Many San Francisco residents may remember a tragic 2009 MUNI accident in which 46 passengers and two train operators were injured at the city’s West Portal station. The incident occurred in July when an incoming train failed to stop correctly and proceeded to crash into another light rail vehicle already parked at the station.
New evidence in this case reveals that the driver of the runaway MUNI train had blacked out seconds before the collision. Before the driver lost consciousness, however, he turned off the vehicle’s automatic brake system created to prevent such an accident from occurring. The National Transportation Safety Board has concluded that both driver and the MUNI organization as a whole share responsibility for this train accident.
When questioned as to why he turned off the automatic braking controls before entering West Portal station, the driver told investigators that it was a common tactic used by MUNI drivers to ease the train’s approach to the platform. Official MUNI policy states that all drivers must contact the organization’s control center and ask for permission to turn off the automatic brakes, yet several MUNI employees confirmed that this policy was rarely enforced.
After the 2009 accident, MUNI leadership began forming stricter rules around this issue and even threatened to fire operators who failed to follow the official guidelines before turning off a train’s automatic brakes. Findings from the National Transportation Safety Board indicate that if MUNI had adopted this attitude in 2009 that summer’s serious accident may never have occurred.