Muni Announces Changes to Light Rail Service

The new framework is aimed at improving riders' ability to social distance.

SFMTA announced Thursday that metro rail trains are slated to return in August to coincide with the beginning of the school year. However, the system will return in a very different form than when it halted at the beginning of the pandemic.

The K Ingleside, L Taraval, and J Church lines will no longer run through the subway. Instead, passengers will disembark above ground and transfer to longer and more frequent S Shuttle trains at West Portal Station, for the K and L, and Church Station, for the J.

T Third Street trains, which previously “interlined” with the K, will now interline with M. K and L trains will now be interlined as well, with K trains turning left at West Portal and proceeding along the L route. N Judah trains will return as before. 

In a press release, Muni said the changes are being planned to address long standing reliability issues and to create a healthier environment during the pandemic.

“As we emerge from shelter-in-place, it’s imperative that we take the opportunity to improve our rail service so that we can deliver people to and from school and work reliably,” the release states. “We don’t want our customers stuck on trains in between stations or crowding on station platforms. By limiting the number of lines that go into the subway, we can meet both of those goals.”

The plan is specifically designed to ameliorate the subway’s major chokepoints, at the West Portal Tunnel, the Duboce Portal, and the Embarcadero turnaround. 

Previously, Muni ran 40 trains per hour through the subway — exceeding the tunnel’s 35 train per hour capacity. The new system will be designed to move 25-30 higher-capacity trains per hour through the tunnel. At a hearing Tuesday, SFMTA Director Jeffrey Tumlin hinted S Shuttle trains could be three cars long — longer than any line previously in service. 

The planned changes, arguably the most significant since Muni debuted its modern light rail service in the 1970s, will require a great deal more planning before they are unveiled in detail. One of the most pressing issues is how passengers, especially those with disabilities, will safely disembark outside of the West Portal and Church Stations.

“We know customers will have questions about these changes,” Muni’s press release reads. “More details on these and other service changes, including detailed maps, will be coming soon.”

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