them as standard equipment. The Stadler GmbH DMU on the RiverLINE in New Jersey has them and they never needed to institute a rush hour bike ban because they are so space efficient and work VERY well.

  • p_chazz

    I remember MUNI made the same glowing remarks about the Bredas when they replaced the Boeing Vertol cars…

  • Dexter Wong

    Are you going to keep pointing out a bad decision made 40 years ago when no one had a clear idea of what transit agencies would do about the high/low floor problem? It was over a decade later that most light rail systems settled on low floors.

  • Dexter Wong

    The only good thing I’ve heard about Breda cars was about the Cleveland light rail cars. They were built in the early 80s and are still running.

  • Dexter Wong

    Looks like we got a winner this time, Siemens is well known in light rail circles. (Funny thing, in 1971, Muni wanted to buy streetcars from Duewag (now part of Siemens) but couldn’t due to federal buy American rules. Now that the rules have changed and Siemens wanted to bid on the Muni contract, we finally get what we want.)

  • BBnet3000

    Are you just going to start commenting this on my comments? I comment on articles im interested in rather than following other commenters around.

  • Justin

    Looks pretty good so far, hope it will be, just wish that again just like BART, that Muni would allow for the public to see the designs in person before building the final production

  • Aron

    The Stadler DMU is designed as a heavy rail(european terminology) train. The Siemens train are specifically light rail. So standard features and options differ.

  • anonymouse

    LA got Breda LRVs that ended up overweight and underperforming, though I don’t know that they have a terrible MDBF. They decided to cancel the contract after the initial 50 (they had options for 100 more) and go with a different manufacturer, even though that ended up resulting in a temporary shortage of cars for the new lines they’re opening next year. LA also has Breda subway trains, and while they’re not terrible, I definitely have seen them break down more than once.

    Boston has Breda LRVs that ended up having brake problems and also derailing on switches and curve. It took nearly a decade from first delivery until they were all working properly, and even then, the MBTA ended up not taking delivery of the full order. I don’t know how they’re doing now reliability-wise, but I think they’re also headed for an early replacement in a few years.

  • vcs

    The bus routes will continue on their current lines once they leave the BRT corridor. So, no expensive incompatible busses required (thankfully).

  • vcs

    I’m tired of this transit nerd obsession with low floors.

    Muni Metro is fundamentally screwy in both design and operation. We could spend billions on real service improvements — and by that I mean new ROWs and subway extensions and more trains and turnarounds — before low floors would even make a noticeable difference.

    The trains are crap, the rails are crap, the control software is crap, the operations are crap. But apparently a lot of people think “low floors” is what will solve our ills.

  • Chris

    In the UK both the Manchester and Birmingham designs by Ansaldo Breda are being retired earlier than anticipated, the latter in particular have a terrible reputation for reliability. You get what you pay for at the end of the day.

  • BBnet3000

    Right, nobody should consider convenience and comfort for the passengers or speed of boarding and alighting, as well as handicapped accessibility.

    They’re just something “transit nerds” care about, as opposed to control software and operating procedures, which are things regular people think about. /s

  • Alex

    Major improvement for Muni. These trains look modern and I enjoy the use of LED for the headlights giving them the flexibility to come up with some cool designs. I hope they add floor to ceiling poles by the entrances and digital screens(If you don’t know what i’m talking about go to pg 58 http://s3.documentcloud.org/documents/786015/s200-design-book.pdf). I think it will be interesting seeing Breda and Siemens cars coupled up together and I can’t wait to see four car trains in the subway. Even though I know they won’t I hope the choose both the designs illustrated in this post, those are my favorite, but I really like the red one. I can’t wait to see the Bay Area in a decade with Caltrain, Bart, and Muni having changed their fleet with more modern European like trains.

  • Siemens produces the tram light rail cars used in Amsterdam. When I rode on one there two years ago, it was so silent and smooth I was actually indignant that we still ride on such noisy, clunky, badly-engineered $#@! when such technology was available. (It was also incredibly clean and spotlessly maintained.) I’m not surprised that the reliability and maintenance costs of the Siemens products are also much better than Breda. However the quality of our tracks will also partially determine noise, smoothness, reliability and maintenance costs over time.

