New Muni trains dominating service as old trains set sail for retirement

Jerold Chinn
3 min readMar 13, 2023
A Breda rail car (left )and Siemens rail car (right) are seen in the Inner Sunset neighborhood in San Francisco, Calif., Thursday, March 2, 2023. Photo by Jerold Chinn.

Longtime San Francisco Muni riders and transit enthusiasts may want to start snapping photos, taking videos or possibly start saving money, as Muni rail cars made by the Italy-based company Ansaldo Breda, are retiring from service.

Muni subway riders will start seeing fewer of the familiar Breda rail cars in service as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is nearly halfway through receiving their new LRV4 rail cars from Siemens as part of a $1.2 billion contract.

In an update to the SFMTA board at their Feb. 21 meeting about the delivery and reliability of the new rail cars, the SFMTA’s Principal Project Manager Janet Gallegos said 109 of the 219 rail cars have so far been delivered to the agency and 94 of them are in revenue service.

The LRV4 rail cars in service have now succeeded the Breda rail cars in running more miles per mouth.

“There’s more of them out there taking the bulk of the service and it’s really the era of LRV4,” Gallegos said.

Forty-three of the Breda rail cars have so far been retired as of January of this year with all of them expected to be retired by 2025 or possibly sooner. The Breda rail cars first arrived in 1995, replacing the Boeing made rail cars. The Bredas’ made their splashy debut in late 1996.

The SFMTA currently is in the second phase of the procurement process with Siemens, which includes the delivery of 151 LRV4s. The first phase, from 2017 to 2019, included the delivery of the first 68 rail cars.

Rail cars arriving now will have the new seats and seating configuration that Muni passengers requested to change after complaints about the slipping and sliding on the original bench style seating as well as the height of the seating.

A new Muni rail car with new seats and configuration seen in San Francisco, Calif., on Thursday, December 2, 2021. Photo by Jerold Chinn.

All of the rail cars that arrived during the first phase will also be retrofitted with the new seats and seating configuration. So far, 20 of the vehicles from the first phase have been converted.

Gallegos said the LRV4s are four times more reliable than the Breda rail cars, but the LRV4s are not consistently meeting a mean distance between failures target of 25,000 miles that is set in the contract with Siemens.

The rail cars have met the target but not consistently for six months, which is what the contract calls for to show the rail cars are reliable, Gallegos said.

A screen shot from a SFMTA staff presentation showed how often the Muni rail cars met the mean distance between failures target of 25,000 miles.

One of the issues preventing the rail cars from meeting the target has to do with the brake system. Gallegos said the issues with the brakes are not safety concerns.

SFMTA spokesperson Stephen Chun gave examples of what the SFMTA and Siemens are currently working on related to the brake system, including making software adjustments “in braking setpoints to reduce incidence of wheel flats” and addressing cracks on the rubber boot on the motor truck caliper that keeps out dirt and debris.

Once those issues are addressed, Gallegos said she believes the reliability of the rail cars will increase early this summer.

The SFMTA in two years will have to contemplate on whether to exercise a contract option for 30 additional rail cars from Siemens.

While the agency has time to decide on whether to purchase the additional rail cars, Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum said the agency should do everything it can to purchase the additional vehicles in the current contract given that purchasing them later would cost twice as much.

The SFMTA has until June 2025 to decide, but given the current conditions of ridership and funding, the agency can decline the additional vehicles without charge.

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Jerold Chinn

I am a freelance reporter in San Francisco with over a decade of experience covering transportation in the city. Bylines include SFBay and The Ingleside Light.