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S.F. Cable Car Repair Costs Could Climb Halfway to Stars

April 11, 1985|MARK A. STEIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Despite city claims last summer that its legendary cable cars had been restored "on time and on budget," the man in charge of the project said Wednesday that the job is $5.5 million over budget and still unfinished.

Lynn Pio, manager of the rehabilitation effort, confirmed published reports that certain parts of the 67-block-long network are breaking down faster than expected and that a system of cable car traffic signals has not worked correctly.

However, he denied accusations by unidentified employees, who were interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle, that the problems make the cable cars unsafe.

"We do have some problems with the system," Pio said, "but the major impact is on maintenance. It's a real maintenance burden, but it is in no way a safety problem."

The project, originally budgeted at $58.2 million, has already cost $63.7 million and Pio said "there definitely will be additional costs" to deal with current problems.

"What those costs will be, I don't know," he said, "but it's not going to be cheap."

The cable cars resumed service June 21, in time for the Democratic National Convention, after a complete reconstruction of the system that took two years.

One problem is the unexpected failure of small devices called "depression beams," which keep the cable properly aligned in the thin slots that course up and down the streets on some of the city's steepest hills.

The other major concern is the city's inability to develop a workable set of signals at the system's two busiest intersections, atop Nob Hill and at the car barn where giant motors tug the cables.

Pio said he is uncertain how long it will take to correct either problem.

Signaling presents a particularly difficult challenge because city workers "have never had to deal with anything this complex," he said.

"You are not only dealing with automobiles at a busy intersection," he explained, "you also have cable cars going in four directions at once."

Until a solution is found, he added, traffic will continue to be managed as it has been since cable cars first took to the streets a century ago--by hand.

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