By MEGAN TRIMBLE
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- The Philadelphia area's main transit agency expects to begin returning some of its sidelined commuter rail cars to service at the end of the month.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority placed a third of the coaches in its regional system out of service just before the Fourth of July weekend after defects were found in a majority of the fleet's suspension systems. There was a fractured beam on one car and fatigue cracks on almost all the other cars.
Agency officials are now testing out two types of replacement beams for the cars, Jeff Knueppel, SEPTA's general manager, said Wednesday. Transit officials view the testing as the only "major hurdle to clear" as they look to return some of the cars by Labor Day and thereafter.
"September is very much a transition month," he said.
The Silverliner V cars will be phased back into use 10 at a time. The transit agency expects to return the full fleet to service by the week of Nov. 6.
Knueppel said SEPTA would like to secure beams that last up to 50 years. SEPTA and South Korean manufacturer Hyundai Rotem are expected to finalize the design of the replacement beams by Friday.
The fatigue cracks can be attributed to a combination of design and manufacturing missteps, said Andy Hyer, a Hyundai Rotem spokesman. The group will replace the beams, but the manufacturer will not contract with the same company that produced the Silverliner V beams.
Hyer said the company is conducting an investigation into the previous manufacturing work. He did not have a grand total cost on Wednesday for the company's manufacture and testing of the new beams.
"We've just been moving at lightning speed," he said.
In the interim, Knueppel said the flaw has costed SEPTA well over $1 million a month in equipment rental fees, customers' refunded monthly fares, consulting costs and overtime payments. It's not yet decided if SEPTA would pursue future legal action, Knueppel said.
The rail system linking Philadelphia and its suburbs has seen between a 10 and 20 percent drop in ridership compared to last year. SEPTA has tried to partially remedy commuter woes by leasing coaches from Maryland and New Jersey transit services and Amtrak.
The agency is putting its previously planned procurement of new, bi-level cars on hold and won't instill fare increases any time soon, Knueppel said.