Muni Metro

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Muni Metro
Sfmuni logo.png
Church MUNI.jpg
Outbound Muni Metro K Ingleside train
at Church Street station.
Owner San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency
Locale San Francisco, California
Transit type Light rail/Streetcar
Number of lines 6
(plus 1 peak-hour shuttle line)
Number of stations 33 (9 subway, 24 surface)[1]
87 additional surface stops
Daily ridership 128,500 (average weekday, Q4 2014)[2]
Annual ridership 56.7 million (2014)[2]
Website SFMTA
Began operation February 18, 1980; 36 years ago (1980-02-18)
Operator(s) San Francisco Municipal Railway
Number of vehicles 151 Breda light rail vehicles
(high floor)[3]
Train length 75-150 feet (1-2 LRVs)[4]
System length 36.8 mi (59.2 km)[5]
Track gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
(standard gauge)[4]
Electrification Overhead lines, 600 V DC[4]
Average speed 9.6 mph (15.4 km/h)[6]
Top speed 35 mph (56 km/h)[7]
System map
Muni Metro map

Muni Metro is a light rail/streetcar hybrid system serving San Francisco, California, operated by the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni), a division of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). With an average weekday ridership of 128,500 passengers as of the fourth quarter of 2014, Muni Metro is the United States' third busiest light rail system.[2] Muni Metro operates a fleet of 151 light rail vehicles (LRV) made by Breda.[3]

Muni Metro is the modern incarnation of the traditional streetcar system that had served San Francisco since the late 19th century. While many streetcar lines in other cities, and even in San Francisco itself, were converted to buses after World War II, five lines survived until 1980, when the streetcar lines were partially upgraded to light rail with the opening of the upper level of the Market Street Subway in that year; full daily Muni Metro service was inaugurated in 1982. Recently, the system has undergone expansion, most notably the Third Street Light Rail Project, completed in 2007, which started the first new rail line in San Francisco in over half a century. Other projects, such as the Central Subway, are underway.



The first street railroad in San Francisco was the San Francisco Market Street Railroad Company, which was incorporated in 1857 and began operating in 1860, with track along Market Street from California to Mission Dolores.[8] Muni Metro descended from the municipally-owned traditional streetcar system started on December 28, 1912, when the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) was established.[9] The first streetcar line, the A Geary, ran from Kearny and Market Streets in the Financial District to Fulton Street and 10th Avenue in the Richmond District.[10][11] The system slowly expanded, opening the Twin Peaks Tunnel in 1917,[12] allowing streetcars to run to the southwestern quadrant of the city. By 1921, the city was operating 304 miles (489 km) of electric trolley lines and 25 miles (40 km) of cable car lines.[13] The last line to start service before 2007 was the N Judah, which started service after the Sunset Tunnel opened in 1928.[14]

In the 1940s and 1950s, as in many North American cities, public transit in San Francisco was consolidated under the aegis of a single municipal corporation, which then began phasing out much of the streetcar network in favor of buses.[15] However, five heavily used streetcar lines traveled for at least part of their routes through tunnels or otherwise reserved right-of-way, and thus could not be converted to bus lines.[16] As a result, these lines, running PCC streetcars, continued in operation.

Original plans for the BART system drawn up in the 1950s envisioned a double-decker subway tunnel under Market Street (known as the Market Street Subway) in downtown San Francisco; the lower deck would be dedicated to express trains, while the upper would be served by local trains whose routes would spread south and west through the city. After construction of the tunnel had begun, however, these plans were altered; only a single BART route would travel through the city on the lower deck, while the upper deck would be served by the existing Muni streetcar routes. The new tunnel would be connected to the existing Twin Peaks Tunnel. The new underground stations would feature high platforms, and the older stations would be retrofitted with the same, which meant that the PCCs could not be used in them. Hence, a fleet of new light rail vehicles was ordered from Boeing-Vertol, but were not delivered until 1979–80, even though the tunnel was completed in 1978. The K and M lines were extended to Balboa Park during this time, providing further connections to BART. (The J line also saw an extension there in 1991, which provided yet another BART connection at Glen Park.)

