Senator Wants SEPTA to Buy PATCO

Two weeks after a PATCO train was evacuated when smoke filled two of the cars, a local lawmaker is calling for a major overhaul for the rapid transit system company.

Pennsylvania State Senator John Rafferty serves as the chair of the Transportation Committee which works on laws to protect the state’s interest in the Delaware River Port Authority(DRPA).

While the DRPA owns PATCO, Rafferty wants the DRPA out of the passenger train business.

“They ought to consider looking at the possibility of leasing off or selling off PATCO to either New Jersey Transit or SETPA,” Rafferty said. “Let them run it.”

Rafferty believes a SEPTA takeover of PATCO would benefit everyone.

“The benefit will go to the public,” Rafferty said. “SEPTA has won awards for their management and their transportation style. The benefit for SEPTA would be that it would enhance their line in ridership.”

PATCO officials say no one has approached them about a SEPTA takeover. SEPTA officials say however that there has been talk and they are open to discussions. The decision is ultimately up to Governor Corbett.

Rafferty says he’s also exploring whether any other private businesses might be willing to purchase PATCO.

Regardless of whether or not PATCO undergoes a management overhaul, many believe that immediate changes need to be made in order to prevent situations like the most recent evacuation.

On February 10, a six-car train traveling from Philadelphia to New Jersey was stopped at the base of the Ben Franklin Bridge after smoke started to fill two of the cars. PATCO officials said a short on one of the motors on the train, likely caused by the cold weather, is what led to the smoke.

The incident was a familiar one for PATCO. Records obtained by the NBC10 investigators show that PATCO train motors have shorted out or failed more than 600 times in the past five years. PATCO officials also admitted to having maintenance issues with broken or malfunctioning escalators and elevators.

Dr. Anthony Deese, an electrical professor from the College of New Jersey told NBC10 that circuit breakers should have prevented the smoke in the train.

“If there were the proper protective systems that were shutting off the power to the motor when the problem occurred there shouldn’t be a chance for the motor to generate that much heat and that much smoke,” Deese said.

Deese says there would only have been a small spark and not much smoke.

“That’s obviously not what happened on the train,” Deese said. “We had a pretty significant and lasting fault within the system that allowed that type of heat and smoke to be generated.”

PATCO officials claim circuit breakers were used however claiming the breakers “did not have enough electrical current to prevent a short.”

Aside from the breakers, PATCO officials recently announced plans to improve service.

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