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Long-delayed Muni Central Subway prepares for weekend soft opening

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tours S.F. Central Subway
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tours S.F. Central Subway 02:27

SAN FRANCISCO – After years of construction, blocked streets, costly delays and a pandemic, riders will finally get a chance to catch a ride on Muni's new Central Subway beginning on Saturday.

The service extension between Chinatown and Mission Bay will begin slowly with a weekend-only soft launch, but then pick up momentum leading to full service by Jan. 7.

There are four new stations to catch the subway --  above surface at Fourth and Brannan streets, and underground at Moscone Center/Yerba Buena Gardens, Union Square and Chinatown 

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency first broke ground on the Central Subway in 2010 and received nearly $1 billion in federal funding to complete the project, with an original opening date scheduled for late 2018.

However, a series of delays including a fire earlier this year at one of the subway's stations as well as the COVID-19 pandemic pushed that timeline back roughly four years.

"As San Francisco continues to grow, the T-Third from (Visitacion Valley) to Chinatown will be the highest ridership light rail line in the city," SFMTA Transportation Director Jeffrey Tumlin told officials earlier this year.

Muni will initially run a free, weekends-only rail shuttle through the Central Subway between the Fourth and Brannon streets and Chinatown-Rose Pak stations.

The soft opening will help the agency ensure that staff are fully trained for daily operations of the subway.

Tumlin said Muni plans to open the Central Subway to full service in January to coincide with the Chinese Lunar New Year.

The Central Subway will run perpendicular to Muni's existing main subway line that is aligned with BART's downtown stations and will modify the current route of the T-Third Street Muni line.

The T line currently turns right at the intersection of Second and King streets and continues along King Street and the Embarcadero.

Once the Central Subway is open, the T line will continue straight through Second and King streets and stop at a surface station at Fourth and Brannon streets before venturing underground.

The subway includes stops at the Moscone Center and Union Square before terminating in Chinatown at the intersection of Stockton and Washington streets.

The Union Square station will also have a connecting escalator to the Powell Street Muni and BART stations.

"This line saves at least 15 minutes off the travel time from Bayview into Chinatown," Tumlin said. "This new line ensures that Chinatown will remain the cultural and economic heart of Chinese-speaking San Francisco and serves a whole array of communities."

Originally projected to be finished in 2018, a number of issues have slowed the construction process to a crawl. Below is a list of some past coverage KPIX has done on the long-delayed Central Subway.

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