The Silverliner V - SEPTA'S sexy new Regional Rail superstar - made its long-awaited, regular-service debut yesterday, seeking to seduce fuel-burning suburbanites into spurning their SUVs and embracing mass transit.
On the maiden round-trip between Suburban Station and Cynwyd, this reporter - a veteran of many butt-bumping treks on Silverliner II's that were built when he and the Beatles were young - savored the new-train smell emanating from fanny-friendly seats, the real-time trip info streaming on video screens and the yogurt-smooth ride.
After captaining the Silverliner V on her maiden voyage, Thomas Gorden, a 24-year veteran SEPTA engineer, said, "The acceleration is extremely quick, the brakes are very powerful, there's no bucking and no lateral motion, everything's tight."
Gorden said that, unlike its predecessors, the Silverliner V has "an anti-slip device" that automatically detects wheels starting to slide on wet or frosty rails, drops sand on the tracks and "pumps" the brakes rapidly until the danger's over.
"We tested that system with five gallons of liquid soap mixed with 30 gallons of water," Gorden said, "and it works."
Hedy Cerwinka, who won a free monthly SEPTA pass for being the Silverliner V's first paid passenger, and her husband, Gene Mele, loved the stress-free ride from Cynwyd to Center City.
Both are committed commuters. "The other day, when the Schuylkill was choked with unbelievable traffic, I rode SEPTA home, oblivious to the jam," said Cerwinka, an employment adviser for senior citizens.
Mele, an award-winning University of Pennsylvania physicist, said dryly: "When I used to live in Havertown and drive to my office through West Philadelphia, I was aggravated every day by traffic. Now I live in Bala Cynwyd and take SEPTA every day, so I'm only aggravated after I arrive at the office."
Thaddeus Robinson boarded in his wheelchair via state-of-the-art, built-in "bridge plates" that cover the gap between station platform and train.
Robinson said he has served on SEPTA's Advisory Committee for Accessible Transportation since 1980, and the Silverliner V is well worth the wait.
John Ervin of Fox Chase said, "Compared to Silverliner II, you can hardly tell you're moving."
Chris Willman of Morton, Delaware County, praised the "new modicum of personal space" on the roomier seats that does not exist on older bench-style seating.
SEPTA general manager Joe Casey said, "I want more and more of these - as soon as we can get them."
Casey expects nine more Silverliner V cars to be in service by the end of December, and all 120 new cars - with interiors fabricated and assembled in South Philly under a $274 million contract with Hyundai-Rotem USA - to be running by the end of 2011.
All 72 Silverliner II cars, built in the 1960s, will then be retired.
As the new three-car train makes guest appearances on Regional Rail routes, SEPTA is running a Silverliner V schedule at: www.septa.org/service/rail/ silverliner.html