Philly riders face crowds after train cars pulled

Ron Todt
Associated Press

Philadelphia — Rail commuters found fewer trains on the tracks and dealt with many delays, because the region’s main transit agency has sidelined one-third of its railroad cars over a structural problem.

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority bolstered bus and trolley service and urged people to think about other options on Tuesday, the first business day since the problem was discovered Friday night.

SEPTA took all its 120 Silverliner V cars out of service Friday after finding a fractured beam on one car and fatigue cracks on almost all other cars.

Trains will run on a Saturday schedule until further notice with additional rush-hour service, said Ron Hopkins, SEPTA’s assistant general manager for operations. But with 13,000 fewer seats, service on lines will be reduced by 30 percent to 50 percent, he said.

On Tuesday morning, trains were running behind schedule, with delays ranging from a few minutes to over a half-hour.

“Not everybody is going to see anywhere close to their regular levels of frequency,” Hopkins said, calling the situation “unprecedented” in his 26 years with the agency.

The agency’s regional rail service usually transports about 65,000 riders each way per day. With the reduction in seats, the trains will probably be able to carry only 35,000 to 40,000 people, Hopkins said.

SEPTA said commuters will still have plenty of options. Officials expanded bus and city and suburban trolley service and planned to keep city subway lines at peak service levels. It’s trying to increase parking options and will waive some parking fees. It also was working with city, county, school and other entities to try to arrange for more parking along other transit routes.

SEPTA encouraged people to get on earlier trains or take trains after rush hour. It will be working to supplement bus routes, and Amtrak is helping increase capacity on its Keystone line to Harrisburg, Hopkins said.

It hopes to be able to return Silverliner V cars through the summer and is trying to lease equipment from New Jersey Transit or Amtrak and add bus options.

Only five of the 120 cars were found to be without problems, and while it’s possible that parts of others can be used to return cars to service, more extensive tests are needed to determine whether that can be done, Hopkins said.

SEPTA is consulting with engineers to determine whether the Silverliner V beam cracks can be welded or whether all beams will have to be replaced. The Silverliner V cars have had other problems since being put into service in 2010, those problems were addressed and reliability of the cars has been good, Hopkins said.