El car cracks mean more delays for SEPTA

A weekend inspection found cracks in load-bearing beams in two Market-Frankford Line cars, and work is underway to determine how widespread the problem is, SEPTA officials said Sunday.

SEPTA pulled 30 to 40 other subway cars from service after they showed indications suggesting they also have compromised components, SEPTA officials said. To run a regular schedule on the El at peak hours requires 144 cars, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said.

Starting  Monday, the shortage of Market-Frankford Line cars will create reduced service during peak hours. Riders should expect delays and crowded cars, SEPTA said in a news release. The authority is providing additional bus service to supplement the reduced subway service.

The cracks were found in the "body bolster" of the car during a comprehensive overhaul underway for the nearly 20-year-old vehicles, SEPTA officials said. The bolster links the body of the car to the wheel assembly beneath, and is the point at which the wheel assembly pivots.

Broad Street Line cars were made by a different manufacturer and are not believed to be at risk from the same problems.

The El's 220 cars went into service between 1997 and 1999, Busch said, and were purchased for $285 million from Adtranz, now owned by the Canadian rail-car manufacturer Bombardier Inc. That contract, approved in 1993, came after an accident three years earlier when a Market-Frankford train crashed due to a mechanical failure, killing four.

Although having 220 cars would seem to provide enough replacements for the out-of-service cars, routine maintenance and other preparations routinely take enough cars out service to create what is expected to be a shortfall.

Members of the Transportation Workers Union discovered the cracks after pulling up pieces in the cars, said Joe Coccio, the union's treasurer and a rail vehicle body mechanic. 

"In light of this most recent crack," Coccio said, "there’s no reason any of those cars should be rolling out of there tomorrow unless they have an inspection."

 SEPTA said the public could feel confident. 

"Any train running tomorrow morning has been inspected and has been determined to be safe," SEPTA spokesman Busch said. 

In July, 120 Regional Rail cars were pulled from service, a third of the fleet, after inspectors found a systemic flaw in the welds on another load-bearing part, the equalizer beams. That discovery caused a scheduling nightmare for train riders throughout the summer.

City transit riders experienced their own transportation chaos in November, when workers responsible for operating subways, trolleys, and buses in the city went on strike for a week, shuttering those services.

 A news conference is planned for Monday afternoon to elaborate on the latest troubles with the rail cars.

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