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July 08, 2016

SEPTA: It's 'unlikely' trains can be repaired; new modified schedule to be released Sunday

Transportation authority set to add 1,700 passenger seats using trains leased from Amtrak, New Jersey, Maryland

Transportation SEPTA
SEPTA Regional Rail Silverliner V John Kopp/PhillyVoice file photo

SEPTA Regional Rail passengers board a train at Jefferson Station.

It is "unlikely" that the cracked equalizer beams on the 120 Silverliner V train cars SEPTA pulled from its tracks can be repaired, SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel announced Friday. 

"The problem is very substantial," Knueppel said. "More and more it appears that a repair that might be faster is not looking possible. I'm not ruling it out yet, but given the magnitude of the problems and the types of things that are being evaluated, it suggests that a repair is not going to be possible."

To mitigate the impact felt by passengers, SEPTA will lease train cars and locomotives from Amtrak, New Jersey Transit and Maryland Area Regional Commuter train service. Yet, Knueppel said the "significant service impact" being felt by Regional Rail passengers will persist at least through Labor Day.

"It could go longer, but it's early," Knueppel said. "This is one week. We're moving on a lot of different fronts."

SEPTA also will unveil a modified service schedule on Sunday which could provide some consistency following a week of rescheduled and delayed Regional Rail service. 

The announcements followed a hectic week for passengers caused by the loss of SEPTA's entire Silverliner V fleet. Pulling 120 cars reduced Regional Rail capacity by about one-third, forcing some passengers to consider other options.

Ridership increased by 2.5 percent on the Broad Street and Market-Frankford lines compared to the previous week. Additional train cars were added to the Norristown High Speed and Media-Sharon Hill lines.

But for many passengers, Regional Rail remains the best option. And it doesn't appear the impact will be lessening soon.

Of the 120 Silverliner V cars, only five did not have any cracks to their suspension systems. Of the 240 suspension trucks – there are two per car – only 37 did not have any cracks. More than half of the 480 equalizer beams – there are four per car – had cracks.

SEPTA and Hyundai-Rotem, the manufacturer of the Silverliner V fleet, continues to inspect the cars, Knueppel said. They are conducting metallurgical tests to determine the cause of the cracking, but also comprehensive computer modeling – a finite element analysis.

"It really will be a very big moment when everyone agrees as to what were the causes," Knueppel said. "Then we will be able to see whether we can do a repair, although it looks unlikely."

If a repair is not possible, the parts will need replaced. Hyundai-Rotem already has located the necessary high-strength steel. Various consultants and engineers are working to create a replacement design. 

But SEPTA is still examining the cost of any repairs, which would then be weighed against the cost of replacing the parts. Including refunds and credits, Knueppel said the cost will total millions of dollars.

"We can't make the decision about whether you can do a repair if you don't know the cost," Knueppel said. "That's what's being worked on very, very heavily right now."

In the meantime, SEPTA has agreed to lease two locomotives and five passenger cars from Amtrak, one locomotive and eight passenger cars from NJ Transit and five passenger cars from MARC. The leased trains will combine to form three additional train sets containing about 1,700 seats.

That will help provide about 1,440 additional seats on trains running between Glenside and 30th Street Station, the Regional Rail stretch that experienced the most "pass-ups" during the week. When trains reached capacity, they would bypass stations until reaching Center City, leaving passengers on the platforms.

An additional 300 seats will be available on the Trenton Line, thanks to 12 Silverliner IV cars being replaced with leased vehicles. SEPTA also is adding three Bryn Mawr local trains on the Paoli/Thorndale Line and a set of leased vehicles.  

"It should help us fix up some of the problems that we had this week," Knueppel said. "By putting the leased trains out on some of the other lines, it freed up cars to be able to handle the other service." 

SEPTA continues to scour the country for additional rail cars, Knueppel said. It also is evaluating express busing options within the city.

The new interim schedule will begin Monday. Full details will be available online on Sunday, but Knueppel announced the first train out of Doylestown on the Lansdale/Doylestown Line will begin earlier. 

Additional service also will be provided between Center City and Glenside on the Lansdale/Doylestown and West Trenton/Warminster lines.

SEPTA will operate its standard Saturday and Sunday schedules this weekend.