“Newest” PCC Streetcar Collides with Truck

Around 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day, the newest PCC streetcar to reenter regular service following a complete rebuilding collided with a large box truck while returning to the carbarn after completing its day’s work on the F-line. The impact knocked the streetcar, No. 1063 (painted to honor Baltimore Transit), off the track and turned the truck on its side. No injuries had been reported by the time this post was made. The streetcar had no passengers aboard at the time of the collision.

Car 1063 was southbound on Third Street, headed for Muni Metro East, its storage and maintenance base, when it collided with the truck at Mission Bay Boulevard South. The 1063 suffered extensive damage to its door side front corner. The driver’s side corner and the rest of the car appeared undamaged, though it is possible there could be frame damage underneath. Damage to the truck was also extensive.

Observations made at the scene seem to indicate that the truck was struck in the middle of its box behind the cab, with the force of the impact flipping the truck on its side and derailing the streetcar. The angle of impact suggests that the truck was turning left from southbound Third Street onto eastbound Mission Bay Boulevard South at the time of the collision. This was confirmed to news media by a Muni spokesperson.

The intersection is signalized for both streetcars and motor vehicle traffic, with separate left turn signals that are interlocked with the streetcar signals so that only one or the other is given a signal to proceed at a given time. No information has been released regarding the setting of the signals at the time of the collision; however, we were told at the scene that there should be security camera footage from the streetcar and perhaps from surrounding buildings that could determine who was at fault.

Car 1063 had reentered regular service within the last month after being completely rebuilt by Brookville Equipment Company in Pennsylvania, part of a contract covering 16 Muni PCCs. Like all streetcars going through the rebuilding program, Car 1063 had to successfully complete a 1,000-mile “burn in” period, during which all systems including propulsion and brakes had to be thoroughly tested and the car had to pass braking tests required by the California Public Utilities Commission before it was certified to carry passengers.

There have been several collisions involving T-line light rail vehicles on Third Street (which is used by F- and E-line streetcars on their way to and from the car barn). These have involved cars or trucks turning left in front of streetcars running in private rights-of-way, such as on The Embarcadero, King Street, and Third Street. In a collision almost exactly four years ago, a truck pulled in front of vintage streetcar 162 on January 4, 2014 at Bay Street and The Embarcadero, causing significant damage to the streetcar (which is currently being repaired in Southern California). The trucker was found at fault and Muni received a substantial insurance payment.

The Third Street tracks were blocked for several hours while the truck was righted, the streetcar re-railed, and the intersection cleared. Buses replaced LRVs on the T-line while Third Street was blocked.

The San Francisco Police Department is investigating the collision. A damage assessment on the streetcar will be made by Muni, but even a cursory visual inspection indicates Car 1063 will be out of service many months.

We will keep you up to date on developments on this story.

 

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Charlotte Trolley Collision

Charlotte replica streetcar No. 91, the one involved in the July 19 accident, when new in 2005. These streetcars operated briefly on a demonstration line before being stored until the new downtown line opened recently. Rick Laubscher photo.

Charlotte replica streetcar No. 91, the one involved in the July 19 accident, when new in 2005. These streetcars operated briefly on a demonstration line before being stored until the new downtown line opened recently. Rick Laubscher photo.

There was a collision July 19 on the new streetcar line in Downtown Charlotte, which just opened. Here is a must-see video taken from the streetcar’s security camera, published by the Charlotte Observer as part of an article on the investigation.  (By the way, Muni’s vintage streetcars now have these cameras, too.)

The Observer story quotes transit agency officials in Charlotte as saying the operator neglected to switch the controls from one end of the car to the other at the terminal. (The cars can be operated from both ends.)  They said he somehow released the brake on the car while the controls were still activated for the opposite end.  The transit agency said that’s why the so-called emergency brake, electromechanical track brakes, wouldn’t activate, nor would the regular brakes.

However, these Charlotte replica streetcars, built by Gomaco Trolley Company and modeled on the double-truck Birney design from the 1920s, also include a third braking system, manually applied brakes not dependent on electricity or control location, activated by the large wheel visible to the operator’s right in the video.  The agency says central control told him over the radio to activate that handbrake (we see the operator talking on his microphone as the video begins), but that the operator never did that.  And indeed, we can see in the video that he never touches the handbrake wheel either before or after the streetcar clips an SUV from behind.  (The car finally stopped when it ran out of downhill.)

