Starting today, Muni light rail trains will once again roll through the tunnel between West Portal and Montgomery Station at nights and on weekends.
Weekend service and weeknight service after 9:30 PM between those stations has been a no-go since July 22, when SFMTA halted that tunnel traffic to provide a forum to test the agency’s new trains cars, which it says required some 1,000 hours of track time to be deemed suitable for public consumption.
The transit agency operated night and weekend buses to replace some of the suspended service. But riders complained that the bus service was “crowded, infrequent and confusingly routed,” as the San Francisco Examiner put it, prompting the city to eventually press larger buses with more seating into service for the fill-in rides.
Despite the month-long hassle, SFMTA says it had to bite the bullet to get its new vehicle rail-worthy.
Replying to comments on an agency blog announcing the shutdown in July, a spokesperson explained that the regular Muni schedule didn’t provide sufficient time for testing:
There is regular work that needs to be done [after service hours] and that limits the time for testing. The additional time also allows an entire test procedure to be conducted without interruption. This means greater consistency and time to review test results.
The agency adds that on top of testing the trains themselves it had to check how the automated systems the trains interact with worked with the new cars.
But that pain is over and done with (at least until the next time service needs to shut down somewhere), and now Muni hopes to start putting some of its fresh coaches into service this year.
Right not there are only five, but if all goes to plan 215 new trains will go into service over the next decade. Among other promises, SFMTA director John Haley says the new trains will run smoother and quieter on the rails even at top speeds of 50 miles per hour.