    I will point out that the Dutch charge far more for rides on their trams and metro system than we do. A basic hour pass is the equivalent of $3.60, and the monthly passes are $116 regular and $77 for children and seniors. The farebox recovery ratio for the Amsterdam system is 41% whereas for SF Muni it is 22-25%. This may partially explain why the quality of Amsterdam public transit is higher than ours, (and also why biking is more popular than taking transit in Amsterdam.)

  • Alex
  • Richard Mlynarik

    The oddest thing about US “transit activist” (often really just “railfans” in disguise, with a big hankering for steam-era everything) is just how much the enjoy wallowing in filth.

    “Yes, mistakes may have been made, but get with the program! We’re making more mistakes, and we’re doing it Our Way, so quit with the Yurpeen this and the Japan that and cost-effective whatever and always remember to vote for more money for Muni.”

    High floor trams were and remain a massive mistake, and one that was almost trivial to fix in the 1990s (exactly the same quality of America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professional were staffing Muni and leeching at Booz-Allen as are running the joint today FYI) and one that remains a mistake which could be rectified in a straightforward enough way today.

    The costs are minor. The transition period could be simple, especially being concurrent with progressive total fleet replacement. The long-term benefits are immense, measured in the hundreds of millions.

    But let’s just keep shooting ourselves in the head, forever, because NEW AND SHINY. Don’t question! Obey!

    After all, changing “light” rail vendors will surely turn everything around at Muni. Next stop: Central Subway!

    Also WTF with the stupid little stumpy two-part cars? Nobody operating a real urban system wastes so much cash and so much platform space and so much interior space and so much maintenance cost on so many control cabs and couplers. It’s like Muni thinks it is San Jose in 1985 or Berlin in 1885 or something. Sure, order a mixed fleet with some shorties in the mix for the J, but there’s no way that itsy dumb little wasteful 23m long toonerville trolleys should be the mainstay of any real city’s urban rail fleet.

    Long, articulated, low-floor. Everybody’s doing it. Everybody with a clue.

    Muni. Putting yesterday in the future, today.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Have any of the people advocating for bikes on Muni “light” rail vehicles ever visited San Francisco or ridden Muni?

    It’s asking for the the worst of all worlds. Apart from West Portal to Castro, it’s slower to take Muni than to just ride the damned bike pretty much anywhere. Getting bikes on and off high-floor “light” rail is a total disaster. And the trains are pretty much packed at all times, if only because of Muni “schedule adherence”. All that could be accomplished is to get in the way of the poor sardined downtrodden sods on the train who haven’t worked out the bike-is-faster thing.

    There really are about ten thousand better ways to make transportation in SF work better than to seek to hoist bikes up and into Muni trains.

  • murphstahoe

    22nd and Church to Dolores Park?

  • Michael Cabanatuan

    Actually, AnsaldoBreda was invited to bid on the new cars but did not. Without explanation.

  • Kevin J

    Another story said the the train are highly modular making for a lot of options the public will get to weigh in on.

    I hope the red one’s an option. They used Muni’s current colors in way I find way more attractive.

  • Gezellig

    The Siemens cars in Amsterdam are indeed a smooth ride! However, one thing they share with SF’s lightrail is they’re not a very fast way of getting around:

    http://www.volkskrant.nl/vk/nl/2686/Binnenland/article/detail/3079940/2011/12/16/Tramroutes-Amsterdam-hopeloos-ouderwets.dhtml

    Headline translated: “Tram Routes Amsterdam Hopelessly Old-Fashioned”

    According to that report the average tram speed in Amsterdam is 12kmh/7mph. This is even slower than Muni Metro’s current 13-15kmh/8-9mph average.

    In my experience living there it’s far faster to bike in the city. For example, I lived near the zoo in central Amsterdam and to visit my friend on the western edge of the city only about 7km/4m away it required a 45-minute tram ride involving transfers (traMsfers?). Biking was 25 minutes. You can bet on which mode I normally chose.

