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San Francisco’s $1.6BN new subway has been delayed by COVID-19

Dan Cortese

19 November 2020


THE planned extension of San Francisco’s light railway network under the city’s downtown district has been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $1.6BN project will include 2.7 kilometres of new rail, extending the current Muni Metro T Third Line under South of Market (SoMa), Union Square and Chinatown.

Originally scheduled to complete in December 2020, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has said in a press release that they have been forced to push that date back to Spring 2021 - meaning the public will not be able to access the railway until Spring 2022, once the SFMTA has conducted all safety tests and inspections.

Above: The planned extension of the San Francisco subway, the red line is currently under construction (image courtesy of  Mliu92

The project has been held up before. Beginning construction in 2010, unexpected ground conditions and design changes pushed the scheme back, but the pandemic has led to unprecedented complications.

An outbreak amongst workers, a shortage of materials, the implementation of COVID-safe measures on site, as well as the move to remote working have all contributed to the delay.

These challenges resonate on many other construction sites across the United States. A recent survey from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) found that more construction projects were cancelled than started in the last twelve months.

Above: More construction projects have been cancelled than started in the US this year.

More than three-quarters of contractors reported having a project postponed or cancelled, while only 23 percent had started work on a new project.

More than 78 percent of respondents said sites they were already working on before the pandemic hit were experiencing major delays.

Like the San Francisco line, the delays have been caused by a global shortage of materials (42 percent of sites reported this as the main reason), as well as a shortage of craftworkers and subcontractors.

The SFMTA had to suspend all light rail operations in April of 2020 because of COVID-19. They resumed on 22 August only to be forced to shut down again because of an outbreak amongst the control centre operators.


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