PHILADELPHIA (WTXF/AP) - SEPTA reports the temporary shortage of Market-Frankford rail cars that started Monday morning will be improving for commuters, starting with Monday night’s rush hour.
The problem was discovered over the weekend and announced after 5pm Sunday. Cracks were found in the support beams of two cars during regularly scheduled vehicle overhaul work.
With little time to prepare and inform during the Super Bowl, SEPTA called Monday morning’s service “reasonable.” There were 16 trains running instead of the usual 24. Monday night, there will be 18. To put it another way, there are 218 cars and 108 will be running by Monday night. A SEPTA spokesman had said 144 cars are needed for peak-level service.
The transit agency was prepared for a much worse Monday morning rush. It admits on this one day, people may have skipped work after the Super Bowl and others may have stayed away due to fear.
FOX 29's Sabina Kuriakose reported seeing confusion at the line's western terminal, 69th Street Station in Upper Darby, Pa. Surprised commuters watching the Super Bowl were either caught by surprise or found out by watching the morning news. Riders reported trains were more crowded than usual, early Monday, but did not report major problems.
It will continue to take rush hour trains more than the usual 10 minutes to arrive. Also, express A/B stop service will be suspended, so all trains will make all stops. FOX 29’s Bob Kelly reports the longer gap between trains and fewer cars on the trains will lead to more crowded platforms and trains.
That’s why SEPTA has been using supplemental shuttle buses along the Market-Frankford route, like it does during Night Owl service. They will continue to be used during the peak hours of 6-10am and 3-7pm, until there is an adequate number of trains. Monday morning, commuters were moved onto 8 buses.
Luckily, SEPTA says there is a large fleet of Market-Frankford train cars and extra parts, so this situation is much better than if the same thing had happened with one of the agency’s other fleets.
First, a crack was found on a main load-carrying beam. Then, the other Market-Frankford train cars were inspected and cracks were found in two other cars. After that, SEPTA removed other vehicles that had indications of possible cracks.
Now, every train car running has passed inspection and been cleared to remain in service. More cars will continue to be added as repairs and inspections progress. The cars have been in service since the late 1990s.
There have been 58 cars found to have vent box cracks, which can be seen, and SEPTA is investigating whether the cracks traveled to the car body bolsters.
Fatigue cracking is a specialized science and if a vent crack is found, it may have traveled to the beam but not necessarily. That’s why crews are cutting open floors.
They can see the vent, but must cut out the section of crack and find a way to support rest of the car.
SEPTA is looking into a quick inspection method to see whether cracks that can’t be seen through vents have formed and traveled. They may be able to use x-rays in a few days.
The parts work in pairs so a problem with one part can render the whole car unusable and out of service. SEPTA has been taking married pairs apart and splitting them to make new good pairs. That way, they’re pairing up as many working parts as possible to get as many cars working on the rails.
For now, they want to keep increasing the car count until it gets to normal service, hopefully very soon. SEPTA did not give an exact date of when the problems will be fixed.
They want to know how the cracks form and travel, which is very complicated. The cracks have been happening in the highest stress area of the beams. The beams are 20+ inches and the cracks only about 8 inches. A catastrophe would not have been possible since other malfunctions, like doors not shutting, would’ve given an indication before.
Detailed third-party inspections have been going on with the Silverliner V Regional Rail fleet and the Broad Street Subway line. Next up will be the Norristown High-Speed line and then trolleys.
Cracks had never been noticed while cars were being overhauled over the years. Now, though, the engineering department will go through and check as part of its standard procedure.
SEPTA realizes it needs to restore commuter confidence.
Last summer, the agency had to take about one-third of its Regional Rail fleet out of service because of a structural defect. SEPTA had to repair its entire Silverliner V fleet due to cracks found in beams that distribute the weight of vehicles to their axles. The transit agency and the trains' manufacturer, South Korea's Hyundai Rotem, attributed the flaws to a combination of design and manufacturing missteps.
SEPTA confirmed the Market-Frankford train cars were not made by Hyundai Rotem.
SEPTA admits after the summer, commuters have many questions. However, safety is its number one priority and it’s grateful to its riders, and asking for continued patience.