Running Ahead of Schedule

The "once-in-a-generation" ribbon cutting for Muni's new fleet of trains is a rare moment of optimism for S.F.'s public transit system.

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The days of waiting 22 minutes in the rain for an N-Judah, only to board and find wet seats from leaky seals in the windows, then deboarding 10 blocks from your destination because the train broke down, may, hopefully, be over.

On Friday morning, the SFMTA cut the ribbon on a new line of Muni trains, which are designed to hold more people, run with less noise, last longer, and, with any luck, not break down.

The new trains couldn’t have come at a better time.

“The demands on rail service continue to grow in San Francisco,” SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said at the ribbon-cutting. “If you look at the cranes in the sky, if you look at the projections of growth, that’s only going to continue. We need a better, more reliable, higher-capacity, more enjoyable way that people can get through the city, and that’s exactly what this car signifies for us.”

In an unexpected twist that’s out of character for the SFMTA, the trains are rolling out ahead of schedule. An initial plan predicted that 24 trains would be in service by the end of next year, but now 68 will be available by the end of 2018. Muni’s current fleet of 151 trains will slowly be replaced with new ones. In addition, 64 new cars will also be added to the fleet.

Made in Sacramento by Siemens, the trains have improved accessibility for the disabled, and have screens alerting riders of the next stop, new seating arrangements for larger capacity, and fancy functional advancements — such as built-in charging that occurs when they brake and LED lights that use less energy.

Having the opportunity to cut the ribbon on the new fleet of trains is a pretty rare experience — and one Reiskin highlighted during the ceremony.

“This is a once-in-a-generation milestone,” he said.

The new trains will show up on the the N-Judah first, before spreading to the rest of the city.

“I had to threaten Ed Reiskin to get these new trains running on the N-Judah,” Supervisor London Breed said, referencing the fact that the new cars will run through her district. “These trains are not only new — and they will smell a lot better than the existing trains — but more importantly, they will be able to accommodate more people. And they will be quieter, as they’re lighter. Many of you who live in the neighborhoods where these trains travel will not hear so much noise.”

The new trains are sleek, shiny, and modern. But one part of the morning and evening commute hasn’t changed: the trains’ hard-working drivers. Mayor Ed Lee gave them a shoutout.

“Every morning, for hundreds of thousands of people, the first person they see is the Muni driver,” he said. “We welcome everybody with whatever problems they have, whatever things they’re experiencing, whatever things they can’t solve, they hop on Muni. For that short period of time, we experience their lives for a moment. And the first people who do that are Muni drivers. Let me thank every driver that, every day, has to put that smile on.”

If these trains live up to the SFMTA’s expectations — and can run a whopping 59,000 miles without breakdowns compared to our current trains’ 5,000 — that’ll be a reason for everyone in S.F., be they a driver or a passenger, to smile. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.

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