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San Francisco public transit riders have been without subway service for nearly a year, but transit officials say partial downtown service could be restored in May.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Director of Transit Julie Kirschbaum told board directors Tuesday of the agency’s plan to again offer full service on the N-Judah and T-Third rail lines with a target rollout of May. The N is currently served by buses, and trains are running along the T, but only between the Embarcadero and Sunnydale stations.

Officials said the T will serve the stations between West Portal and Embarcadero while the N will run between Van Ness and Embarcadero stations.

Kirschbaum told directors that much needs to be done before Muni Metro service can relaunch, including train testing through the tunnel and recertification of the subway’s automatic train control system.

An attempt to restore subway service in August lasted just a couple of days due to defective splices, which are used to connect overhead wiring. Additionally, a staff member tasked with monitoring rail service at the agency’s management center tested positive for Covid-19.

Since the August subway closure, crews have been working inside the tunnel to replace splices, track ballast and overhead wires. Kirschbaum said 114 splices were replaced and 47 were removed.

On the need for rigorous testing, she said:

“One of the key lessons learned from the reopening in August is that we did not put enough stress on the system so we will be running as if we’re in revenue service at least two weeks, if not more, in advance so that any issues that are going to surface (will be detected).”

Kirschbaum added that the agency made a “huge downpayment on subway reliability” with work recently completed despite “tremendous” deferrals of capital improvements inside the tunnel and a “glitchy” and aging train control system.

The J-Church will continue running on the surface between Balboa Park and Church Street and Duboce Avenue. Buses will continue to serve the K-Ingleside, L-Taraval and M-Ocean View for time being.

Additionally, work was completed to install WiFi inside the subway, a welcome change for Muni passengers who find themselves stuck inside the subway during delays.

Kirschbaum also announced that the agency “successfully” installed hand sanitizer dispensers on five buses. She said she was initially worried about vandalism or hazards for passengers who may slip from sanitizer that falls to the ground.

The SFMTA worked with AC Transit, which has offered hand sanitizer dispensers on its buses since September and found success with foam versions. She said the agency plans to install dispensers in additional Muni buses.

Passengers will also see the agency pilot a program to install 25 plexiglass mask dispensers similar to those currently used in Seattle, Kirschbaum said.

Staff plans to address directors in March to discuss priorities for restoring additional Muni service.

Jerold Chinn
Jerold Chinn is the San Francisco Bureau Chief of SFBay. A San Francisco native, he has spent a decade covering transportation in San Francisco. Send tips to jerold@sfbay.ca or at Twitter @Jerold_Chinn.

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