A Boeing LRV in N-line service in March 1980, shortly after the opening of the Muni Metro.

On February 18, 1980, the Muni Metro was officially inaugurated, with weekday N line service in the subway.[17] The Metro service was implemented in phases, and the subway was served only on weekdays until 1982. The K Ingleside line began using the Metro subway on weekdays on June 11, 1980, the L Taraval and M Ocean View lines on December 17, 1980, and lastly the J Church line on June 17, 1981.[18] Meanwhile, weekend service on all five lines (J, K, L, M, N) continued to use PCC cars operating on the surface of Market Street through to the Transbay Terminal, and the Muni Metro was closed on weekends. At the end of the service day September 19, 1982, streetcar operations on the surface of Market Street were discontinued entirely, the remaining PCC cars taken out of service, and weekend service on the five light rail lines was temporarily converted to buses.[19][20] Finally, on November 20, 1982, the Muni Metro subway began operating seven days a week.[20]

At the time, there were no firm plans to revive any service on the surface of Market Street or return PCCs to regular running.[19] However, tracks were rehabilitated for the 1983 Historic Trolley Festival[20] and the inauguration of the F Line, served by heritage streetcars, soon followed.

Muni meltdown[edit]

In the mid- to late-1990s, San Francisco grew more prosperous and its population expanded with the advent of the dot-com boom, and the Metro system began to feel the strain of increased commuter demand. Muni criticism had been something of a feature of life in San Francisco, and not without reason. The Boeing trains were sub-par and grew crowded quickly.[citation needed] And the difficulty in running a hybrid streetcar and light rail system, with five lines merging into one, led to scheduling problems on the main trunk lines with long waits between arrivals and commuter-packed trains sometimes sitting motionless in tunnels for extended periods of time.[citation needed]

Muni did take steps to address these problems. Newer, larger Breda cars were ordered, an extension of the system towards South Beach — where many of the new dot-coms were headquartered — was built, and the underground section was switched to Automatic Train Operation (ATO), making it the only light rail line in the world to be so operated. The Breda cars, however, came in noisy, overweight, oversized, under-braked, and over-budget (their price grew from US$2.2 million per car to nearly US$3 million over the course of their production).[21][22] In fact, the new trains were so heavy (10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) more than the Boeing LRVs they replaced) that some homeowners, claiming that the exceptional weight of the Breda cars damaged their foundations, sued the city of San Francisco.[23] The Breda cars are longer and wider than the previous Boeing cars, necessitating the modification of subway stations and maintenance yards, as well as the rear view mirrors on the trains themselves.[22] Furthermore, the Breda cars do not run in three car trains, like the Boeing cars used to, as doing so had, in some instances, physically damaged the overhead power wires.[24] The Breda trains were so noisy that San Francisco budgeted over $15 million to quiet them down, while estimates range up to $1 million per car to remedy the excessive noise.[25] To this day, the Breda cars are noisier than the PCC or Boeing cars. In 1998, NTSB inspectors mandated a lower speed limit of 30 mph (48 km/h), down from 50 mph (80 km/h), because the brakes were problematic.[26][27]

The ATC system was plagued by numerous glitches when first implemented, initially causing significantly more harm than good. Common occurrences included sending trains down the wrong tracks, and, more often, inappropriately applying emergency braking.[28] Eventually the result was a spectacular service crisis, widely referred to as the "Muni meltdown", in the summer of 1998. During this period, two reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle—one riding in the Muni Metro tunnel and one on foot on the surface—held a race through downtown, with the walking reporter emerging the winner.[29]

After initial problems with the ATC were fixed, substantial upgrades to the entire Muni transit systems have gone a long way towards resolving persistent crowding and scheduling issues. Nonetheless, Muni remains one of the slowest urban transport systems in the United States.

