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Muni Metro is a light rail system serving San Franciscomarker, Californiamarker, operated by the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni), a division of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). Serving 156,900 passengers a day, Muni Metro is the second busiest light rail system in the United States.

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 San Francisco itself were converted to buses after World War II, five lines survived until the 1970s, when the streetcar lines were converted to light rail during the opening of the Market Street Subway in 1980. Recently, the system had 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 system consists of 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 numerous surface stops. Muni Metro utilizes a fleet of 151 light rail vehicles (LRV) made by Breda.

The system


Line Year
J Church 1917 Embarcaderomarker Balboa Parkmarker
K Ingleside 1918 Embarcaderomarker Balboa Parkmarker
L Taraval 1919 Embarcaderomarker 46th Avenue and Wawona
San Francisco Zoomarker
M Ocean View 1925 Embarcaderomarker San Jose and Geneva
Balboa Parkmarker
N Judah 1928 4th and King
Caltrain Depotmarker
Judah and La Playa
Ocean Beachmarker
S Castro Shuttle
(not shown)
2002 Embarcaderomarker
West Portalmarker (game days)
Castro Street
Caltrain Depotmarker (game days)
T Third Street 2007 West Portalmarker Bayshore and Sunnydalemarker


The backbone of the system is formed by two interconnected subway tunnels, the older Twin Peaks Tunnelmarker and the newer Market Street Subway. The tunnels, in total length, run from West Portal Stationmarker in the southwestern part of the city to Embarcadero Stationmarker in the heart of the Financial Districtmarker. 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 Tunnelmarker, is located near the Duboce portal and is served by the N.

The interconnected tunnels contain nine subway stations. Two stations, West Portal and Forest Hill, were opened in 1918 as part of the Twin Peaks Tunnel, while the other seven, Castro Street, Church Streetmarker, Van Nessmarker, Civic Centermarker, Powell Streetmarker, Montgomery Streetmarker 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.

Above ground, there are twenty-four surface stations. Two stations, Stonestownmarker and San Francisco State Universitymarker 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, much of it as part of the Third Street Light Rail Project. However, many of the stops on the system are surface stops that consist of anything from a traffic island to a sign painted on a telephone pole.

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.

Muni Metro has two rail yards for storage and maintenance. The Green yard is located adjacent to Balboa Park Stationmarker and serves as the outbound terminus for the J Church, K Ingleside, and M Ocean View. A newer facility, Muni Metro East, opened in 2008 and is located on Illinois and 25th Streets in the Potrero Hillmarker neighborhood, a block from the T Third Street line.


Muni Metro first operated Boeing Vertol-made US Standard Light Rail Vehicles (USSLRV), which were built for Muni Metro and Bostonmarker's MBTA. Boeing had no experience in making LRVs, and has not made another since. Acquired due to the federal government offering to provide much of the funding, the cars were prone to jammed doors, leaky roofs, mechanical breakdowns, and several accidents. In fact, 30 vehicles on Muni Metro's fleet were ones that the MBTA rejected after suffering numerous breakdowns. Despite its shortcomings, the cars comprised the entire light rail fleet until 1996, when new Breda-manufactured cars were put into service. After suffering initial breakdowns and despite facing complaints of noise and vibrations, the Bredas gradually replaced the Boeings, with the last Boeing car being scrapped in 2002.

There are 151 LRVs on the fleet, all made by Breda. The double-ended cars are long, wide, high, have graffiti-resistant windows, and contain an air-conditioning system to maintain a temperature of inside the car. With the ongoing expansion of the system, there are plans to acquire an additional 24 cars.

Fares and operations

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. Owl service, or late-night service, is provided along much of the L and N lines by buses that bear the same route designation.

The basic fare for Muni Metro, like Muni buses, is $2 for adults and $0.75 for youth ages 5–17, seniors, and the disabled. The Muni Metro system as a whole is a proof-of-payment system; on paying a fare, the passenger will receive a ticket good for travel on any bus, historic streetcar, or Metro vehicle for 90 minutes. 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 streetcar 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. Subway stations have controlled entries via turnstiles, and passengers must purchase or show Muni staff a ticket in order to enter the platform area. On high-platform stations outside the tunnels, ticket machines are available on the platforms; passengers without tickets or passes must purchase them before boarding. Fare inspectors may board trains at any time to check for proof of payment from passengers.