    You’re right about the high ticket costs but via tax-free employer programs a lot of employees there (such as myself when I was living there) get a smartcard that allows free transit through any transit zones necessary for their specific commute and significant discounts (40% off) for all other transit travel through other zones in the country for any transit mode (at any time, not just for work hours/days). This effectively means everyday transit costs are nonexistent or low for many people but many still choose to bike, as I did, because it’s simply often much faster and they have the infrastructure to support and encourage fast and easy biking.

    I think that the speed problem is definitely something SF shares–as excited as I am for the new Muni Metro cars it’ll still often be faster to just bike and as bike-specific infra improves more people in more situations are increasingly realizing that. The more this happens this is of course a cost-effective way for clearing up space for those who do choose to ride Muni Metro.

  • Gezellig

    Yup.

    Another one is from Balboa Park Station towards the City College area. I live on a huge hill not far from both 29 and M stops. Sometimes it’s the end of the day, I’m tired and don’t particularly relish riding up the hills from Balboa Park Station and of course I’ve just missed the inbound 29 (and NextMuni says the next one will be in *42 minutes or whatever) but the next inbound M is about to leave. Can’t take it though cuz bike.

  • Gezellig

    I bike and/or take Muni Metro on an everyday basis and welcome this development.

    I think people with bikes know it’s generally faster to bike than take Muni Metro. But when Muni Metro is faster (such as through West Portal-Castro tunnel as you mention) it really would be worth it.

    And since it’s in people’s self-interest don’t you think most people will figure that out and only take it when they need it? I don’t foresee hordes of lazy bicyclists hopping on Muni Metro just cuz.

    Besides, you might be surprised at other scenarios besides Dolores Park/Noe Valley and West Portal/Castro areas where doing bike + Muni Metro might make sense.

    In addition, there can be other strategies to combat crowding, much as BART has done historically (and even now) with its rules to address bikes aboard during crowded situations.

  • I think the speed issue is a problem for any surface transportation in dense cities. (Cross town buses in NYC only average 8mph.) It can be helped by more distance between stops and signal prioritization (which I think Amsterdam has?) but high pedestrian density and traffic congestion inevitably cut into average speed. (Which is why cities with extensive underground metros are so lucky.) Even a BRT with dedicated right of way down Geary or Van Ness will be lucky to average 12 mph.

    Totally agree that if people in San Francisco understood how much faster biking is than taking Muni (especially if a transfer is involved) and there were a reasonable amount of protected bike infrastructure, bikes and electric bikes would be everywhere. In Amsterdam, the middle-aged lady we rented our apartment from was a violinist with the orchestra. Even though the tram went pretty much directly from her place to the concert hall, she biked there instead, her violin on her back. It probably took her half the time of taking the tram. But if I’m attending the symphony in SF, it also takes me half the time to bike as it does to take Muni there. (And a little less time than driving, finding parking, and walking.)

  • Gezellig

    Absolutely! Yeah, that’s what I found so intriguing about the situation in the Netherlands–even with practically free transit many/most people still choose to bike as the premium option, simply because it’s easiest and fastest (and also can be done at any hour). This is ultimately a big cost-saver for the Dutch government and municipalities because investing in even top-notch bike infra is ridiculously cheap compared to transit.

    Some other funny parallels to SF—Amsterdam’s Metro system also has some very egregious gaps and also a way-over-budget over-schedule subway project with at-best middling potential benefits under construction.

    Many people there have long preferred to just bike, but of course this is aided by the bike infrastructure to back it up. It’d be great if SF could realize how many people-moving gains it could get out of relatively low-cost investments in bike infrastructure. This way that money could be saved for transit projects that really needed it.

  • Justin

    I agree with you that I do find the red colors more attractive and more modern looking, hopefully the interiors will be light and modern just like in the renderings

  • vcs

    Haha, I will gladly wear that label.

