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Major Accident At West Portal Station Reported via Twitter, AlertSF

I just got back in the apartment from doing laundry, and courtesy of vigilant Twitter users and AlertSF, I found out about a rather serious accident at West Portal station that is leading to significant delays on the KLM lines and so on.

This looks to be very serious, as reports are coming in that the trains collided resulting in injuries. I'll keep an eye on Twitter and the news and if anything big happens, I'll update via re-tweets on Twitter and so on.

If you happen to be in the area and can post pictures, please do, and post links in the comments. If you're looking to get around between Forest Hill and West Portal, shuttles will be operating but be aware there will be delays. Contact 511 for help with your route, or NextMUNI to plan an alternate route to get around this afternoon and evening while emergency crews are at work.


I was there.


Ouch. Hope all involved are ok and not seriously injured long term. What exactly happened? was it that one train was still sitting there when another came in, or were they both moving?

It was reported on Trainorders.com, which had a link to SFGate. The reader comments on SFGate indicated that many of the locals do not hold Muni operators in high esteem. It seems they are like many other types of employees, where you have mostly good ones, but a noticeable number who shouldn't be running anything larger than a moped. There were also many who thought that the union goes out of its way to shield incompetent operators to the detriment of safety and service to the public.

@davistrain: you can say that again. The many really awesome, professional, hard working drivers get squat from their union leadership, who always goes to bat for the few who cause all the problems - bad attitude, bad work ethic, absenteeism and so on.

It really sucks because you see so many people who are great and yet you can read comments from the troublemaker union people who troll here and literally say things like "if you don't like it get a damn car."

Irwin Lum can go frak himself and it's just too bad the many good ones haven't revolted for their benefit and ours against this kind of crapola. Union labor is supposed to be high-quality professionalism rewarded well, not featherbedding bullshit.

Anyone have any idea of what might be behind this? Normally in that section, wouldn't the L have been under ATCS control? The K would probably be switching to manual mode. How does all that stuff actually work anyway, and what kind of fallbacks are there if automatic control fails?

@greg I don't buy that the majority are good let alone great. I'm sure morale is low (and that cleaning house would be a great start at boosting morale), but if there were that many *good* employees why have they all let Irwin Lum represent them? From firsthand experience, the best I see on a regular basis is simply doing what I'd consider the bare minimum. Riding pretty much any other transit system you'll see drivers who go way beyond what the MUNI drivers do on a regular basis.

@mouse yes/no. In theory they should be in auto mode, in practice it's very common to take them out of auto mode in order to get the train to the platform. In theory even in manual mode the trains should be limited to 30mph tops(!) on that stretch of track. In practice 30mph is enough to do a significant amount of damage to passengers and LRVs (look at the damage Mr. Bradley Bradley caused).

@bob The TWU absolutely goes out of its way to defend poor drivers. Mr. Bradley Bradley is a great example. He was on his phone when he ran his train into another parked train. He was going well in excess of the 5mph speed limit. He didn't bother checking on passengers (the video from the train shows his callous behaviour). The union defended him until it became quite obvious how unacceptable his behaviour was. This was not his first avoidable "accident".

Contrast this with the MBTA wreck where the driver (Aiden Quinn) was also using his phone. Management proposed a zero-tolerance policy (altho zero-tolerance policies are generally bad ideas), and the union boss (initially) supported the cell phone ban. Granted, I think that the MBTA ban is draconion and poorly thought out... but take a look at how the union has not once condoned Quinn's behaviour. San Francisco's TWU Local 250A is out of touch with reality and is a large part of the reason that MUNI employees get such a bad rap.

Muni is not the worst transit system in the country, not by far. It's just the most complained about. You San Franciscans are a bunch of ungrateful whiners. Now, that's not to say that Muni doesn't have its issues, but what system doesn't? Boston has much the same problems with drivers, especially drivers who decide they don't feel like showing up. And unlike in SF, a missed run can mean waiting another 40 minutes sometimes (on top of the 40 minutes ave already waited for the bus). And of course there's the incompetence that allowed that texting trolley driver to get hired, and keep his job until it resulted in serious damage.

The main problem is not Irwin Lum, it is Nathaniel Ford. NOT even a single operator likes him. If you want to increase morale, you need to get rid of the dead weight on top.


You've clearly never been a frequent rider of Muni, otherwise you -would- know that sometimes a missed run can mean waiting another 40 minutes.

