Commuters between southern New Jersey and Philadelphia are in for a rough summer and the changes start Friday morning.
Work on the tracks and electrical systems on the PATCO Speedline will mean a less frequent schedule for the train line used by 40,000 per day and closed car lanes on the Ben Franklin Bridge, which carries trains — and 100,000 cars daily — over the Delaware River,
"I have no choice but to catch the train because the parking is horrible and expensive over there," Juanita King, who works as a scheduler at Philadelphia's Pennsylvania Hospital, said before she hopped on her train recently at Camden's Ferry Avenue Station, a popular place for park-and-ride customers from Camden and Gloucester counties.
A round-trip ride from there is $4.50 a day and most of the parking is free.
If King drives to work from southern New Jersey, she'd pay a $5 bridge toll and parking expenses starting at $9 if she could arrive in time for the early-bird rate.
The Delaware River Port Authority, which operates PATCO and four bridges, is replacing the tracks and ties on the train line for the first time since the 1980s and electrical systems that in some spots date to 1935.
DRPA CEO John Hanson, who has attended forums for commuters and greeted them at train stations, was out the other morning handing information cards to drivers at the toll lanes of the Ben Franklin. He is encouraging commuters to telecommute, car pool or use other bridges if they can while construction lasts. And if none of those solutions work for them, they'll need to leave early or prepare for delays.
He said the $103 million PATCO overhaul is due and there is no way to do it without inconvenience.
Beginning with the morning rush hour on Friday, May 30th, PATCO trains will start running on a revised schedule as the project gets underway.
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Early on Friday, the PATCO tracks on the south side of the Ben Franklin Bridge will be continuously closed (24-hours a day, 7-days a week) for approximately two months. During that time, they will be taken out and then rebuilt.
PATCO passengers may face periodic, scheduled 30-minute gaps in train service, although some trains will continue to run every five minutes.
Passengers are advised to consult the updated PATCO schedule which is now available at all PATCO stations and online. Commuters can also keep up with changes through the DRPA website or Twitter account.
Work on the line began in March, starting Friday afternoons and lasting through the weekend.
Ed Bogaard, another University of Pennsylvania Hospitals scheduler, said he's on probation at work for showing up late because of train delays.
But Judi Burrell, a legal secretary at a big law firm, said her bosses know about the delays and are being flexible.
Still, she said, she's trying to figure out if there's a bus that would be a better option for her for the next few months.
There is some relief coming for commuters: About the same time the tracks are rebuilt, all the PATCO train cars will be refurbished.