SEPTA GM on This Morning’s Commute: We’re Getting There

Nine trains bypassed some stations this morning, more than last Friday. But GM Jeff Knueppel said the borrowed trains were reducing waits for riders.

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Two of the three trainsets SEPTA has borrowed from Amtrak, the Maryland Transit Administration and New Jersey Transit went into service for this morning’s commute, Day One of the new interim weekday schedule. So how did the morning commute go?

According to General Manager Jeff Knueppel, not bad — considering. “We’re still seeing delays and crowding on the railroad, but we’re continuing to make things better,” he said at a news conference on the afternoon of Monday, July 11th.

Knueppel said that the agency was now actually running more car-trips than on its regular weekday schedule. (A car trip is when one railcar completes a run between end points. For example, a six-car train that runs from Lansdale to Center City makes six car trips.) But it’s doing so with longer, less frequent trains of six to eight cars each, so while the total number of car trips has increased, the total number of train trips remains well below normal weekday levels. The new schedule’s figure of 574 train trips is up from 549 last week but still below the normal weekday figure of 788.

This means trains are still bypassing stations; nine did so this morning, more than last Friday. But, Knueppel said, “most of them are at fairly close-in stations, from Elkins Park on down, and we’ve created a schedule that can handle those stations better.”

The borrowed trainsets have been assigned to “cleanup” duty on the three most heavily used lines. Two of the three entered service this morning: The train leased from Amtrak ran between Bryn Mawr and Center City, and the NJ Transit set worked the northern suburban trunk line between Center City and Glenside. The third train, from MARC, will begin operating on the Wilmington/Newark line tomorrow morning, adding a third inbound run from Newark that will operate local to Chester, then stop at Ridley Park and Norwood en route to Center City.

The reason SEPTA has chosen to run longer, less frequent trains, he said, is because “we want to drive everyone to a train and fill it completely. Otherwise, we could have a situation where one train arrives with very few passengers while the next train has a pass-up situation.”

Knueppel went on to say that the extra outbound trains should also alleviate platform congestion at the Center City stations.

SEPTA is still looking to lease coaches from other operators as well. He said that the agency was considering using equipment from Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and some operators in the Midwest. The condition of the equipment on the Midwestern systems might be an issue, however.

On the Silverliner V repair front, Knueppel had little to add to the story beyond what’s been reported previously. “Some of the metallurgical tests are coming back and being evaluated,” he said; in addition, both SEPTA contractor LTK and Hyundai Rotem are running computer models of the trucks and equalizer bars in an attempt to replicate the conditions that led to the failure. “We hope to know something next week.”

Whether or not SEPTA returns its few Silverliners with undamaged trucks to service depends on what it learns from the materials analysis. “We haven’t completely ruled out running the cars without cracks,” Knueppel said. “Once we know what caused the fatigue, we may be able to decide to run the good trucks we have. But we haven’t reached that point yet.” In addition to the five cars with no damage to their trucks, SEPTA has another 27 undamaged trucks on hand that could be swapped out for trucks with cracks on cars with only one damaged truck.

Knueppel continued to urge riders to consider alternatives to using Regional Rail to get into the city. He did note that “we’re seeing a little more crowding on other modes.” SEPTA is continuing to explore the possibility of adding express bus service paralleling the northern trunk line between Glenside and Center City.

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