Repairs to SEPTA's 120 broken Regional Rail cars are expected to begin this month, and the transit agency's top official said "things will get better and better" over the next two months.
September, with increased ridership expected after Labor Day, will be a an important "transition month" in getting the swamped rail system back to its former capacity, SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel said at a news conference Wednesday.
"By October, it is projected that we return to a normal weekday schedule," he said at SEPTA headquarters on Market Street. "Things will get better and better."
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Regional Rail riders have dealt with packed trains and schedule delays and changes since the transit agency took 120 of 125 Silverliner V cars out of service the weekend of July 4. The Silverliner Vs cars were built at a South Philadelphia factory by Hyundai Rotem of South Korea, starting in 2006.
Knueppel said repairs will begin soon on the defective cars and at least 10 per week will be brought back into service once the repair process commences.
That would mean 60 Silverliner Vs would be back to carrying passengers by the end of September, he said, adding that about 40 train cars leased from other transit agencies would bring the total up to 100.
That would provide enough capacity to return to a normal weekday schedule, he said.
A few more details emerged about the "fatigue" cracks that were found on the steel beams of the Silverliner Vs' undercarriages. Knueppel said engineers have performed intense stress tests on the defective cars, which are the newest additions to the Regional Rail fleet. Two options for stabilizing the cars' steel beams are being evaluated by Hyundai Rotem and SEPTA engineers.
A decision will be made this week and the repairs will begin immediately, Knueppel said.
The train cars, which are less than a decade old, account for about 13,000 daily seats. The result has been trains so packed during peak hours of the work week that SEPTA on Monday initiated a new fare collection system. Fares are now being collected on platforms of the four major hubs in Philadelphia: Suburban, 30th Street, Jefferson and Temple stations.
Hyundai Rotem spokesman Andy Hyer said last month that the manufacturer is working "literally around the clock to get the cars back into service as soon as possible, safely and soundly."
The defect was discovered during an inspection by an engineer during the holiday weekend last month. Only five of the 120 cars were found to be without problems.