Regional rail ridership up, SEPTA will add 16 cars

Because of increasing ridership, SEPTA's board yesterday voted to buy 16 more regional railcars for about $30 million.

The new cars will be added to an existing order for 104 new Silverliner V railcars, approved last year. The first three new cars will be delivered by December 2008, with all 120 to be delivered by June 2010.

The new cars will replace 73 railcars that were built in the 1960s. SEPTA's rail fleet currently has about 350 cars, so with the retirement of the old cars and the addition of the new ones, the agency will have about 400 cars by 2010.

The new cars will have wider doors, wider aisles, larger windows, electronic destination signs, automatic voice announcements of station stops, and public address systems that can be accessed from SEPTA's control center. However, the cars will not have restrooms, and they will not eliminate the three-passenger seats that rankle many riders. Patrick Nowakowski, chief operations officer, said the new cars would have more two-passenger seats and fewer three-passenger seats than the current cars.

Regional rail service, which now carries about 110,000 passengers a day, has seen SEPTA's largest ridership growth in recent years, with ridership up 17 percent since 2000. Ridership is projected to continue to grow at 3.5 percent a year.

The new Silverliner V cars are being manufactured by United Transit Systems, a consortium of Sojitz Corp. of America and Rotem Co. Sojitz is headquartered in Tokyo and Rotem in Seoul. Final assembly will be done at a site leased by United Transit Systems at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

In other business, a local passengers' advocacy group urged SEPTA to drop its proposal for a "simplified" fare structure that would eliminate paper transfers and merge some regional rail zones.

Tony DeSantis, president of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, said the so-called Plan B proposal is "counterproductive," coming in the middle of a financial crisis that has SEPTA proposing to raise fares and cut service by July 1. Without additional state aid, SEPTA proposes to raise fares by an average of 31 percent, cut service by 20 percent, and lay off 300 to 400 employees. SEPTA estimates that it would lose 20 percent of its riders, about 40 million passengers a year.


Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or pnussbaum@phillynews.com.