SEPTA officials said Sunday that serious structural “fatigue cracks” have been discovered in steel equalizer beams underpinning most of the Silverliner V trains inspected so far this weekend.
“Only five of the 100 cars inspected so far do not have any cracks,” SEPTA general manager Jeff Knueppel said. He said the cracks are a “serious safety” concern.
The agency pulled all 120 of the Silverliner V trains – one third of the entire fleet – from service on Saturday when a slight tilt in one car alerted crews to the problem the day before.
Knueppel said the cars would likely be sidelined throughout July and August, causing “profound” transit headaches for its Regional Rail customers.
“Tuesday is the challenge,” Knueppel said at a rare Sunday press conference, “and unfortunately it will be rough on our railroad customers.”
He said the remaining cars in service would be able to handle the Fourth of July holiday ridership.
Knueppel said the issues involving cracks in the cars’ 350-pound equalizer beams have been reported to the Federal Railroad Adminstration, the U.S. Department of Transportation and PennDOT.
“It’s with an abundance of caution and in accordance with Federal Railroad Administration regulations that all Silverliner V cars with cracks will remain out of service until the appropriate actions can be accomplished,” Knueppel said.
“These cracks are called fatigue cracks and they develop under repeated loading conditions and are progressive in nature,” he said, showing reporters photographs of the points in the cars’ undercarriage where the cracks were found, the ends of equalizer beams where “bearing plates” had been welded to them.
“Fatigue cracks initially create non-imminent failure conditions but they are progressive in nature. So at the first sign of a crack, it doesn’t mean you are going to fail but what can happen though is that the crack will grow.”
The cars, delivered to the transit agency by the South Korean manufacturer Hyundai Rotem between 2010 and 2013, are under warranty, he said.
The Silverliner IV cars delivered earlier, and with a different equalizer beam design, are not affected.
While an “interim fix” is being sought, Hyundai Rotem is “cooperating with SEPTA to locate and expedite the procurement of sufficient materials to repair or replace the cracked equalizer beams,” Knueppel said.
He said the agency was talking with New Jersey Transit and Amtrak about the possibility of leasing equipment from those agencies to help SEPTA until its own cars are repaired.
Starting Tuesday, SEPTA will invoke its modified Saturday schedule – developed for weather emergencies – and adding additional rush-hour service. He said the rush-hour service would be 30-minute intervals on most lines and that early morning trains would also be added “where possible and appropriate.”
The exact service schedule has not yet been decided. Knueppel urged customers to check with the agency’s website, www.septa.org, on Monday. Another announcement detailing the schedules is expected on Monday.
“There is no detailed schedule in place for a scenario exactly like this one,” Knueppel said.
With fewer cars on the lines carrying double the usual number of passengers, those trying to catch trains at interior city stations, such as Temple University, would likely not be able to get on because of heavy overcrowding.
“It is likely that the trains at interior railroad stations, those closest to Center City, will prove difficult to get on due to overcrowding conditions in the morning,” he said.
For that reason, subway service on the Market-Frankford, Broad Street, the Norristown high-speed lines and the Media/Sharon Hill trolley lines will be bolstered. The agency is working with the city and the Philadelphia School District to add parking near those lines.
Customers who have purchased weekly and monthly transpasses they cannot use for July will get credit, he said. They are asked to hold onto those passes for future credit.
“We will work hard to overcome this setback,” Knueppel said. “This is an all-hands-on-deck situation for SEPTA and we understand the profound ways in which this will adversely affect our loyal riders.”