Muni Metro
Station diagram
 E  F 
Bay Area Rapid Transit Embarcadero
 E J Church logo.svgK Ingleside logo.svgL Taraval logo.svgM Ocean View logo.svgS Shuttle logo.svgT Third Street logo.svg
Bay Area Rapid Transit Montgomery
Union Square/Market Street
Bay Area Rapid Transit Powell
2nd & King
Bay Area Rapid Transit Civic Center
Yerba Buena/Moscone
Van Ness
4th & Brannan
4th & King N Judah logo.svg Caltrain
Duboce & Church
Mission Rock
dagger Church
UCSF Mission Bay
Duboce & Noe
Church & 18th
Carl and Cole
Church & 24th
UCSF Paranassus
Church & 30th
Judah & 9th Ave
Judah & 19th Ave
Judah & 28th Ave
Twin Peaks Tunnel
under Twin Peaks
Judah & Sunset
Forest Hill
N Judah logo.svg Ocean Beach
West Portal
St. Francis Circle S Shuttle logo.svg
L Taraval logo.svg
Ocean & Junipero Serra
San Francisco State
Ocean & Jules
Randolph & Arch
Ocean & Lee
Broad & Plymouth
City College
M Ocean View logo.svg San Jose & Geneva
Balboa Park J Church logo.svgK Ingleside logo.svg Bay Area Rapid Transit
20th Street
23rd Street
Marin Street
Kirkwood/La Salle
Le Conte
Sunnydale T Third Street logo.svg

interchange station
dagger no step-free access for J Church logo.svg
all-door high platform
additional Bay Area Rapid Transit transfer
at San Jose & Bosworth
truncated high platform
not to scale
minor on-street stop(s) omitted

Recent expansion[edit]

In 1980, the M Ocean View was extended from Broad Street and Plymouth Avenue to its current terminus at Balboa Park.[5] In 1991, the J Church was extended from Church and 30th Streets to its current terminus at Balboa Park.[5] In 1998, the N Judah was extended from Embarcadero Station to the planned site of the new AT&T Park (then called Pacific Bell Park) and Caltrain Depot,[30] after that extension was briefly served between January and August of that year by the temporary E Embarcadero[31][32] light rail shuttle (restored in 2015 as the E Embarcadero heritage streetcar line).

In 2007, the T Third Street, running south from Caltrain Depot along Third Street to the southern edge of the city, opened as part of the Third Street Light Rail Project. Limited weekend T line service began on January 13, 2007, while full service began on April 7, 2007. The line initially ran from the southern terminus at Bayshore Boulevard and Sunnydale Street to Castro Street Station in the north. The line ran into initial problems with breakdowns, bottlenecks, and power failures, creating massive delays.[33] Service changes to address complaints with the introduction of the T Third Street were implemented on June 30, 2007, when the K and T trains were interlined, or effectively merged into one single line with route designations changing at the entrances into the subway (T becomes K outbound at Embarcadero; K becomes T inbound at West Portal).[34]

Future expansion[edit]

See also: Central Subway

Several expansion projects are underway or under study. Federal funding has been secured for, and construction has begun on, the Central Subway,[35] a combined surface and subway extension of the T Third Line, running from Caltrain Depot to Chinatown, with stops at Moscone Center and Union Square, and with the potential for a future expansion to North Beach and Fisherman's Wharf.[36] Muni estimates that the Central Subway section of the T Third Line will carry roughly 35,100 riders per day by 2030.[37] The Central Subway is projected to be complete and ready for revenue service by 2019,[38] at a projected cost of $1.578 billion.[37] The Central Subway extension is seen as a precondition for future light rail transit along the heavily used Geary corridor, because the Central Subway will provide much of the downtown, subterranean infrastructure that a light rail system along Geary would require. Once the Central Subway is complete, it may also continue as an above-ground light rail line through North Beach, and into the Marina district, with the possibility of eventually terminating in the Presidio.


