PATCO Explains Cause of Smoke in Train, Evacuation Delay

A day after smoke forced the evacuation of a PATCO train in Center City, passengers who say they had to wait for over an hour to get out are demanding answers.

On Monday, a six-car train traveling from Philadelphia to New Jersey was stopped shortly after 5 p.m. after smoke started to fill two of the cars. 

"We began to smell smoke while the train was still moving," said Jody Aiello, one of the passengers. "The car began to fill up with smoke as we were going on the ramp to the bridge."

The train stopped at the base of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge near 7th and Race Streets. Passengers say the smoke began to fill the car and the lights went out.

"There was lots of smoke that you could see and smell," said Kaitlyn Delengowski. "Without communication it was a little frightening."

The passengers say they sat in the dark, waiting for word on what happened.

"Thank God we had our cell phones," said Andrew Ludewig, another passenger. "We actually found out what happened through NBC." 

Aiello says the conductor then began to inform them of the situation.

"The train conductor got on the speaker and said we are evacuating the train and need to move quickly but safely," she said. "That's pretty much the only information we had the entire time."

The passengers were slowly evacuated. They first removed two passengers who had medical issues. Passengers in the two cars where smoke was detected were then moved onto an eastbound train which departed from Franklin Square Station.

Not wanting to wait for the train, some passengers left and went into the station. The remaining passengers were eventually evacuated and no injuries were reported.

"It took about an hour of walking through each car in the dark before we finally got to the ladder and we climbed down off the train," Aiello said. "At that point, we were directed to walk through the tunnel where we were met by more firefighters and police officers with a ladder to climb up to the platform."

Aiello says the remaining passengers waited at Franklin Square as three trains passed before one stopped for them.

"People were cheering and happy to be safe and on our way home," she said.

A different train broke down earlier that same day. On Tuesday, NBC10 spoke with PATCO spokesman Tim Ireland to find out what caused the smoke as well as the delay in the evacuation.

"It was a short on one of the motors on the train," Ireland said.

Ireland suspects the recent cold weather caused the electric motors to burn out.

"They're most likely to short out if there's a snow storm and there's a freeze and a thaw because then you get little pieces of ice," he said.

Officials with the Federal Transit Administration, which oversees PATCO, confirm that it was the weather that shorted out the motors. They also say PATCO was not in violation of any FTA requirements during the incident.

As for the hour and half long wait before passengers were able to leave, Ireland says repairs on one of the tracks and a shortage of empty trains caused the delay.

"When you only have one track running across the Ben Franklin Bridge you can't move trains quickly," Ireland said. "It took three trains to pick up everybody."

PATCO officials also say they believe the public deserves better service and they're working to improve it.

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