    But as another commenter asked, do you guys even ride Muni Metro? The subway is routinely congested and often goes into full “meltdown” mode. You can watch 3 of the same letter go by while you wait 20 minutes for your train. The trains crawl in certain sections because of bad tracks. The announcements claim trains turn around at Embarcadero in 3 minutes, but it reality it’s more like 10.

    The problems are significant and pretty damn obvious to anyone who depends on Metro. But OK, let’s carry on about the important stuff: low floors and bike racks.

  • the_greasybear

    Reno has level-boarding BRT platforms.

  • davistrain

    I’ve never been to Amsterdam, but I understand that it has a mostly-flat topography (like Davis CA or New Orleans), making it even more attractiive for cycling than lumpy places like SF.

  • Not this again.

    This may come as a shock, but this is not a two-dimensional world we live in. Even in Amsterdam, there are inclines you have to pedal up, and bridges/tunnels to get up and over/under highways, not to mention multistory bike parking garages you bike into and out of. Google it. You can also use google to find SF’s most forgiving lumps.

  • Gezellig

    That’s definitely true, though on the other hand SF has far far fewer days of rain than Amsterdam does.

    And SF does actually have large swaths of flat and relatively flat land which don’t require that much effort. There are even established routes (such as the most famous, The Wiggle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wiggle) that connect up flat areas to each other for hill-avoidance.

    The other powerful thing which helps in SF is bike+transit. This is already doable on BART and Muni buses in addition to some other agencies’ transit systems but not currently on Muni Metro (unless you have a folding bike).

    While I wouldn’t ever expect Amsterdam-like 50% modeshare in neighborhoods like Twin Peaks (unless ebikes become ubiquitous) SF’s current overall 3-4% bike modeshare level is probably more about subpar and lacking bike infrastructure rather than hills. A lot of flat densely populated (and growing) areas such as much of SoMa/Mission/Hayes Valley/Western Addition/Dogpatch/Mission Bay/etc. are ripe for far higher bike modeshare with better infra.

  • BBnet3000

    The signalling system is a mess, and was from day one, but they arent fixing that right now, theyre ordering new trains. Given that, we’re talking about the trains.

    If they make mistakes on that now, in 10 years they may fix the signalling system but we’ll still have crappy trains the way we always have. Before Breda there was Boeing-Vertol, theyve literally never gotten this right.

  • Dexter Wong

    You remind me of the guy who points out that you don’t have the latest mobile phone and likens you to your grandfather in the process! Long low-floor streetcars came out the 1990s with the Portland streetcar. It was then that the “modern streetcar” was differentiated with light rail. The streetcar was then touted as the perfect downtown circulator by the Wall Street Journal. It traveled slow, had many stops, but allowed people to move about easily through the neighborhood. What Muni has is going between the outer neighborhoods and downtown. I think you’re annoyed because you control nothing in San Francisco.

  • vcs

    OK, let’s talk only about the trains.

    There have been numerous articles about Muni’s shitty maintenance practices in SFWeekly and elsewhere. Bredas might be lousy trains, but it seems fairly certain that Muni wasn’t maintaining them properly as well. The Siemens trains won’t be perfect and if Muni can’t keep them running we will see the same problems..

    Also, years ago, when a Breda door wouldn’t close, the driver went out and stuck a thumbwrench into the bolt to disable the door. Apparently this violated Union Rules and now the train has to sit there with everyone held hostage while the Slowest People Alive lumber out to use their skilled thumbwrench labor.

    Streesblog and transit advocates generally don’t care about any this operational stuff because it might piss-off their allies. Clearly the solution to endemic Muni Metro Shittyness is low floors.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Yeah, you’re likely correct. I know in the US they don’t consider the Stadler trains “heavy-rail” so they can’t run at night with the freight trains.

    But still? How hard is it to install a few bike racks like this on a “light-rail” street car?

  • Dexter Wong

    San Jose’s light rail system did not open until 1987! Early Berlin trams were open platform (no windshield and no cab). Passengers walked past the motorman while getting on off!

  • Richard Mlynarik

    Long low-floor streetcars came out the 1990s with the Portland streetcar.

    There is no limit to the ignorance of American railfans, is there?

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