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Central Subway: Here’s when you can finally ride—for free!

Jeffrey Tumlin, director of transportation, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, left, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and San Francisco Mayor London Breed, not pictured, tour San Francisco’s long-delayed Central Subway project on Wednesday, September 8, 2022, in San Francisco, Calif. | Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle/POOL

San Francisco’s overdue and over-budget Central Subway line is set to have a “soft” opening—and you’ll be able to ride the train for free.

The long-awaited light-rail route connecting SoMa, Union Square and Chinatown will finally open to the public on November 19. It will remain open for free weekend-only services until the end of the year. 

A full seven-day service has been touted to open by January 2023, according to city transit boss Jeffrey Tumlin, who claims the full service will begin in time for the Lunar New Year on Jan. 22, next year.

Tumlin announced the soft opening date at the agency’s board meeting Tuesday.

“I know this announcement has been a long time coming, and I want to thank the community members and neighborhood businesses that have endured far too many years of construction,” said SFMTA director Tumlin. “I hope the opening of the Central Subway will help jumpstart the economic recovery of our city’s downtown as well as its unique neighborhoods.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, and Jeffrey Tumlin, SFMTA director of transportation, tour San Francisco's long-delayed Central Subway project. | Yalonda M. James/The San Francisco Chronicle/POOL

It comes just two weeks after a high-profile visit to the project from U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The highly anticipated project was meant to open in 2018 but was hit with constant delays and spiraling costs due to construction issues, a fire and contract disputes, drawing huge outrage from the public, especially Chinatown’s small business community.

But community leaders are supportive of the plans and want the line to open as soon as possible. 

“The November 19 opening is a culmination of 25 years of advocacy from the grassroots to the grasstops,” Malcolm Young of the Chinatown Community Development Center said in a statement. “This project means more than just a subway line for Chinatown.”

The Chinatown-Rose Pak Station bears the name of the community leader and City Hall powerbroker who fought for the project. Pak passed away in 2016.

The other three stations connected to the 1.7-mile railway are 4th and Brannan, Yerba Buena/ Moscone, and Union Square/Market Street, where passengers can make transfers to BART.

Han Li can be reached at