PATCO's crippling accident: New version of what happened emerges

File Photo: PATCO passengers pack the platform at the Ferry Avenue station after a train was canceled on Monday, Jan. 8. 2018.

A new version of the accident that forced PATCO to shut down most operations for nearly 11 hours on Monday emerged Wednesday as the commuter rail line struggled for a third day to return to normal service and said things won’t get there until Friday.

Camera icon PATCO
Crews at the site where a PATCO train hit a live electrical cable from a toppled utility pole on Monday.

PATCO had said a live electric cable fell into the path of one of its trains about 5:30 a.m. Monday after a Conrail freight train on an adjacent elevated track hit a utility pole in Camden, severing the power line.

But on Wednesday, both Conrail and PATCO said the freight train did not hit the pole.

PATCO CEO John Hanson and Conrail spokeswoman Jocelyn Hill said separately that the engine at the head of the freight train hit a low-hanging power line that belongs to PATCO and pulled down the catenary carrying the cable.

As a result, an electric conduit landed in the path of an eastbound PATCO train, disabling signals powered by the conduit.

Hanson said a video from one Conrail engine that passed the same spot 23 minutes earlier showed the conduit and the guy wire supporting it were in place.

An investigation is underway to determine what happened to make the cable dip so low during that time.

The commuter rail line has since been running on a modified schedule that does not reflect the reality of repeated delays, trains suddenly pulled from service for unrelated issues, and the accompanying overcrowding. PATCO, which carries 38,000 passengers on a typical weekday, said it did not expect to resume normal service until Friday.

Asked why the repair work appeared to be taking so long, PATCO issued a statement saying the accident had had a significant impact on signals in the area of the accident.

“Because of the electrical conduit damage, our automated signaling system has been impacted between Ferry Avenue and Broadway stations, and we are manually signaling trains in and out of that track block,” PATCO said. “This necessitates reduced speeds and limits the number of trains we can run between these two stations, which is why we have been operating on a modified schedule.

“The repairs underway require specialized cabling that is not ‘off the shelf’ and readily available. It also requires special connectors and extensive testing. We’ve secured and are in the process of installing the necessary cabling. If the installation and testing continue as planned, we anticipate a return to normal service on Friday,” the statement said

“We want to move people, but we want to do it safely,” Hanson said.

Passengers in the meantime have taken to social media to vent.