SFMTA eyes October for long-delayed Central Subway debut – SFBay

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San Francisco transit officials offered a glimpse at what Central Subway service could look like when the nearly $1.6 billion upgrade debuts in the fall, but the service plan is most likely to change based on resources.

Last week at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors meeting, the board approved the Title VI service analysis for the new, long-awaited subway, which will connect the T-Third rail line with brand-new stations underneath Moscone Center, Union Square and finally Chinatown. There is also one street-level transit stop at Fourth and Brannan.

Sean Kennedy, the SFMTA transit planning manager, presented the board with the potential service plans for this fall when Central Subway opens. Officials continue to eye the month of October to open the subway, which has been plagued with construction delays. Work began in February 2010, with the original completion estimate of late 2018 now far behind us.

Kennedy said that the service plan for the Central Subway is most likely not going to be plan in the fall and will return to the board if there are any major changes to the plan:

“This is really the service plan where we’re at right now. It’s a snapshot in time.”

The potential service plan for Muni Metro in the fall is nearly the same as current service now with the exception of the N-Judah running every eight minutes on weekdays, he said. The T, traveling between the Chinatown Rose Pak station to Sunnydale, will run every 10 minutes.

Kennedy said the idea was for the T to run the full route along with a short route using the Mission Bay Loop is based on the plans in the Environmental Impact Report for the project. He added plans still need to be worked on before moving ahead to what was ideally planned for service:

“Once again there’s a lot of things to work through and get through before the service plan is realized. It might be quite a while.”

Operator availability, funding and addressing technical issues with the Central Subway will play a role in how quickly the agency get a short T route running, he said.

There are other service management constraints that staff will need to figure out before the new subway opens, which is also why the service plan presented to the board was not final.

One of the challenges is that the K-Ingleside and T will become separate rail lines. The K will make its turnaround at Embarcadero station, recreating a traffic mess in the subway that occurred before the pandemic, Kennedy said.

The agency plans to test different options, including the possibility of sending the J-Church out of Embarcadero station and to turn the J around at the Embarcadero and Folsom. This was not a new idea as the SFMTA was already testing this idea before the pandemic, Kennedy told SFBay.

Additionally, staff are looking at taking the J through the N-Judah route and turning the train around at Sixth and King streets.

SFMTA Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum said there were some “value engineering tradeoffs” that will make it “challenging” to operate in the new subway, including pulling out disabled trains, for example.

The new subway has two crossovers for disabled trains, Kirschbaum said. If a train breaks down at the Union Square station, staff will have the option of reverse towing the train to Brannan and Bluxome streets, or towing it to other terminus at the Chinatown Rose Pak station. She cited this as a constraint, and staff will be practicing in advance for dealing with a broken down train inside the new subway.

Transit officials are also investigating a recent electrical fire that occurred June 20 at the Yerba Buena/Moscone station that caused a lot of smoke to fill up at the top of the station, SFMTA Streets Director Tom Maguire said.

Agency employees and contractors were working at the station of the night of the fire, but there were no injuries reported. Three Muni trains were in the tunnel for testing at the time. Maguire said the trains were not damaged. Testing of rail trains was suspended at the section of the subway that was affected by the fire, he added.

Maguire said it was not clear yet whether the fire incident cause any delays in opening the new subway as it remained under investigation.

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