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Muni admits inspection should have caught issue that caused meltdown

The major Muni Metro incident on April 26 that crippled the subway for approximately 13 hours could have been prevented, officials with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said Tuesday.

A defective overhead wire splice was to blame for the subway mishap, and when a two-car train around 6:30 a.m. zipped passed the splice, the second car train’s pantograph got tangled with the overhead wire and down came 1,000 feet of overhead wire between Civic Center and Powell stations.

Julie Kirschbaum admitted Tuesday at the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting Tuesday that crews should have noticed the defective overhead wire splice during a routine inspection of the subway:

“The incident was unacceptable. We missed something important as part of a routine inspection and it’s something that we are taking very seriously as we move forward.”

Kirschbaum continued:

“The splice, which is a metal contraption that connects two separate pieces of wire, had been in our system for about three months. A defect on that part did contribute to that incident. But at the same, we had warning indication we could have caught in advance.”

There were also lessons learned on the bus service that the SFMTA provided for morning commuters, which led packed intersections and buses, especially at near Church station, Kirschbaum said.

Many N-Judah passengers who had to get off at the Church and Duboce stop, walked to Market and Church streets to join other passengers at packed sidewalks to wait for buses.

Kirshbaum said buses should have been at both Church and Duboce and at Church and Market so that buses would not have been overwhelmed.

To prevent a major subway incident again like the one that happened a week ago, Malcolm Heinicke, who chairs the SFMTA board, suggested Kirschbaum come up with list of issues that can cause a major delay to subway service:

“We can’t keep playing whack-a-mole with the system. I strongly urge you to talk to your staff and the people who know the system best and identify a list of all the issues that can cause this story of significant disruption of service and come up with a plan to address them.”

Heinicke continued that if the crews needed to close the subway early during a weekend to identify the issues, he would support doing it.

Kirschbaum will come back later this month to the board to give her regular monthly performance report on the subway.

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