Muni Trains Halted After Restart Falters

Technical issues and a positive COVID-19 test are to blame.

After a short-lived attempt to relaunch train lines, San Francisco commuters will once again have to rely on buses for the foreseeable future, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) announced late Monday night. 

The highly anticipated return to service, which came after a more than five-month closure, started Saturday and was abandoned on Monday night. Rush hour commuters on Monday morning were met with delays when overhead electrical line failures forced parts of the system to temporarily shut down. 

SFMTA released a press release Tuesday morning announcing that Muni buses will resume serving train lines for the next several weeks, citing the need to make repairs to recently-installed parts of the overhead infrastructure. In addition, the agency reported, an employee in the Transportation Management Center tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. In a statement, Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin said the decision to shut down was not made lightly.

“Rail service was rocky over the weekend and unacceptable on Monday; I apologize to our customers,” Tumlin said.

The technical issues involved two failed splices within the 72-hour period, which the agency blames on newly installed parts from a supplier using potentially substandard materials. SFMTA has identified a new supplier and will be replacing over 100 splices throughout the system over the course of the next few weeks.

During that time, a number of Muni employees will also be quarantined, following contact tracing the agency initiated in response to a worker’s positive COVID-19 test. In a press release, SFMTA stated that, in addition to the technical issues Muni is facing, quarantining these employees leaves the agency short-staffed and ill-equipped to continue meeting service demands.

“Our rail system has small teams of amazing technical experts,” Tumlin wrote in an Aug. 24 tweet. “The system doesn’t work if a few of them are out. It was fear of this scenario that caused us to shut the system in April.”

SFMTA estimates that COVID-19 has put a $200 million deficit in its annual operating budget, and cost Muni about 40-50 percent of its service hours and 80 percent of capacity. Muni continues to transport about 150,000 essential workers every day.

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