The Municipal Transportation Agency on Tuesday approved a $1.2 billion contract with Siemens Corp. to replace and expand the 155-car fleet of light-rail vehicles that ply the Muni Metro lines – the backbone of San Francisco’s transit system.
The deal, which also needs approval from the Board of Supervisors, will bring more elbow room and reliability to long-suffering Muni Metro passengers, accustomed to cramming onto crowded trains that often creep through the subways and show up late.
“This is really the game-changer – the single-most thing that will improve the service,” John Haley, the agency’s transit director, said of the MTA board‘s vote. “Not just when the first cars arrive, but for the next generation.”
The contract approved Tuesday calls for the German company, which manufactures light-rail vehicles in Sacramento, to build 260 cars.
The first new car could arrive at the end of 2016, with the 24 new cars needed for the Central Subway expected to be delivered by 2018, in time for the scheduled opening in 2019. Replacement cars would arrive by 2021 with options for 85 more cars in 2018 to 2030. They’re intended to handle ridership growth through 2040.
Siemens provided illustrations of three possible designs and color schemes for exteriors of the new light-rail cars as well as options for the interior configuration, but the details won’t be decided for a few months. The agency will involve the public in the design process.
As any Muni rider knows, the system’s biggest problems with rail service are overcrowding, breakdowns and the resulting delays. By expanding the fleet, and increasing reliability, Haley said, Muni will be able to give riders a little more room to breathe and trains that show up on time, break down less often and require less-frequent maintenance.
Siemens won the contract over CAF, a Spanish company that would have manufactured the cars in Spain, then assembled them at a plant in upstate New York, Haley said.
“There are no light-rail manufacturers from the U.S.,” he said, “but this is as close as you will get.”
The California connection was just part of the reason Siemens won the contract, he said. The company ranked high for its history of delivering cars on schedule with a high rate of reliability. It also delivered a bid 20 percent lower in cost.
CAF has appealed the award to the Federal Transit Administration, claiming procedural errors in awarding the contract to Siemens. Such challenges are common in the award of major transit contracts.
Previous deal soured
When Muni bought its current fleet of light-rail cars from Italian manufacturer Breda in 1996, Haley said, it didn’t buy enough cars and tinkered too much with customizing the design. Its reliability requirements also were too lax and it didn’t take maintenance costs into account.
“We tried to learn the lessons from the previous procurement,” he said.
So the MTA plans to buy more rail cars this time, let the manufacturer handle most of the design, require better performance from the vehicles and consider the costs and time requirements of maintenance.
The new cars will be more modern but in some ways less complicated. The problematic doors on the current Metro cars have 200 parts; the new ones will have fewer than 20. But the new cars will also have black boxes that will help Muni determine the causes of accidents.
Transform the system
An enthusiastic Haley said the MTA has been struggling to improve Metro service, and making slow incremental progress. The new cars, he said, will transform the system.
“These new cars will make this the best light-rail system in the country,” he said.
The board also approved a $3.55-per-stop fee for corporate shuttles using Muni stops. That’s an increase from the $1 per stop adopted when the agency approved the 18-month test program in January. The fee covers only the costs of administering the program, and applications for the program have fallen short of the number anticipated.