As Muni’s collisions and accidents continue — the most recent involving a
19-year-old woman knocked beneath an M — cutting-edge research from the Federal Transit Administration has identified design modifications to light rail trains that could save lives and prevent injuries; but these improvements may never make it to Muni’s fleet.
Money is one obstacle to implementing newly-designed bumpers with precisely-positioned crumple zones (like you’d see on an SUV), which the FTA says could significantly reduce damage in a collision.
Another obstacle: the age of Muni’s trains. Purchased under controversial terms in the mid-90s, they’re about halfway through their expected lifecycle according to a Muni analysis, so it may make more fiscal sense to hold off on retrofits and just wait for them to be replaced. That won’t happen until 2025.
A further complication: a $56 million repair project for doors and steps expected to start later this year after a decade of no maintenance.
With times as tight as they are, buying dozens of new bumpers probably isn’t at the top of Muni’s list of priorities. In recent years, the transit agency has scrambled to maintain even basic levels of service as their funds are raided by the state, and, according to local
transit think tank SPUR, by the Pubic Defender’s office or used to subsidize parking for city employees.
Now’s a particularly sensitive time for SF’s transit agency when it comes to accidents and injuries. According to a memo sent to SFMTA staff by head Nat Ford, accidents (defined as “including collisions with vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles, derailments and dewirements”) were down 8% in 2009, but customer incidents (presumably, injuries to riders, but that’s unclear) increased by 14%.
We’ve heard it said many times: “When Muni suffers, the whole city suffers” — but it will be hard to find anyone suffering more than the pedestrians and motorists who will be struck over the next few years by oncoming trains.
Could a simple bumper retrofit have quieted Muni’s unyielding demands for human sacrifice? Alas, we may never know.