N-Judah lurches to the top of the crash heap 

Traveling on Muni’s light-rail lines is never exactly smooth, but it’s particularly bumpy on the N-Judah.

The line, which carries passengers from Ocean Beach to the Caltrain station on Fourth and King streets, was involved in 84 collisions between 2008 and 2011, making it far more accident-prone than the five other Muni train lines.

Click on the photo at right to see a graphical breakdown of  accident rates on the N-Judah and Muni light rail vehicles.

On average, there is some sort of accident or derailment on the line every 13 days, according to data collected by The SF Examiner.

The route’s 84 collisions were 26 more than the next closest line, the M-Ocean View, which was involved in 58 accidents during that period. The safest line was the K-Ingleside, which had just 26 reported accidents, less than one-third of the N-Judah’s total.

Transit activist Greg Dewar, who publishes the N-Judah Chronicles blog, said the N is particularly troublesome for several reasons, including its path through dense neighborhoods.

“It could be something as simple as a double-parked car, or a vehicle running an intersection where it thinks it has the right of way,” Dewar said. “Sometimes accidents happen simply from people being stupid.”

Recent collisions attest to Dewar’s comments. Last March, a car ran a stop sign on 24th Avenue and smashed into an outbound train. Three months later, an operator failed to notice that a pantograph — the piece that connects trains to their overhead power supply — was broken. The pantograph snapped, pulling down power lines and creating massive delays on the line.

The N-Judah carries more people and requires more service than any other Muni line, which is one reason it has so many accidents, said spokesman Paul Rose of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. He said the agency is seeking ways to make the line safer, and he noted that accidents have dropped for the past three years.

“The safety of our passengers is paramount to everything we do,” he said. “We’re constantly looking for ways to increase safety for our passengers throughout the system.”

Supervisor Carmen Chu, whose district includes a portion of the route, said Muni could improve its boarding procedures to make sure there are fewer pedestrian-related accidents.

She also said it is imperative for Muni to keep training its operators to ensure they know how to travel busy neighborhoods without any problems.

For N-Judah passengers, accidents are just a way of life.

“The train constantly gets interrupted to the point where we have to get off and find another one,” said rider Liza Heider. “I don’t know what’s going on half the time, I just know that there is always something going wrong.”


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Will Reisman

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