More Troubles with the Siemens Couplers

As indicated in a previous issue of this newsletter, because the SFMTA deploys one and two-car trains in the Market Street subway instead of the four and five-car trains the multi-billion dollar facility was designed to accommodate, the subway and adjoining Muni Metro tunnels currently operate at less than half their peak- period carrying capacity. This unhappy situation was caused in the mid-1990’s by a breathtakingly short-sighted decision to stop forming four and five-car trains. 

Various reasons are cited for this enormously-consequential mistake, including pressure from the TWU (Muni operator’s union), coupling difficulties, maintenance problems, etc. but the most likely reason is that for reasons unknown, beginning in 1991 the then incoming Breda LRVs were arriving in San Francisco without the ability to couple LRVs together while in revenue service. Having reached the end of their useful life, the Breda’s are now being gradually replaced with new Siemens S200 LRVs, which began arriving in San Francisco in 2017.

In an effort to receive assurance that the Siemens car would at last allow the SFMTA to again begin using its subway effectively, Save Muni (, a San Francisco-based transit-advocacy group, sent several requests for information to the SFMTA during last August and September, followed up by a California Public Records Act/San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance request sent on November 5, 2019 asking for:

LRV with Coupler

“1) All records from the past three years related to when the Muni Metro may be able to accommodate longer than two car trains

2) All records from the past three years related to tests of longer than two car trains in the ACTS territory, whether conducted by the MTA or outside contractors.”

The SFMTA’s response to this request was to send Save Muni a vast amount of irrelevant information, none of which had anything to do with in-line coupling. Even the SFMTA’s LRV Performance Specifications, issued to all prospective contractors, subcontractors and suppliers, have not as of this date been forthcoming.

This leaves the following questions unanswered: Did the couplers conform to the requirements set forth in the SFMTA Performance Specifications? What did the Performance Specs say about coupling? Were the couplers designed to negotiate the J-line’s 9% track grade or SF’s tight turns? Were they designed to permit automated coupling at the two portals? Were the coupling capabilities of the Siemens cars tested as they should have tested before the first LRVs left Siemens’ Sacramento assembly plant? If so, how thorough and comprehensive was the testing? Did an independent SFMTA expert witness the tests? Was a test report written and submitted to the SFMTA? The fact that no information about these matters have so far been released by the SFMTA gives rise to the suspicion that either the performance specs didn’t spell out the coupling requirements properly or that no formal and properly-witnessed and recorded coupling tests were run.  

Muni efforts to increase the currently jammed and often unreliable Muni Metro system up to its design carrying-capacity continue to be too little and too late.


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