MUNI Lightrail

San Francisco has a bevy of transportation systems and all have their own unique sound. Off the top of my head are gas powered buses, electric buses, a lightrail system, the cable car system, the F-Market train, BART, and a few AC Transit buses coming into town. Each has its own unique aural signature. Below I have a few recordings made on the light rail system, both inside the underground stations and on the above ground tracks.

MUNI Lightrail Blog by dsteinwedel

The first section comes from Montgomery Station, in the heart of downtown. Recording in the stations is a bit tough due to constant PA announcements. (Walla is
not much of a problem as people have a deathly fear of speaking when using public transit.) However, if you explore a little bit to the very end of the platform, you’ll find utility platforms that are far enough from the PA speakers to get some clean recordings. Venturing into sections like this is can be a little risky. The utility platforms in the MUNI stations aren’t marked as non-public, but from the way the station is designed it’s clear that they are meant to be for employees only. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The train makes a smooth, ghostly sound when traveling in the underground section of the system. The trains can be heard from almost a full station away if the environment is quiet and you listen intently. I’ve used these sounds as background elements in a few games by throwing them through a delay or echo with a touch of feedback and washing the whole thing through reverb. If you want the sound to be indistinguishable, the track clacks need to be cut out first.

The second half the cue is from above ground. While these trains are smooth on a straight, even, underground rail, they are anything but when traveling around corners or on uneven pavement. This cue comes from the corner of Church and Duboce,
a heavily traveled intersection by light rail, buses, bikers, and some cars. However, it’s a decent place to try and capture due to the frequency of the trains (2 lines run through it), shelter from the wind, and the relative lack of cars. Also, since the trains completely envelop the intersection when crossing, it’s perfectly safe to cross with the train to perform tracking shots.

I used the clacking bit of the recording just yesterday as a sweetening element for a group of tanks. I needed something heavy, clunking, and metallic to go along with the chorus of treads and squeaks. This filled the hole nicely.