The Muni Metro system consists of 71.5 miles (115.1 km) of standard gauge track, seven light rail lines (six regular lines and one peak-hour line), three tunnels, nine subway stations, twenty-four surface stations, and eighty-seven surface stops.[39]

Underground tunnel infrastructure
N Judah entering the eastern portal of the Sunset Tunnel

The backbone of the system is formed by two interconnected subway tunnels, the older Twin Peaks Tunnel and the newer Market Street Subway, both controlled by automatic train operation systems to run trains with the operators closing the door to allow the train to pull out of a station. This ATO system was upgraded in 2015 to replace outdated software and relays.[40] The tunnels, 5.5 miles (8.9 km) in total length,[5] run from West Portal Station in the southwestern part of the city to Embarcadero Station in the heart of the Financial District. Three lines, the K Ingleside, the L Taraval, and the M Ocean View feed into the tunnel at West Portal, while two lines, the J Church and N Judah, enter at a portal near Church Street and Duboce Avenue in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood. Two lines, the N Judah and T Third Street, enter and exit the tunnel at Embarcadero. An additional tunnel, the Sunset Tunnel, is located near the Duboce portal and is served by the N.

The interconnected tunnels contain nine subway stations.[1] Three stations, West Portal, Forest Hill and the now-defunct Eureka Station were opened in 1918 as part of the Twin Peaks Tunnel,[41] while the other seven, Castro Street, Church Street, Van Ness, Civic Center, Powell Street, Montgomery Street and Embarcadero were opened in 1980 as part of the Market Street Subway. Four stations, Civic Center, Powell Street, Montgomery Street, and Embarcadero, are shared with Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), with Muni Metro on the upper level and BART on the lower one.[42]

N Judah from above

Above ground, there are twenty-four surface platform stations.[1] Two stations, Stonestown and San Francisco State University are located at the southwestern part of the city, while the rest are located on the eastern side of the city, where the system underwent recent expansion as part of the Embarcadero extension and the Third Street Light Rail Project. However, many of the stops on the system are surface stops consisting of anything from a traffic island to a yellow-banded "Car Stop" sign painted on a utility pole.[43]

All subway and surface stations are handicap-accessible. In addition, several surface street stops are also handicap-accessible, often consisting of a ramp leading up to a small platform for boarding.[44]

In Muni Metro terminology, an inbound train is one that heads from the western neighborhoods and West Portal towards Embarcadero, while an outbound train travels in the opposite direction out of downtown towards the west. Even the T Third Street Line is consistent with this terminology, with an inbound train going from West Portal through Embarcadero to Sunnydale, and an outbound train running out of the southeastern neighborhoods into downtown.[45]

Muni Metro has two rail yards for storage and maintenance:

  • Green Yard or Curtis E. Green Light Rail Center at 425 Geneva Avenue is located adjacent to Balboa Park Station and serves as the outbound terminus for the J Church, K Ingleside, and M Ocean View. The facility has repair facilities, an outdoor storage yard and larger carhouse structure. The facility was renamed for former and late head of Muni in 1987.[46]
  • Muni Metro East is a newer facility opened in 2008 and is located along the Central Waterfront on Illinois and 25th Streets in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, a block from the T Third Street line.[47] The 180,000 square foot maintenance facility with outdoor storage area is located next to Northern Container Terminal and former Army Pier.


