Trains sidelined over cracks, Philly commuters crowd aboard

AP News
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Posted: Jul 05, 2016 6:06 PM

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Philadelphia's main transit agency is looking to lease equipment from other states after sidelining 120 regional rail cars due to structural problems that don't appear to have any quick fix.

With one-third of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority fleet out of service, commuters on Tuesday had to cope with delayed and packed trains, an issue that could worsen on Wednesday as more people return to work after the July Fourth holiday weekend, SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel said.

"It could be a little worse tomorrow," he said. "I wish I didn't feel that way, but I've got to say it."

SEPTA said cracks were discovered Friday night in beams in the suspension system on its fleet of Hyundai Rotem-made Silverliner V rail coaches. Only five of the 120 cars were found to be without problems.

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 on Tuesday. Others switched to the bus or other means of transportation.

"It made it difficult to get in after a long weekend," 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."

South Korean manufacturer Hyundai Rotem began assembling the Silverliner V cars at a South Philadelphia factory after contracting with SEPTA in 2006.

The transit union said Tuesday that the transit agency knew about the problem for at least a month. SEPTA has released the information to ensure that future work is sent to "a low bidder in China," the union said.

Knueppel disputed the claims, saying it's "premature" to say how the current issue could affect Hyundai Rotem USA Corp.'s chances as one of the three companies in the bidding process for a future project.

SEPTA has hired consultants to pinpoint the source of the problem, which Knueppel said could be a design flaw, bad materials or faulty workmanship. Hyundai Rotem spokesman Andy Hyer said the manufacturer is working "literally around the clock to get the cars back into service as soon as possible, safely and soundly."

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, said Ron Hopkins, SEPTA's assistant general manager for operations.

Denver's mass transit agency is inspecting similar Hyundai Rotem coaches used in its airport service. The newer cars are about 5,000 pounds lighter and have a different weight distribution.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which primarily uses a model of coach much different from Philadelphia's version, said it's inspecting two of its older Hyundai coaches.

Philadelphia's regional rail system typically transports about 65,000 riders each way per day. With 13,000 fewer seats, the trains carried about 35,000 to 40,000 people on Tuesday. Trains were put on a modified Saturday schedule until further notice with additional rush-hour service.

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Associated Press writer Ron Todt contributed to this report.