SEPTA Cancels 41 Weekend Trains, Blames 'Manpower'

Late, crowded trains are not the only problems facing riders in the wake of safety concerns with SEPTA's Silverliner Vs.

FOX 29 Investigates has found sometimes the trains never arrive at all. Here is Jeff Cole's report.

SEPTA Regional Rail trains lumbering in and out of Center City at rush-hour are likely packed and running late.

"How has the experience been for you, what's it been like?" Cole asked one rider.

"Pretty stressful and aggravating, honestly. There's just been lots of delays," said Ashley Branco, of Morton.

The benching of 120 of SEPTA's newest cars - about one-third of its fleet - for safety concerns due to a structural defect has hobbled the authority. The situation has led to fewer trains and shifting schedules for riders, while many of SEPTA's operators and conductors are working longer hours and weeks.

Now, add a flood of Democrats for next week's national convention.

"And then you have the DNC that comes in the middle of all of this," SEPTA spokeswoman Carla Showell-Lee said. "We're going to be compromised."

FOX 29 Investigates has found the troubled Silverliner Vs have not just led to late trains but outright cancellations, leaving riders in the lurch, especially on weekends.

The problem can be clearly seen on SEPTA's Twitter accounts, where train after train is listed as canceled. Why? Manpower issues, not enough workers to safely run them.

In fact, from late Friday night, July 15, through Sunday night, July 17, SEPTA canceled 41 trains.

Cole: "What does SEPTA think when it has to cancel 41 trains over a weekend?"
Showell-Lee: "Oh, we have to re-adjust. I mean, it is not an easy situation to look at."
Cole: "But is it it troublesome? Are you worried about that? Are you concerned by it?"
Showell-Lee: "We're always troubled. We're always - let me put it this way, we're always concerned about it."

Donna Hayes rides in and out of Delaware County. The Folcroft resident told us, "That's a little much, you know, given the fact that we already have so many trains out of service, when it's 120 trains out of service. They shouldn't have canceled any."

SEPTA says a train won't budge if there isn't at least one engineer and a conductor.

The transit authority says the manpower issues are due to it having 22 fewer engineers (operators) than it needs across the system, it being vacation season, and what it describes as "call ins" - sick calls.

"It is possible that the conditions are such that people are having to call in sick," said Paul Pokrowka, of the United Transportation Union.

The union represents conductors, assistant conductors and some engineers. Pokrowka argues his people are being stretched to the breaking point to keep the system running in crisis and sees no sign of sick-call abuse.

He says SEPTA mismanages its workforce by limiting vacation time and failing to promote.

Cole: "Some of your workers who would work five days a week are working six because of the Silverliner [V]s, correct?"
Pokrowka: "Correct."
Cole: "Wouldn't it be that some of those guys and gals just think, 'You know what, I don't want to work today, I'm calling in sick, forget it?'"
Pokrowka: "The railroad has always been feast or famine industry. I don't see why today is any different than any other week."

SEPTA says it met with its union this week and talked about the canceled trains hoping to "work together" to solve the problem.

But the numbers show trouble late-week and on weekends. Along with the 41 trains canceled over the weekend, 11 trains were canceled on Friday, July 8, and another 19 the next day, Saturday, July 9.

SEPTA has been operating modified schedules with the help of loaner cars from other cities. Officials hope to have some of their out-of-service cars back on the tracks by Labor Day.

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