Trains sidelined over cracks, Philly commuters crowd aboard

2016-07-05 16:57


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Philadelphia - Rail commuters were forced to cope with delayed, packed and fewer trains on Tuesday after the region's main transit agency sidelined one-third of its railroad cars over a structural problem.

To adjust to the reduced service, many commuters set their alarm clocks up to an hour earlier so they could still make it to work on time. Others switched to the bus or other means of transportation.

"It made it difficult to get in after a long weekend. It was more crowded," said Lynne Suher, who left home 40 minutes earlier than normal for her ride to the city from the suburbs. "But it seems like some people have off this week because of the holiday so we'll see how bad it gets."

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

The agency also made thousands of free parking spots available to encourage suburbanites to drive to some major subway stops and skip the regional trains altogether. Major city employers also opened up more parking.

Marshall Walthew usually takes a train to the city from Ardmore, but switched to a bus Tuesday, leaving his home early to account for the slower ride. He said things went smoothly.

"I think it'll iron itself out," Walthew said. "It won't be pleasant, but it will work."

SEPTA took all its 120 Silverliner V cars out of service on Friday after finding a fractured beam on one car and fatigue cracks on almost all other cars. The cars are the newest in the agency's rail fleet, but it still uses older equipment.

"It was very frustrating to hear," Walthew said. "They're beautiful cars - some of the nicest in the system."

The agency usually transports about 65 000 riders each way per day. With 13 000 fewer seats, the trains will probably be able to carry only 35 000 to 40 000 people, SEPTA officials said.

Trains were put on a modified on Saturday schedule until further notice with additional rush-hour service, said Ron Hopkins, SEPTA's assistant general manager for operations.

Delays early on Tuesday morning were ranging from a few minutes to over a half-hour.

But as rush hour got underway, SEPTA spokesperson Heather Redfern said that overall, "so far, so good".

Because it was the day after a holiday, demand was not as great as on a typical workday. Still, commuters said seats were hard to find.

SEPTA encouraged people to get on earlier trains or take trains after rush hour. Amtrak also is increasing capacity on its Keystone line to Harrisburg, which runs through some western suburbs. Subway lines will be operated at peak service levels.

The transit agency hopes to be able to return Silverliner V cars to service 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, but those problems were addressed and reliability of the cars has been good, Hopkins said.

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