Trains sidelined over cracks, Philly commuters crowd aboard

PHILADELPHIA – Rail commuters were forced to cope with delayed, packed and fewer trains 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 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 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.

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 Saturday schedule until further notice with additional rush-hour service, said Ron Hopkins, SEPTA’s assistant general manager for operations.

At least one other transit authority has begun inspecting its rail cars.

Denver’s train airport service uses cars similar to Philadelphia’s Silverliner V that are also produced by South Korean manufacturer Hyundai Rotem Co.

The newer cars are about 5,000 pounds lighter and have a different weight distribution. Regional Transportation District spokesman Scott Reed said Tuesday that the cars are being inspected as a precaution but won’t be pulled from service.

Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said it has 75 Hyundai Rotem bi-level commuter rail coaches that are inspected regularly. But the cars, which are much different from Philadelphia’s version, are performing well.

Delays in Philadelphia Tuesday morning ranged from a few minutes to over a half-hour.

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.

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.


Associated Press writer Ron Todt contributed to this report.