Muni agreement would expand light rail fleet for future demand 

click to enlarge A high-ranking SFMTA official says Muni’s light-rail service will improve five- to six-fold with the addition of new vehicles. A proposal by Muni will increase its fleet from 151 to 260. - JESSICA CHRISTIAN/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Jessica Christian/special to the s.f. examiner
  • A high-ranking SFMTA official says Muni’s light-rail service will improve five- to six-fold with the addition of new vehicles. A proposal by Muni will increase its fleet from 151 to 260.

San Francisco's light-rail vehicles, bogged down by mechanical failures and struggling with on-time performance, could see a brighter future with a procurement -- the largest in Muni's 101-year history -- that would boost the fleet size more than 70 percent and reduce service breakdowns "dramatically."

The nearly $1.2 billion deal the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will consider with Siemens Industry would replace the 151 light-rail vehicles acquired from manufacturer AnsaldoBreda since 1996. Under the proposed contract, the transit agency would first get 24 cars for near-term expansion and also have the option of 85 additional vehicles for a total of 260, a figure that is needed with the impending Central Subway and transport to Mission Bay, said John Haley, transit director for the SFMTA.

"There's no single thing that we can do to improve service that is more important than these cars, to improve the service and the reliability of the system," he said. "Not just for now, but for the future."

Mechanical failures, particularly door failures, are the leading cause for delays with the light-rail system, which has an average on-time performance rate of 60 percent. Cars in the existing fleet, which were built with a life expectancy of 25 years and are recommended for retirement starting in 2021, currently travel 4,000 to 5,000 miles between failures. The new cars from Siemens Industry are built to last 59,000 miles before a failure.

"That's twice around the equator," Haley said, adding that the new cars are designed to last 30 years.

The first 24 light-rail vehicles, costing about $3.3 million each, are expected to begin arriving in December 2016 through 2018. Delivery of the replacements for the existing 151 light-rail vehicles would take place from 2021 to 2028, and up to 85 more light-rail vehicles could be acquired through 2040.

The SFMTA has experienced five consecutive quarters of ridership increase and the additional 85 cars -- a 72 percent increase -- are necessary to meet projected needs, agency officials say. Currently, 117 cars are scheduled to run each day.

"I can tell you for sure that doesn't meet the needs of the system," Haley said.

Haley expects performance to improve five- to six-fold under the procurement agreement.

"We welcome the replacement of the Breda cars, which break down hundreds of times more, so it's a good direction," San Francisco Transit Riders Union spokesman Mario Tanev said.

The SFMTA board of directors will vote today on the 15-year contract with Siemens Industry to design, manufacture and deliver the cars from Sacramento.

"This procurement applies a number of lessons learned from recent fleet procurements as well as experience with the current [light-rail vehicle] fleet," according to an SFMTA staff report.


About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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