Muni’s subway woes could be solved with modern network up for approval 

click to enlarge The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will vote today on whether to approve a $24.1 million communications upgrade for Muni. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency will vote today on whether to approve a $24.1 million communications upgrade for Muni.

Installed in 1970, Muni’s current train management system is disjointed and obsolete. When problems arise, it can take longer for technicians and engineers to pinpoint the issue than to actually fix the glitch, according to John Haley, Muni’s director of transit.

After years of struggling with on-time performance and service disruptions, Muni is now poised to overhaul the aging central control system — responsible for many of the notorious disruptions in the transit system’s underground subway — and replace it with a more reliable and updated network.

The new $24.1 million communications network is up for approval today with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s board of directors, Muni’s governing body.

The network would feature an integrated series of fiber optic cables, uninterruptible power systems, remote monitoring abilities and emergency ventilation controls at Muni’s nine underground stations. They would be managed at one central location, a departure from the current setup, where technicians and transit planners are separated. With the new technology, Muni would be able to diagnose problems more quickly and make adjustments immediately.

“This will have a dramatic impact for our riders in terms of our system’s reliability,” Haley said. “It will not only improve our ability to predict delays, but we’ll also have the tools to allow us to recover faster when service is impacted by an infrastructure problem.”

Right now, Muni technicians have little choice but to shut down a wide swath of the underground network if there is a problem with station lighting, the power supply or signal timing, even if the issue only affects a small section of the tracks, Haley said. As a result, service can be shut down  between the West Portal and Embarcadero stations — outages that affect hundreds of thousands of daily riders and incidents that contribute to Muni’s dismal 59 percent on-time performance rate.

If approved today, Blocka Construction Inc. will begin work on delivering the $24 million project. The work is projected to take about 1½ years. Funding for the plan would come from federal and state grants, local bridge tolls and sales tax revenue.

Along with the increased reliability of the transit network, the project also would include signage upgrades at Muni’s underground stations. New electronic message boards would replace the pixilated signage in the subways that harkens back to a bygone era.

“We’re taking a system built in 1970 and replacing it with one from the 21st century,”  Haley said. “The difference cannot be understated.”

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Will Reisman

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