SF Supervisors Hear Muni is Besieged by Bugs in New Trains

While Muni started disabling the rear doors to avoid further problems on its new car fleet, that did little to satisfy San Francisco supervisors angry that Muni kept them in the dark about growing problems while seeking $63 million to rush deliveries on the fleet.

"We should have known about some of these things, and I’m really disappointed that we didn’t," Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer told Muni officials Tuesday.

"The fact that we don’t know about these incidents is wrong,” added Supervisor Catherine Stefani.

The supervisors – meeting as the transportation funding authority -- were reacting in part to Muni’s acknowledgement on Tuesday that a total of four door mishaps had occurred on the system in the last six months.

The latest was caught on the now infamous video of an elderly woman getting her hand stuck in the rear door. She ended up being dragged by the departing train, miraculously surviving despite falling onto the tracks.

Muni acting transit director Julie Kirschbaum said in another case an elderly man was dragged after his plastic bag full of donuts became snared in the rear door. In yet another incident, a man’s hand got trapped as he sought to help another passenger board.

Kirschbaum could not explain why the new doors passed all the certification tests and yet still caused mishaps by closing on hands. But she said recent testing on the new $3.5 million cars showed engineers could re-create how a hand could get caught in the rear door.

"We continue to have our focus be on why the doors are passing this test but not passing the kind of common sense test, if you will," Kirschbaum said.

But that door problem is just one of the issues plaguing the new fleet. NBC Bay Area revealed that two pins on the train’s coupling system have failed, forcing train cars to run solo for now. Kirschbaum said that failure is under investigation.

And on Tuesday, Kirschbaum admitted another problem that has been hobbling cars in its system.

The steel wheels on train cars have to be resurfaced every time the driver presses the emergency brake, she said. Something that happens once a week, on average.

She said some wheels are so worn that they already have to be replaced after less than two years in service.

Michael Cahill, an official with the train maker, Siemens, says the new trains have stick brakes that work without inflicting the wear on the surface, creating a flat spot.

But Muni drivers are trained to use the so-called mushroom button to stop the car in emergencies, not the stick, because of reliability problems with those stick brakes on the old fleet.

While the stick brakes on the new trains have anti-lock technology to limit damage, Cahill says Siemens did not use the anti-lock technology for the fleet’s mushroom brakes.

"If the practice is to continue to use the mushroom button, (the plan would be) to change the way that is applied," Cahill said. "Obviously, all considerations would take a safety first approach."

The vote on $63 million to expedite deliveries, meanwhile, is on hold indefinitely.

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