PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The transit agency serving Philadelphia and its suburbs urged commuters around the region on Monday to consider subway and other transit options now that a third of its regional rail cars have been sidelined by a structural problem.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority took all 120 Silverliner V cars out of service Friday night after finding a fractured beam on one car and fatigue cracks on almost all the other cars.
Ron Hopkins, SEPTA assistant general manager for operations, said trains will run on a Saturday schedule until further notice with additional rush-hour service. But he said with 13,000 fewer seats, service on lines will be reduced by 30 percent to 50 percent.
"Not everybody is going to see anywhere close to their regular levels of frequency," Hopkins said.
Regional rail usually transports about 65,000 riders each way per day. With the reduction in seats, the trains will probably only be able to carry 35,000 to 40,000 people, Hopkins said.
To help offset the loss of the damaged cars, SEPTA is pulling in older cars and expanding the capacity of each train by adding cars.
"Losing 13,000 seats is quite substantial, so we want to get the message out there to be flexible with your time, and if you have the ability to telecommute, that's always a great option."
SEPTA said commuters will still have plenty of options, and officials are expanding bus and city and suburban trolley service and keeping city subway lines at peak service levels.
"We really are encouraging people to get to our subways," he said. "Our subways move every four to five minutes, and the only delay that you would have to add to your travel would be driving to a different location than going to your normal train stop."
SEPTA is trying to increase parking options along those routes by arranging for free parking at two large lots in South Philadelphia and waiving some parking fees. The agency is also working with city, county, school and other entities to try to arrange for more parking along other transit routes.
SEPTA is also encouraging people to get on earlier trains or take trains after rush hour. And since trains will be most crowded the closer they get to Center City, some commuters, Hopkins suggested, might consider going "outbound to come inbound."
The company will be working to supplement bus routes, and Amtrak is helping increase capacity on its Keystone line to Harrisburg, Hopkins said. The company 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.