Irwin Lum has been sheparding the union masses for longer than Natty Tatty Ford has been around. A lack of rational leadership for the unions is absolutely going to have a negative impact on pretty much everything at MUNI. I'm not a huge fan of Ford, but as long as toolbags like Lum rabidly defend the rotten apples nothing will improve.

@mouse Missed runs will absolutely result in 40+ minute headways. I waited for about an hour for a 28 *in any direction* on the 3rd. As usual, nobody at 311 had any idea what was going on. Any SFSU student who's ever had to rely on the 28 or 29 can attest to how horrible things get (crowding, skipped stops, increased dwell times leading to late runs, etc) with only one missed run.

I just got back from a few weeks in London. Guess what. Line and station closures, signaling problems... those aren't uncommon on the tube. As you've pointed out every system has its issues. The difference is in how they're handled.

However, London drivers handled the situations with grace and aplomb, communicating clearly and effectively to the riders what was going on. Late nite buses? Didn't skip stops like every L-OWL I've ever been on does. Not one driver stopped off at a kebab shop while I was there.

The MTA is held to a low standard of service, and San Franciscans ought to whine.

Hey guess what, you're lucky to even have late night service. In Boston, there's no overnight service. At all. Out past 1 am? Too bad. Take a cab. In London, closing a tube station is such a common occurrence that they have special signs already in the station to inform the train operators. As I said, every transit system has its issues and daily frustrations, Muni maybe more so than some others. But whining about how awful Muni is doesn't get you anywhere. Fortunately, we have blogs such as this where we can focus our complaints into concrete suggestions for making Muni better. In this case, I suggest taking an honest look into why drivers switch to manual mode before West Portal. Is it so they can double-berth their trains at the station?Is it because ATCS fails and they have no other way to keep the service moving? Is there some way that ATCS can be made better?

It was definitely not an ATS issue. The driver was passed out and ATS wouldn't have been on at that point.

crzwdjk: yes, station closures are amazingly frequent in London. Guess what tho? They disburse this info to riders in a very comprehensible manner. This is perhaps my number one complaint about MUNI. Their communication with the public is so terse and obtuse they might as well not say anything. In theory this should be easy enough to remedy. Initially it looked as if Natty Tatty Ford was rather interested in communicating with the public, but, sadly, it looks as if Maggie and Judson have kept him in check.

London also has the advantage of actual redundancy in the system. Relying on a subway with only two tracks makes for a lot of delays.

As for ATCS, double berthing is one of the most needed features. Supposedly double berthing is on the MTA's list of things to add to the train control software. I wouldn't hold my breath. If you look at the current SelTrac promo literature they've taken out nearly every reference to MUNI or Docklands Light Rail (they do mention the Piccadilly line... which was held up the last time I took it because of signaling problems...).

I'm assuming you're not a frequent user of West Portal. That intersection is a nightmare. Trains are delayed by automobile traffic quite a bit. Thus, what often happens is that a train will pull nearly out of the station and wait for a clear intersection. And wait. And wait. Because you can't double berth with the ATCS, drivers have to go into cutout mode to enter the station. If they didn't, the subway would get even more backed up at peak hours.

Sometimes, even without a train at the station, you've gotta put it into cutout mode to enter.

Why am I so cynical? Rescue MUNI has been rallying for West Portal improvements like a traffic signal for years and years. West Portal has been ripped up once in the time I've been out in the Parkside. Trains didn't become quieter, and no actual improvements were made.

Many times I've proposed either getting an MTA staffer to direct traffic out there (hey they do it at 1st and Mission EVERY DAY despite having traffic signals there) or making the intersection right turn only (or car free).

There are lots of things you could do to improve the system, but given how many tens of millions of dollars were spent, and how many good suggestions were ignored I won't hold my breath.

I'm amused that someone thinks reader comments on SFGate are representative of anything other than the views of curmudgeons who, if their children weren't around to help them log on to the internets, would be yelling at their morning paper instead of typing comments in ALL CAPS.

That said -- not a fan of the Muni union or Irwin Lum. Unlike Nat Ford, who seems to want (a) Muni's success, and (b) to loudly take credit for it, Lum seems to have no interest in making the transit system good for its users.

It's really not good that the ATCS system is such that there's a mode that lets you go faster than 10-15 mph, without ATCS supervision, and without having to break some kind of seal which, if found to be broken without authorization or a very good reason, will result in immediate dismissal. I can see the need to let you move a train without ATCS supervision at restricted speed, but this should still be a rare occurrence, and the speed should be kept low.

