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August 03, 2016

SEPTA sees Regional Rail schedules returning to normal in October

Later this month, SilverLiner Vs will begin returning to service

Transportation Regional Rail
07052016_SilverlinerV_ChestnutHillWest_wiki John Corbett/via Wikimedia

Regional Rail service will begin returning to normal later this month, SEPTA announced Wednesday.

But resumption of regular weekday schedules isn't anticipated until early October. 

According to Jeffrey Knueppel, SEPTA's general manager, final testing is continuing on two new designs for equalizer bars — the malfunctioning parts found to have cracks – which led to the removal of 120 SilverLiner V trains from service earlier this summer. Once a new design for the stabilizer bars is selected, the trains' manufacturer, Hyundai Rotem, will make repair the trains. 

SEPTA plans to return about 10 SilverLiner V cars to service weekly, starting the week of Aug. 21.

Knueppel said he believes all of the railcars should be carrying passengers again by Nov. 6, but added they could be return to service more quickly if the rollout goes smoothly. 

"How long it will take to get the last car done is a little bit of speculation right now," he said. 

Neither Knueppel nor Andy Hyer, a Hyundai Rotem spokesperson, knew the final cost to repair the railcars because a final design for the equalizer beams has yet to be selected. 

The beams, part of a train's stabilization system, were found to have cracks caused by fatigue in early July. Two new designs for replacement are under consideration: one secured by weld and the other by bolt. 

Asked why SEPTA would even consider the welded beams – the faulty beams were welded – Knueppel said that proper design would ensure failure doesn't happen again. 

SEPTA's monthly cost from the equipment failure includes revenue that has evaporated due to the loss of between 10 and 20 percent of its Regional Rail ridership.

The alternative to the welded beams, a bolted beam, could prove heavier. 

SEPTA is expected to make a final design decision on the new equalizer beams by Aug. 5. 

"All we know is that there shouldn't be concern that there will be cracking again, at least not early on in the beam's life," he said. 

Kneuppel said he is hoping the testing will ensure a lifespan of 40 to 50 years for the replacement equalizer bars. 

Using testing equipment that can simulate loads "millions of times in a short period of time," Knueppel said. 

Kneuppel emphasized that while the replacement parts will be constructed of material similar to the damaged beams, they will be provided by a new vendor, PennFab Inc., a metal fabrication company in Bensalem, Bucks County. The beams that malfunctioned were produced by Columbus Castings in Ohio. 


The fatigue cracks in the barely three-year-old equalizer beams on the SilverLiner Vs apparently were caused by a combination of design and manufacturing issues, Kneuppel said. 

"When you couple the two together, you have a problem," he said. 

The beams' initial design "created what we would call a stress raiser," meaning the design put additional stress onto the beam, Kneuppel said. In their manufacture, they were bevelled to fit into the train suspension systems. 

The combination of factors could have caused the cracks, Knueppel said.

"This particular design was very prone to have equalizer issues," said Knueppel. "But that's hindsight knowing what we know now." 

Asked if he was being intentionally vague over the cause of the cracks because of the legal issues that may arise, Knueppel demurred. 

"The lawyers will be busy," he joked.

SEPTA has leased trains from outside transit agencies in order to help bolster service on the Regional Rail system. According to Knueppel, the problem is costing SEPTA about $1 million a month, including leasing costs (about $600,000 monthly), customer refunds ($235,000 in July) and other expenses. 

Figured into that monthly cost is revenue that has evaporated due to the loss of between 10 and 20 percent of its Regional Rail ridership.

But SEPTA will not pass any related costs onto customers, said Kneuppel, who added he believes its contract with Hyundai Rotem would cover the costs incurred to get the railcars back on the tracks. 

"There's a lot of language in there that will protect us," he said of the contract.