Line Year
J Church logo.svg J Church 1917 Embarcadero Station Balboa Park Station
K Ingleside logo.svg K Ingleside 1918 Embarcadero Station Balboa Park Station
L Taraval logo.svg L Taraval 1919 Embarcadero Station 46th Avenue and Wawona
San Francisco Zoo
M Ocean View logo.svg M Ocean View 1925 Embarcadero Station San Jose and Geneva
Balboa Park Station
N Judah logo.svg N Judah 1928 4th and King Station
Caltrain Depot
Judah and La Playa
Ocean Beach
T Third Street logo.svg T Third Street 2007 West Portal Station Sunnydale Station
S Shuttle logo.svg S Castro Shuttle
(peak hours & game days)
1995 Embarcadero Station
4th and King Station (game days)
Castro Station
West Portal Station (game days)


1980–2002: Boeing Vertol USSLRV[edit]

A Boeing USSLRV at Duboce & Church shortly after the line opened, in March 1980.

Muni Metro first operated Boeing Vertol-made US Standard Light Rail Vehicles (USSLRV), which were built for Muni Metro and Boston's MBTA.[49][50] Boeing had no experience in making LRVs,[49] and has not made another since.[50] The first cars of the initial 100-car order arrived in San Francisco in 1978; Boston had been running the cars since 1976 and by 1978, MBTA was already returning 35 cars for manufacturing defects.[49] After receipt of the first cars, MBTA forced Boeing to make 70 to 80 modifications on each car. Boeing ended up paying US$40,000,000 (equivalent to $168,350,877 in 2016) in damages to Boston.[49] The purchase price for each car was US$333,000 (equivalent to $1,222,756 in 2016).[49]

The federal government offered to provide 80% of the funds for design and production of the USSLRV[50] in exchange for a commitment to keep the cars in service for at least 25 years,[49] but the cars, as-delivered, were prone to jammed doors, defective brakes and motors, leaky roofs, mechanical breakdowns, and were involved in several accidents.[49] Muni Metro added 30 more cars to the fleet; these 30 had been rejected by MBTA after suffering numerous breakdowns.[50][51]

In 1982, the Boeing cars averaged only 600 miles (970 km) between breakdowns; by 1988 this had improved to 1,800 to 2,000 miles (2,900 to 3,200 km) between breakdowns.[49] In 1998, Rudy Nothenberg, president of the Public Transportation Commission, said the Boeing cars were "impossible to maintain and [...] have many, many design flaws;"[49] that same year, Muni was only able to supply 66–72 working cars for rush-hour service instead of the required 99 cars, resulting in system delays.[51] Despite the shortcomings of the USSLRV design, these cars constituted the entire light rail fleet until 1996, when new Breda-manufactured cars were put into service,[52] replacing Boeing cars as they were accepted for service.[49] By 1998, the 136-car Muni Metro fleet consisted of 57 Boeing Vertol cars and 79 AnsaldoBreda cars.[49]

Two Boeing cars were preserved for the San Francisco Railway Museum; five were sold to the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority for the modest price of US$200 (equivalent to $266.31 in 2016) to US$500 (equivalent to $665.77 in 2016) each; one was acquired by the Oregon Electric Railway Historical Society in 2001, but the Society declined to take any more Boeing cars after experiencing several breakdowns.[50]

1996–present: Breda[edit]

A Breda LRV in T-line service crossing the Islais Creek bridge.

The new Breda cars were unveiled in 1996; they were the most expensive street railway vehicles built to-date at a cost of US$2,000,000 (equivalent to $3,054,106 in 2016) and they were assembled at Pier 80.[52] The Breda cars feature four doors per car, versus two for the Boeing.[52] After suffering initial breakdowns[53] and despite facing complaints of noise and vibrations,[54] the Bredas gradually replaced the Boeings, with the last Boeing car being retired in 2002.[50]

There are currently 151 LRVs on the fleet, all made by Breda.[3] The double-ended cars are 75 feet (23 m) long, 9 feet (2.7 m) wide, 11 feet (3.4 m) high, have graffiti-resistant windows, and contain an air-conditioning system to maintain a temperature of 72 °F (22 °C) inside the car.[55]

2018+: Siemens S200[edit]

