SEPTA's new railcar model makes inaugural trip

Mounya Sabri, 22, gets off a train at the Wynnefield Avenue station. Sabri was among the first commuters to ride in one of SEPTA's new Silverliner V railcars. SEPTA has ordered 120 of the cars at a cost of $274 million.
Mounya Sabri, 22, gets off a train at the Wynnefield Avenue station. Sabri was among the first commuters to ride in one of SEPTA's new Silverliner V railcars. SEPTA has ordered 120 of the cars at a cost of $274 million.
Posted: October 30, 2010

The first of SEPTA's long-awaited Silverliner V passenger railcars made its inaugural revenue trip Friday, carrying SEPTA officials, invited guests, and a handful of paying customers.

Just after 9:30 a.m., the three-car train broke through a paper banner stretched across 0 Track at Suburban Station, to the cheers of riders and transit agency workers.

General manager Joseph Casey said the first of the 120 new cars marked the beginning of "a new era" for SEPTA service.

Surprised passenger Mounya Sabri, 22, of Center City, who got on the train at 30th Street Station for her usual commute to her paralegal job in Bala Cynwyd, was impressed: "This looks nice. It smells nice. The old cars were really old and in bad shape. I like this a lot better."

By the end of next year, the transit agency hopes to have all of the new cars in service, but over the next weeks, riders throughout the Regional Rail system can get a peek at the future, as SEPTA will shuttle the new cars among its lines.

After its inaugural run on the Cynwyd line, the new train was dispatched for a trip to Marcus Hook on the Wilmington/Newark line, and then for a run on the Chestnut Hill West line.

"We're going to be everywhere. We want to let everybody get a taste," said Luther Diggs, SEPTA's assistant general manager of operations.

The new cars are brighter and roomier than their 1960s-vintage predecessors, with video display screens and digital message boards to announce stations. They feature state-of-the-art heating and cooling systems, bigger windows, mid-car doors, and quiet braking and acceleration.

The new cars have more two-seat configurations than the old ones, although some of the much-maligned three-across seats remain.

"It's beautiful," said Michelle Greenspan, 23, of Bala Cynwyd, as she headed home after visiting a friend in Center City. "It's clean and bright. It feels fancy."

She said it was "a huge surprise" to find her usual sparsely populated, one-car 8:31 a.m. train replaced by a shiny, new three-car train full of SEPTA officials, greeters, and reporters.

"It seems like a very smooth ride," said Hedy Cerwinka, 61, of Bala Cynwyd, riding into Center City with her husband, University of Pennsylvania theoretical physicist Gene Mele, as she does every day. "It's very helpful to have recorded announcements of the stops. If you're a regular rider, you knew what the person was saying, but a new rider might miss their stop."

Engineer Thomas Gorden and conductor Cheryl B. Lewis ran the inaugural train without a hitch; they were among the first crew members to be trained to operate the new trains. Training takes about a week, and Diggs said all SEPTA rail crews will be trained by the time all the new cars are delivered.

Production delays have repeatedly pushed back delivery of the cars, and officials acknowledged Friday that work continues to run behind schedule. The trains, purchased for $274 million, are being built in South Korea, with final assembly at a plant in South Philadelphia.

The first three production cars will be delivered by the middle of next month and six more by the end of December, said Sean S. Shim, assistant project engineer for Hyundai-Rotem Corp., the manufacturer.

"We're catching it up, we're getting on track," said Shim, who said additional experts have been brought from Korea to try to speed assembly in Philadelphia. "We'll do our best to deliver as many as possible by the end of next year."

Matthew Mitchell of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers said commuters were "glad to finally welcome the Silverliner V to revenue service." He said the new cars would "help relieve the peak-hour overcrowding many of us have had to put up with for the past several years."

But he said he was concerned that delivery of the cars may "fall further and further behind."

The cars will replace 73 Silverliner II and III railcars built in the 1960s. With the retirement of the old cars and the addition of the new ones, SEPTA will have about 400 railcars by the end of 2011.

Contact staff writer Paul Nussbaum at 215-854-4587 or

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