History and expansion

The streetcar era

Muni Metro descended from the municipally-owned traditional streetcar system started on December 28, 1912, when the San Francisco Municipal Railway was established. The first streetcar line, the A Geary, ran from Kearny and Market Streets in the Financial Districtmarker to Fulton and 10th Streets in the Richmond Districtmarker. The system slowly expanded, opening the Twin Peaks Tunnelmarker in 1917, allowing streetcars to run to the southwestern quadrant of the city. The last line to start service before 2007 was the N Judah, which started service after the Sunset Tunnelmarker opened in 1928.

In the 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. 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. As a result, these lines, running traditional PCC streetcars, continued operation until the 1970s, when mass transit rail projects once again came into vogue in the United States.

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 Tunnelmarker. The new underground stations would feature high platforms, and the older stations would be retrofitted with the same, which meant that the traditional 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 1980, even though the tunnel was completed in 1978. In February 1980, Muni Metro was officially inaugurated, with weekday N line service in the subway. The Metro service was implemented in phases, with all five lines running in the subway on a full-time basis by November 1982.

Muni meltdown

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-bashing had always been something of a civic sport for San Franciscans, and not without reason: the Boeing trains were sub-par and grew crowded quickly, and the difficulty in running a system that was half-streetcar and half-subway with five different routes merging together into one, led to scheduling chaos on the main trunk lines, with long waits between arrivals and commuter-packed trains sometimes sitting motionless in tunnels for extended periods of time.

Muni did take steps to meet 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 control (ATC). The Breda cars, however, came in noisy, overweight, oversized, under-braked, and over-budget (their price grew from $2.2 million per car to nearly $3 million over the course of their production). In fact, the new trains were so heavy (10,000 pounds 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. The Breda cars are longer and wider than the previous Boeing cars, necessitating the modification of subway stations, maintenance yards, as well as the rear view mirrors on the trains themselves. Furthermore, the Breda cars are 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. 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. To this day, the Breda cars are noisier than the PCC or Boeing cars. In 1998, NTSB inspectors mandated a lower speed limit of , down from , because the brakes were problematic.

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. 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. ATC problems persist to this day, with disabled trains becoming even more common with the introduction of the T Third Street line. Muni Metro's current quality of service has received declining rates for a number of years.

Recent expansion

In 1980, the M Ocean View was extended from Broad Street and Plymouth Avenue to its current terminus at Balboa Parkmarker. In 1991, the J Church was extended from Church and 30th Streets to its current terminus at Balboa Park. In 1998, the N Judah was extended from Embarcadero station to the planned site of the new AT&T Parkmarker (then called Pacific Bell Park) and Caltrain Depotmarker, after the extension was briefly served by the E Embarcadero (no relation to the currently proposed historic 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 Streetmarker to Castro Street Station in the north. The line ran into initial problems with breakdowns, bottlenecks, and power failures, creating massive delays. 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.

Future expansion

Several projects are underway or under study. Federal funding has been secured for the Central Subway, a proposed combined surface and subway line running from Caltrain Depotmarker to Chinatownmarker, with stops at Moscone Centermarker and Union Squaremarker, with the option of a future extension to North Beach and Fisherman's Wharfmarker. Muni estimates that the Central Subway will carry roughly 78,000 riders per day by 2030. Planners estimate the Central Subway will be completed by 2016 at an estimated cost of $1.2897 billion.

Two bus rapid transit (BRT) projects are currently under study. One is Geary BRT, which would run on and under Geary Boulevard from the Financial Districtmarker through Japantownmarker and the Western Addition to the Richmondmarker. The other is Van Ness BRT, which would run on Van Ness Avenue from Market Streetmarker to Lombard Streetmarker in the Marina Districtmarker.

See also


External links

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