One last ride on SEPTA's retiring Silverliners

Larry Ryan, of Norristown, has been operating the retiring Silverliners for 33 years and says he'll miss them. PHOTOS: DAN GERINGER / DAILY NEWS STAFF
Larry Ryan, of Norristown, has been operating the retiring Silverliners for 33 years and says he'll miss them. PHOTOS: DAN GERINGER / DAILY NEWS STAFF
Posted: July 03, 2012

FAWAIZ CLEMENS and Christopher Henderson, both 21, traveled to Philly from New York City on Friday just to ride the last Silverliner II and Silverliner III cars in SEPTA Regional Rail service, making their final run from Suburban Station to Bala Cynwyd before, as Arlo Gutherie sang, "this train's got the disappearing railroad blues."

"I've been like this with trains since I was 2 years old," Clemens said. "I want to be a train operator or a bus operator or a cleaner or a custodian — just anything to work in a transit company."

"This train has been here since the civil-rights movement. Just riding in it makes me feel great."

Both Clemens and Henderson rode the "Last Train to Cynwyd" Friday from noon until its final run about 8 p.m.

So did R.L. Eastwood Jr., president of the National Railway Historical Society's Philadelphia chapter, who shared a Silverliner memory with Larry Ryan, of Norristown, a SEPTA engineer who has been operating Silverliners for 33 years.

"I was at Jenkintown station when the first Silverliner IIs were delivered from the Budd Company on Red Lion Road for testing before they were put into passenger service," Eastwood said.

Ryan said he was there, too.

"You going to miss them?" Eastwood asked.

"When you've operated something for 33 years and suddenly it's gone," Ryan said, "you miss it."

Eastwood said that Silverliner II railcar No. 9010 was built in 1963 by Budd, while the attached Silverliner III railcar No. 235 was built in 1967 by the St. Louis Car Company — both of them vast improvements over the 1930s-built Reading Blueliners they replaced.

Ryan said Philadelphia commuters had never seen anything like those early Silverliners. "They had air-conditioning, faster acceleration, better braking, comfortable seats and heat like you were in your room at home," he said. "I enjoyed being a part of industrial development that was ahead of its time."

George Walters, SEPTA's assistant director of operations, who has "spent thousands of hours behind the throttle" of the Silverliner IIs and IIIs in the past decade, said that although they were "classic cars" with incredible longevity, it was time to say goodbye.

"We have trouble getting parts. They don't meet Americans With Disabilities (ADA) requirements like the new handicapped-accessible Silverliner Vs do," Walters said. "After over 40 years of service, they've come to the end of their life span. I only hope the new ones last as long." n

Email Dan Geringer at geringd@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @DanGeringer.

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