With the construction of the Central Subway and ongoing system capacity increase, there are plans to acquire an additional 24 cars with Siemens, Kawasaki, and CAF having been prequalified to bid. The contract was awarded to Siemens for the purchase of a total of 260 cars (the first 24 to go to operate on the Central Subway), and Muni is expected to choose from three initial designs in the new S200 class. They are expected to have the same coupling device as the Breda cars, however, the new Siemens trains can couple up to four cars at a time.[3][56][not in citation given] On July 2, 2015, Muni was awarded a grant of $41 million from the California Transportation Agency to eventually pay for 40 of the 64 additional Siemens light rail vehicles.[57]

Fares and operations[edit]

Muni Metro runs from approximately 5 am to 1 am weekdays, with later start times of 7 am on Saturday and 8 am on Sunday.[58] Owl service, or late-night service, is provided along much of the L and N lines by buses that bear the same route designation.[58]

The basic fare for Muni Metro, like Muni buses, is $2.25 for adults and $1.00 for youth ages 5–17, seniors, and the disabled.[59] Like Muni buses, the Muni Metro operates on a proof-of-payment system;[60] on paying a fare, the passenger will receive a ticket good for travel on any bus, historic streetcar, or Metro vehicle for 90 minutes.[59] Payment methods depend on boarding location. On surface street sections in the south and west of the city, passengers can board at the front of the train and pay their fare to the train operator to receive their ticket; those who already have a ticket, or who have a daily, weekly, or monthly pass, can board at any door of the Metro streetcar.[60] Subway stations have controlled entries via faregates, and passengers usually purchase or show Muni staff a ticket in order to enter the platform area. Faregates closest to an unmanned Muni staff booth open automatically if a passenger has a valid pass or transfer that cannot be scanned.[60] Muni's fare inspectors may board trains at any time to check for proof of payment from passengers.[60]

All cars are also equipped with Clipper card readers near each entrance, which riders may use to tag their cards to pay their fare. The cards themselves are then used as proof of payment; fare inspectors carry handheld card readers that can verify that payment was made. In subway stations, riders instead tag their cards on the faregates to gain access to the platforms.

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ a b c "Transit Ridership Report Fourth Quarter and End-of-Year 2014" (pdf). American Public Transportation Association (APTA) (via: ). March 3, 2015. Retrieved April 5, 2015.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  3. ^ a b c d "2010 SFMTA Transit Fleet Management Plan" (pdf). San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c "San Francisco LRV Specifications" (pdf). Ansaldobreda. Retrieved March 3, 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Demery, Jr., Leroy W. (November 2011). "U.S. Urban Rail Transit Lines Opened From 1980" (pdf). Retrieved November 2, 2013. 
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  7. ^ Reisman, Will (December 14, 2010). "Muni Metro trackway trouble unresolved". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved January 21, 2011. 
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  9. ^ "A Brief History of the F-Market & Wharves Line". Market Street Railway. Retrieved August 22, 2010. 
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  11. ^ O'Shaughnessy (1921),p. 18
  12. ^ Wallace, Kevin (March 27, 1949). "The City's Tunnels: When S.F. Can't Go Over, It Goes Under Its Hills". San Francisco Chronicle. SFGenealogy. Retrieved March 8, 2009. 
  13. ^ O'Shaughnessy (1921), p. 5
  14. ^ "N Judah Streetcar Line". Western Neighborhoods Project. October 18, 2007. Retrieved February 14, 2009. 
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  16. ^ "This Is Light Rail Transit" (pdf). Light Rail Transit Committee. Transportation Research Board. November 2000. p. 7. Retrieved August 6, 2014. 
  17. ^ Perles, Anthony (1981). The People's Railway: The History of the Municipal Railway of San Francisco. Glendale, CA (US): Interurban Press. p. 250. ISBN 0-916374-42-4. 
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  55. ^ Salter, Stephanie (January 26, 1997). "Beefy, but they whine". San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved February 15, 2009. 
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  59. ^ a b "Fares and Sales". San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Retrieved July 3, 2009. 
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