Mayor Lee signs off on new Muni trains

City leaders are promising a more reliable new generation of light-rail vehicles for Muni Metro riders in the coming years.

Mayor Ed Lee signed legislation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to purchase up to 260 new light-rail vehicles Friday on the Muni trackway near The Embarcadero.

Lee said the new S200 models — which Siemens Industry Inc. will manufacture in Sacramento for $678 million with options to purchase an additional 85 vehicles — will be more reliable, easier to maintain and meet the future demands of the City’s growing population:

“These vehicles are going to be special.”

He said Muni’s current of Breda light-rail vehicles are becoming costly to maintain because of frequent breakdowns:

“These rail vehicles we have now are extremely heavy. They’ve got a lot of moving parts. They represent designing engineering probably decades ago and we need to modernize that as we know that we’re investing more money just fix them.”

Though Muni has 151 light-rail vehicles in their fleet, only 110 are in service while others remain in the shop for maintenance work. One mechanical issue that disrupts Muni Metro service is the doors.

Director of Transit John Haley said the doors on the vehicles will be more reliable compared to the doors on Muni’s current fleet:

“These doors will be stronger, simpler, better and safer.”

Haley also said that the propulsion and breaking system will be vastly improved giving riders a nice smooth ride.

Siemens staff will collect data and live video on Muni’s current train to measure impact from the train on rail tracks. Siemens will use the data in optimizing the suspension, rider comfort and stability in the new light-rail vehicle, according to a Siemens staff member.

Muni riders can start expecting to see the new vehicles sometime between 2017 and 2018 when the first 24 vehicles start to arrive. The SFMTA will use the new trains for the transit agency’s $1.6 billion Central Subway, Muni’s extension of the T-Third line to Chinatown.

The transit agency will start replacing the rest of the 151 current vehicles between 2021 and 2027,  around the time the transit agency will retire existing trains under Federal Transit Administration guidelines.

Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin said this was significant turning point for the transit system:

“The ability to upgrade and expand our fleet in a way that will provide for much more reliable service, higher quantity and quality of service as part of one of the biggest light-rail procurements in the history of the United States is something that just is of monumental importance.”

The transit agency still needs to identify funds for the additional 85 vehicles it says it will need to meet future growth in The City. The total contract with Siemens would increase to $1.2 billion with the purchase of the additional vehicles. Muni’s light-rail fleet could rise to 260.

Funding for the new vehicles is expected to come from federal, state and local funds as well as revenue bonds.

Supervisor London Breed said she hears about the unreliable service everyday from her constituents who ride the N-Judah, especially at the often crowded Carl and Cole streets stop:

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t get a request for more trains, more service, or a complaint about the doors being broken or challenges that with their ability to get to work.”

Breed said she was proud to take part in the opportunity to approve the contract:

“21st-Century world-class trains for a 21st-Century world-class city and I can’t be more proud because this is a once in a generation opportunity to not only be a part of the board but to be part of the City and County of San Francisco when this purchase and … this significant commitment for public transportation is made.”

The transit agency is considering three different designs — The Presidio, The Skyline and The Gate. Riders will get a chance to  provide input in the design of the new light-rail vehicle in the coming months, said Lee.