The Charlotte handbrake appears very similar to the ones on the Milan and Melbourne cars do Muni. Muni trains its streetcar operators to stop streetcars from speeds of 25 mph with the handbrake alone. They also receive extensive training in all the systems of the historic cars. (The handbrake is a reliable, proven, mechanical mechanism. It remains a mystery why the Charlotte operator didn’t use it, unless he was not trained to do so.)

What’s also unexplained to this point, at least in public, is how it could be possible for an operator to release the brake on a streetcar, whether accidentally or on purpose, before the controls at that end of the car have been fully activated.  If that’s what actually happened, it’s a stunning design flaw.  (To be clear, Muni does not have any replica streetcars or streetcars that allow this kind of thing to happen.)

Fortunately, no one was hurt in the Charlotte accident.  Yet we’re seeing rantings from some folks there that one accident, in which no one was hurt, and whose cause is under investigation, is cause to shut the whole system down.  But many of these ranters were clearly opposed to the new streetcar line on other grounds,  One commenter on the video page linked above wrote that on the new streetcar route,

“you can see a whole lot of ‘ghetto’ and ‘little Mexico’ . None of our rail systems do anything for the middle or upper-class residents that payed [sic] for them (unwillingly) with our taxes.”

(U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, a former mayor of Charlotte, calls opinions like this racist and noted that it was precisely to reach underserved communities that he championed the streetcar as mayor.)

In Atlanta, a new streetcar line using modern streetcars debuted earlier this year and drew terrified comments in various forums from automobile drivers about how dangerous the streetcars were, without saying why.

As kids, native San Franciscans used to be taught to respect the streetcars because of their size but not to be afraid because, unlike a bus or automobile, they followed an exact course — where the rails are.

Any public transit vehicle, like any vehicle on a roadway, will eventually become involved in accidents. You need strong public policy, like the Safer Market Street plan, supported by Market Street Railway, the Bicycle Coalition, and WalkSF, among other advocacy groups, that would have prevented accidents like this one on Market Street the other day. You also need a transit agency that either already deeply understands rail transit, as Muni does, or makes sure it hires people who do.

Most of all, when new streetcar lines start up, you need extensive public education campaigns to teach drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians that steel wheels on steel rails simply cannot stop as fast as rubber tires on asphalt, and that trying to cut off a streetcar in traffic as though it was an automobile isn’t a smart idea — no matter how capable and well trained the streetcar operator is.

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Driver Takes Stupid Pills

Kendall Willets photo via SFist.

Kendall Willets photo via SFist.

We get that driving an automobile in San Francisco is not easy, but c’mon!

From our friends at SFist comes this photo taken last Thursday by Kendall Willets. Willets reports that the driver of the SUV tried an illegal left turn from the right lane from westbound Market onto southbound Tenth Street.  No injuries, no damage to the streetcar, which has been back on the road.

As San Franciscans know, left turns off Market throughout downtown (except onto Drumm Street) have been banned for decades for any vehicles except Muni. Even though every intersection is well-signed in this regard, we still regularly see dumb (or scofflaw) drivers hanging lefties in front of oncoming traffic (largely Muni buses and streetcars and bicyclists these days) that aren’t expecting that. Nor are pedestrians who aren’t looking for left-turning drivers.  A recipe for danger.

Market Street Railway is one of many transit, bicycle, and pedestrian advocacy groups supporting SFMTA’s plan to ban automobiles from Market outright between Third and Tenth Streets, for safety reasons.

It’s supposed to start in August.  Wish it were in effect already.

[Okay, transit nerd content: one city famous for streetcars actually has a rule of the road for automobiles that requires them to pull to the curb lane to turn across traffic.  It’s so they won’t block the streetcars, er, trams. It’s Melbourne, Australia, and it’s an unnerving practice to see, but Melburnians understand the rule, and it seems to work. There.  Not here.]

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Private Bus Rear-ends PCC on Market

One of those fancy private buses that are now very common in San Francisco rear-ended PCC No. 1009 on Market Street Thursday evening (September 5), putting the streetcar into the body shop for repairs. The website SFist ran an article that wrongly stated that the historic streetcars are accident prone (offering only a link to articles mostly about bus and LRV accidents). But it does contain several good photos, so if you want to look at different angles, click here.
Too soon to know how long No. 1009 might be out of commission, but it certainly won’t be seen this weekend as part of the special E-line America’s Cup service (Wharf to Caltrain every 15 minutes, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday).
Since rear-end collisions are virtually always held to be the fault of the following vehicle, we strongly urge Muni to go after the owner of the bus for the full cost of the repairs to No. 1009.
UPDATE (9/15): Our mistake. Muni is still evaluating options for repairing No. 1009; it hasn’t entered the body shop.

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