Guide to SEPTA's Market-Frankford car shortage

SEPTA rail cars mass in the Frankford Transportation Center yard on Sunday night.

Cracks found in load-bearing beams during a weekend inspection have forced SEPTA to pull cars from its busiest route, the Market-Frankford Line. Here's a guide to the issue and getting around during the car-shortage crunch.

What's the problem with the Market-Frankford Line cars? 

Cracks were detected in the vent boxes on some cars. In two cases, the cracks extended to a load-bearing component called the body bolster, which links the car's body to the wheel assembly and is the point where the wheel assembly pivots.

Is the Market-Frankford Line still running?

Yes, the subway line remains in service.

What can riders expect?

Riders should expect service running slightly less often than normal during peak periods. Trains are now running about five-to-six minutes apart during peak hours, compared with the usual four-minute intervals. That could lead to some delays and crowding. The line is operating with less capacity than normal because the faulty cars have been pulled for repairs.

So how many subway cars is SEPTA down?

So far SEPTA has identified 58 cars with cracks in a vent box, but only two in which the cracks extended to the bolsters. (Other cars are out of service for maintenance or unrelated fixes.) The agency says it has capacity to run 21 six-car trains (or, 126 total cars available); that's still down from the 144 cars normally used during peak periods.

Are there also shuttle buses running?

SEPTA had been running shuttle buses to help boost capacity during the morning and evening rush, but that service has been suspended. (It was called off during snow and cold on Feb. 9 and 10; by Feb. 13, the agency said train capacity was strong enough to end the busing.)

Are there any changes to the Night Owl bus service?

No, that service is unaffected.

Is there A-B skip-stop service?

No, A-B service is suspended for now. 

Are the Market-Frankford Line crowding and delays that bad?

Riders have reported some issues, but nothing extreme. During the days the supplemental buses were running, they were not used extensively. 

But are the cars safe?

SEPTA says it is conducting a rigorous inspection for cracks in other cars. As for the cars with the cracked beams, the agency says the crack is across 8 inches of a 23-inch beam and is unlikely to have caused catastrophic failure if it had not been detected during the weekend inspection. 

How long will the repairs take?

SEPTA doesn't know yet.

I still want to avoid the Market-Frankford Line. How can I?

If you're traveling between West Philadelphia and Center City, you might want to take a trolley instead of the subway. Many bus routes also operate in Center City. Some riders traveling to Center City from the Northern Liberties, Kensington or Frankford areas may want to take a bus to the Broad Street Line instead of taking the Market-Frankford Line. Some bus riders who normally transfer to the Market-Frankford Line may be able to transfer to the Broad Street Line instead, if their bus trip also intersects that route.

Other riders, such as those who take the Norristown High Speed Line to 69th Street and transfer there to the Market-Frankford Line, may be able to take Regional Rail instead.

Will Regional Rail honor TransPasses if passholders take that instead of the subway?

No. SEPTA is not accepting those passes as fares for Regional Rail. 

Why can't SEPTA just use Broad-Street Line cars?

The cars for that line are made by a different manufacturer and operate on a different track gauge from the Market Frankford Line.

How many riders are affected?

The Market-Frankford Line carries about 187,000 passengers a day.

Wasn't there some other big SEPTA car shortage recently?

Yes, on the transit agency's Regional Rail lines. One-third of the Regional Rail fleet was pulled from service this summer due to a flawed weld in equalizer beams, a load-bearing component. That problem caused massive delays and packed cars and platforms from mid-summer through October.

Why aren't these cracks crippling service the way the Silverliner V cracks brought down the Regional Rail system?

SEPTA has a much larger number of excess cars for the Market-Frankford Line than for its other routes, and the occurrence rate of the cracks is much lower than the Silverliner V woes. Body bolster cracks have been found so far in just two Market-Frankford cars; the rest of the inspected cars have been returned to service. (For comparison, the agency found cracks in 95 percent of the Silverliner V cars inspected during the weekend the Regional Rail problem was detected.)

And wasn't there also some recent service disruption on the Market-Frankford Line?

Yes, the line was brought to a halt by a six-day strike in November.

What if I have more questions?

You can visit SEPTA's website, ask station personnel or tweet questions to @SEPTA_Social.