Streetcars needed for America's Cup now 16 months late
July 15, 2012
According to an Examiner story, Muni is planning to run extra streetcar service for America’s Cup events scheduled August 26 and 27, and during Fleet Week in October as well. The story says Muni will activate the long planned E-Embarcadero line for special service on those days only.
The article focuses on how Muni will find and train the extra operators needed for this service. Under Muni’s labor agreement, operators already in the system qualify for new assignments by seniority, and, if they are not already trained in operating specific types of streetcars, must be given that training before they can carry passengers. Eric Williams, president of the Muni operators’ union, is quoted in the article as saying, “Between the lack of bodies and the infrequent training program, I can’t see them being able to get the extra service running, which is a shame, since we all think extra streetcar service would be a great idea.”
Muni does continue to train streetcar crews, albeit for ongoing operations rather than specifically for America’s Cup. Here’s a recent shot of crews and trainers at the end of the L-Taraval line with 1914 Muni streetcar No. 162. Jeremy Whiteman photo, click to enlarge.
But the article misses what may be an even higher hurdle: finding enough streetcars for the service. Four of the streetcars that were supposed to be the backbone of E-line America’s Cup service are sitting in a factory in Pennsylvania. All should have been here many months ago.
Details on that below. First some background.
Market Street Railway is a leading advocate of permanent E-line service, for which all the track and boarding platforms have been in place almost a decade now. (The initial operating segment of the E-line will share F-line tracks and stops from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Ferry Building, use three blocks of its own track, already installed, then join the T and N lines south of Folsom on The Embarcadero and King to reach the Caltrain depot.)
To make it possible to start up the E-line, we specifically championed restoring Muni’s last four original double-end streamlined PCC streetcars, because there is currently no way to turn single-end streetcars (those, like a bus, that can only be operated from one end) at the Caltrain terminal or anywhere near it. Of Muni’s 34 streetcars actually operable at this writing, only five are double-ended. (Three of these, Nos. 1007, 1010, and 1015, are PCCs from the same original 1948 fleet as the four now being restored.) The Examiner story states that Muni will be running five cars on the E-line. That leaves zero margin for breakdowns, completely contrary to common transit industry practice.
Indeed, a Muni planner recently told a community group that they would likely have to mix streetcars with buses on the E-line. However, it is questionable whether buses can operate on the E-line (and N and T-line) trackway between Caltrain and Folsom Street. Unlike the relatively smooth F-line Embarcadero trackway farther north, where supplemental buses can and do operate, the trackway south of Folsom was not designed to accommodate buses, featuring large stones protruding from the pavement throughout the route, which, if navigable by buses at all, would produce both a rough ride for passengers and lots of wear and tear on the buses’ suspension.
Availability of double-end streetcars for this initial America’s Cup service was not supposed to have been a problem, because the first of the four double-end PCCs restored under the contract with Brookville Equipment Company of Pennsylvania was supposed to have been delivered to Muni a full sixteen months ago. All four were supposed to have been completed and delivered eight months ago.
None of the four has left Brookville at this writing. Muni engineers and project people have not explained why, at least not to us.
There have been recurring rumors that the first of the four, either No. 1006 or the identical No. 1008, may leave Brookville in the coming week, but we have been hearing similar rumors for months. Whenever the first double-end car arrives, according to the contract Muni will test it (without passengers) for 60 days or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Given the (excuse the expression) track record of the 12 single-end PCCs already delivered to Muni under this Brookville contract, with repeated reliability and functionality problems in most of the renovated cars detected by Muni maintenance during testing, it seems highly unlikely that this first returned double-ended PCC could be ready to carry passengers during the August America’s Cup event, unless Muni rushes it through the testing cycle, potentially sacrificing the opportunity to solve shortcomings in the car by accepting it too quickly.
Even if it did manage to accept one additional double-end PCC, that would provide just a single spare streetcar for E-line service. The contract gives Brookville 90 days to deliver the second double-end PCC after Muni accepts the first one and notes “The contractor proceeds at its own risk prior to SFMTA’s written approval of the pilot [double-end] PCC streetcar.” In other words, it’s not in Brookville’s financial interest to rush any more of the double-end PCCs to San Francisco until the first one is fully accepted. That would seem to extend well beyond the planned Fleet Week service as well. (The other two double-ended PCCs currently at Brookville, besides 1006 and 1008, are 1009 and 1011.)
There’s no question this renovation is a big job. Double-end PCC bodies are precious, since so few were ever built. This contract calls for a a complete remanufacturing of the cars, which were in poor to awful condition when they left San Francisco. Nonetheless, the vendor agreed to this schedule, and Muni has planned on having these cars in plenty of time for the first America’s Cup activities.
Muni has run demonstration E-line service a couple of times before in conjunction with Sunday Streets activities, such as this run with double-end PCC No. 1007 in September 2008. However, no more than two cars were used on any given day, mostly to check stations and switches (which all worked fine).
We at Market Street Railway try to support Muni in its historic streetcar and cable car operations however we can, but we are not part of Muni, receive no government money, and, on behalf of our 1200 members, play an advocacy role for better service. In this case, we respectfully express our disappointment with the handling of this contract, both in terms of the major delays in delivery of the streetcars, and the flaws in the cars when they arrive. It should be noted that both the award and much of the execution of this contract predates the tenure of current top SFMTA management, which has so far acted positively in response to concerns we have raised with them.
That said, it’s our position that Muni should NOT attempt to run the two-day E-line service in August unless they are confident they can provide a full set of reliable streetcars and trained crews for it. Further, these crews and cars should not come at the expense of adequate F-line service. Two generations of SFMTA management have told us a major reason they have held off on E-line service is because they want to be sure they don’t hurt the F-line to start up the E. We agree.
To be clear, we strongly advocate PERMANENT E-line service at the earliest possible date. We believe, though, that Muni needs several more double-end streetcars than the ones currently operational or being renovated, and we continue to work with them to get those additional cars restored.
Demand for attractive transit along the waterfront (and along proposed extensions we support to Fort Mason and Mission Bay) will continue to grow. Trying to jam in two days of service without adequate crew training or streetcars seems counterproductive to us.