Photo: Smith Collection / Gado Via Getty Images
Significant issues within the SFMTA rail system will cause the transit agency to shut down rail service “once again for several weeks” beginning Tuesday, announced SFMTA Director of Transportation Jeffrey Tumlin on Twitter.
The Muni Metro system had resumed Saturday but is now back-stepping after two major problems occurred simultaneously. First, splices — which serve as connecting bars — in the subway overhead wire failed, and then an employee in the system’s control center tested positive for COVID-19.
The issue with the splices was identified when SFMTA officials noted that the materials they were made from “don’t meet the manufacturer’s specifications,” Tumlin said in a press conference Tuesday. There’s only one remaining American manufacturer of such materials, so the SFMTA is now working with a different one in Europe to replace splices across the SFMTA railway system.
The bigger issue prompting the shutdown, Tumlin said, was that a technical worker in the Transportation Management Center tested positive for COVID-19. Likening the center to the “nerve center of our rail system,” he noted that an infection within it has dire effects for the whole system. If some team members need to follow contact tracing protocols and are forced to isolate, “we wouldn’t have the whole necessary team to run the rail system safely.”
He added that this was the “exact scenario” which had prompted an earlier shutdown in April.
There has, however, been an unexpected upside to switching to all-bus service, Tumlin noted. In addition to the fact that the SFMTA can utilize this railway shutdown window to make more splice repairs, it’s also created an opportunity for the “highest level of service in key lines, with greater reliability and frequency than ever in Muni history,” he said.
Still, challenges lie ahead.
“This reminds us just how much resiliency we need to retreat to in order to get though [the] emergency we’re facing,” he said.
Beginning Tuesday, routes formerly operated by railway cars will now be run by buses. Tumlin also said agency officials worked through the night to rebuild Muni’s bus schedule for the third time since April, but riders should expect delays Tuesday.
Bay City News contributed to this story.
Alyssa Pereira is a culture editor at SFGate. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @alyspereira