My understanding (from postings here and on Trainorders.com) is that when the trains leave the tunnel, they leave the ATCS system, thus the cars have to be set to "manual" every time they come out of the portal. One question that I raised, that hasn't been answered on "TO", was, do Breda LRV's have a so-called "dead man control" that is supposed to stop the train if the operator becomes incapacitated? The PCC's have a pedal that must be kept depressed when the car is moving, or the emergency brake applies. Back about 90 years ago, the system used on Birney cars, and many other streetcars, required the controller handle be held down when the brakes were released, or the brakes would apply, and a pneumatic cylinder would open the motor circuit breaker. Many Pacific Electric interurban cars had controllers that would spring back to "off" and apply the brakes if the handle were released while the car was running. Railroad locomotives have electronic devices that stop the train if the engineer doesn't acknowledge a warning signal promptly.

@mouse: no dice. Leaving the tunnel you do indeed go into "street mode", but that block is still considered occupied. Vehicles behind that in auto mode won't advance into the station until the previous train is completely out of the station. This absolutely drives me nuts. The lack of double berthing slows the whole system down dramatically.

Late night monday, my train was held up at Forest Hill by central control for about a minute because of "delays". Last night on my way home from work, it took six minutes to get from the signal before West Portal to Ulloa street. Why? Because they're no longer allowing drivers to go into manual mode and double berth.

If it's unsafe for this driver to run his train in manual mode on a dedicated right of way where the only thing he's contending with are other LRVs going in the same direction, why the hell is it considered safe for him to run his train in manual mode on the street in a shared right of way??

Think back to 1997 when a MUNI operator derailed his three car train and dragged the last car 800 feet while it demolished wheelchair ramps and other property. A runaway train would have been much worse had it happened on West Portal or Ulloa. https://ntsb.gov/recs/letters/1997/R97_47.pdf

In theory it's possible to go into "driver controls speed and braking but the computer system enforces a speed limit" mode. If you watch the little display in the cab, that speed limit is 30mph at West Portal station. Why they haven't picked a lower limit, I don't know.

Aha, I think I get it now. When a train leaves the ATCS system, ATCS reverts to some kind of track circuit based system for train detection, and thus following trains only get movement authority up to the start of the occupied track circuit. Which in this case extends the whole length of the West Portal platform. Thus, the following train can't enter the platform if the preceding train has switched to manual but hasn't left yet. But presumably it can double-berth if it follows very closely and gets to the platform before the leader drops out of ATCS. That's kind of a silly arrangement if you ask me. Ideally, on the transition out of ATCS control, there should be two states: first, the train gets unlimited movement authority (or whatever current street mode does), and only once it runs past the end of the inductive loop does it stop reporting its position to ATCS. Of course, the train would have to be controlled manually under ATCS supervision through this transition: a train in Auto mode should just stop at the end of the ATCS zone. This requires a mode where ATCS is limiting the movement authority of the train but not actually driving it, which is more or less how normal ATC systems work in systems where trains are driven manually.

As for "if it isn't safe to run on dedicated ROW in manual mode, why is it safe on the street?", well, the answer is quite simple: speed and visibility. You can't necessarily see very far in a tunnel, especially if it's curved, but even if it isn't, it's much harder to judge distance to a pair of dim taillights somewhere off in the distance. Plus, in subways, you can go much faster if you're not constrained by having to stop within the range of vision. Indeed, elevated rapid transit railways in places like Chicago and NYC didn't have block signals except in areas around sharp curves, but did have them in underground sections without exception.

@mouse: it's a freaking moving block system. When the train moves, so does the block. There's zero reason why it shouldn't be able to double berth. Especially a 1 + 2 car train at West Portal... As-is it doesn't allow double berthing. The first train will move up to the end of ATCS and offboard passengers. The following trains wait at the signal (even if the first train is still in auto).

As for visibility on the street, consider that West Portal is very busy with cars and pedestrians, and Ulloa is, what, 1/4 mile uphill before the track makes a 90 degree turn? The following vehicle was an L, if the driver had indeed passed out on Ulloa... the train would have been going closer to 50 than 25, one of the cars would have derailed at that turn and the results would have been much, much worse.

When you're talking about visibility in West Portal station, consider that one end of the station is the intersection of West Portal & Ulloa. Plenty of light, plenty of visibility. I'll take that over the fog of the outer sunset any day.

Alex: let's move the discussion over to the July 22 comment thread.

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