Details Emerge on SEPTA Silverliner V Defect

According to a rail riders' advocate, the defect that took the entire Silverliner V fleet out of service was found in the rail cars' wheel assemblies. He also offered informed speculation on what Tuesday morning's commute will look like.

All 120 of SEPTA's Silverliner V Regional Rail cars have been removed from service due to a "serious structural defect." | Photo by O484~enwiki from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0

All 120 of SEPTA’s Silverliner V Regional Rail cars have been removed from service for inspection and repair due to a “serious structural defect” in the cars’ wheel assemblies. | Photo by O484~enwiki from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0


Earlier this afternoon, SEPTA announced that all 120 of its Silverliner V Regional Rail cars had been removed from service due to a “serious structural defect.”

More information is now available about the nature of the defect.

Matthew Mitchell, vice president and commuter rail committee chair of the Delaware Valley Association of Railroad Passengers, said he had been briefed by SEPTA officials about the nature of the defect.

While he was unable to name a specific part, he said that the problem arose in the car’s trucks — the term used to describe the two-axle pivoting wheel assemblies at each end of the car. SEPTA first discovered the problem Friday evening, he continued, and ordered an urgent inspection of all the cars in the fleet after finding it. When the inspectors determined that only a small fraction of the Silverliner Vs would pass the inspection, agency brass made the decision to pull the entire fleet from service.

SEPTA does have a small supply of replacement parts on hand to make the required repairs, but not enough to fix more than a few of the cars in the fleet. Most of the needed parts will have to be manufactured, Mitchell said, and as a result, “it will be weeks” before any trains can be returned to service, and “things won’t get completely back to normal until the end of the summer. But if there’s a ‘good’ time to have this kind of problem, the summer is it.”

Mitchell noted that the trucks were not manufactured by Hyundai Rotem but by a third party.

While SEPTA officials are still putting together the alternate service plan that will go into effect Tuesday, Mitchell offered some informed speculation on what is likely to happen. “The starting point for this schedule,” he said, “will be the enhanced Saturday schedule they use during weather emergencies.” This Saturday schedule includes additional trains on select lines, most notably the Wilmington/Newark line.

But as one-third of the Regional Rail fleet will be out of service at a time when ridership continues to rise and “some lines are stretched beyond capacity,” he said, there will be some cutbacks even after accounting for the seasonal dip in ridership. He predicted that some shorter lines would be replaced by shuttle buses, with “bustitution” just about certain on the very short, lightly patronized Cynwyd line. Some other shorter lines with good transportation alternatives nearby, such as the Fox Chase and Chestnut Hill East lines, might also be suspended in favor of shuttle buses, and some stations on heavily traveled lines that have alternate service near them might be bypassed.

He also said that SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel and Assistant General Manager for Customer Service Kim Scott Heinle are talking to Amtrak officials about the possibility of adding extra stops to Keystone Service trains to accommodate some Paoli/Thorndale Line commuters. Should that happen, there’s an outside chance that Amtrak will honor TrailPasses, but the railroad will not accept single-ride tickets.

Mitchell’s advice to riders: “Know what your alternatives will be and be ready to take them, especially if you live closer to the city. Also, ask your employer if they can offer flex time or other commuting options, for the more that people can commute outside rush hour, the better.”

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