With new schedule, PATCO tries to ease construction pain

PATCO train passengers won't have to deal with rush-hour construction delays on Mondays until after Memorial Day, the commuter rail agency said Monday.

After delays, breakdowns, and a nerve-racking train evacuation last month, PATCO had suspended weekday track construction on the Ben Franklin Bridge.

The revised construction schedule announced Monday will restrict bridge construction work to between 10 a.m. Fridays and 4:30 a.m. Mondays.

But at some point after Memorial Day, things will get much worse for commuters.

Then, one of the two tracks on the bridge will be closed every day, all day, for at least two months. That will mean daily waits of up to 30 minutes for a train and increased crowding on trains.

The dates of the 24/7 closure have not been determined.

PATCO's delays are to accommodate a $103 million track and signal upgrade project that is to last until early 2016.

"We hope the new construction schedule will serve as a welcome compromise between our duty to meet customer expectations and our equally pressing duty to replace aging tracks on the Ben Franklin Bridge," said John Hanson, acting chief executive of the Delaware River Port Authority, which owns and operates PATCO.

On Jan. 18, PATCO began closing one track from 11 a.m. Fridays until 3:30 a.m. Tuesdays.

That meant rush-hour headaches for passengers on Friday evenings and Monday mornings and evenings, and when trains broke down on the lone operating track, as happened Feb. 10 during both the morning and evening rush hours, the headaches became nightmares.

Service had to be halted twice on Feb. 10, and in the evening breakdown, hundreds of commuters had to be evacuated from a smoking train through a dark tunnel to a long-closed underground station in Old City.

After that, PATCO temporarily halted the weekday track closures.

"Now, we're looking at only one affected rush hour and, as spring approaches, fewer weather-related delays," Hanson said Monday.

PATCO issued new construction schedules Monday, which are available on the agency's website, www.ridepatco.org, and at train stations.