A Muni bus drives through the Noe Valley neighborhood. (Photo via Josh Wilburne/Unsplash)

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency director of transportation Jeffrey Tumlin on Tuesday said although the agency is facing challenges with the Muni rail service, having shut down all rail service the previous night, the agency’s bus system is thriving.

Muni Metro rail service had resumed on Saturday after shutting down back in April due to COVID-19, but late Monday the agency announced it was discontinuing service for several weeks after two splices in the subway overhead wire failed and someone within the agency’s Transportation Management Center tested positive for COVID-19.

As a result, starting Tuesday all rail service has been replaced with bus service.

“We’ve been running an all-bus system since April, and as it turns out, that’s the best decision we have made. It’s enabled us to deal with everything that COVID-19 has been throwing at us,” Tumlin said. “We’ve been able to provide an extraordinarily high level of service, particularly on our key lines.”

Currently Muni is running key lines with “greater reliability and greater frequency than ever in Muni’s history,” Tumlin said, adding, “We are very proud of that, and frankly, we couldn’t have delivered as quality as a transit system if we hadn’t shut down rail.”

Muni’s operations and communications staff stayed up all night in order to rebuild Muni’s bus schedule for the third time since April, just in time for Tuesday morning.

“I can’t believe we were able to deliver as good as service as we did this morning. All of our lines were operating fully. Most of them were operating at a pretty good headway, that is frankly way beyond my expectations,” he said.

Tumlin said with all Muni Metro service shut down, operators will now be able to replace more splices along the overhead wire, ensuring better service in the future.

“What we suspect is that the overhead wire was operating fine when service wasn’t testing but once we restarted the entire rail system and put all the trains out there on the tracks, that it increased the tension in the line and that most likely is what caused the two splices to fail,” he said.

“In any case, what it made very clear to us is that even if there are multiple sources to the problem, we have a critical problem with these particular splices and they do need to be replaced and we finally have a mechanism to be able to replace them. If it weren’t for the fact that we had those two significant failures simultaneously, we might’ve decided to keep running the rail system, but with the COVID-19 positive test the choice was really clear,” he said.

In response to the positive test result, other controllers in Muni’s Transportation Management Center have been placed under quarantine.

In addition, amid the rail closure, rail operators have been reassigned to other duties like operating buses and assisting with outreach efforts to notify passengers about the changes.

Muni estimates about 150,000 essential workers rely on Muni daily.

Details about how the closures are affecting various lines can be found at https://www.sfmta.com/travel-updates/bus-substitution-all-rail-lines.