Apologies and a contract for PATCO escalator woes

Escalator out of service (this is the Ashland Station) is a familiar sight at PATCO this summer.
Escalator out of service (this is the Ashland Station) is a familiar sight at PATCO this summer. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 20, 2013

The PATCO board on Wednesday approved a $1.39 million contract to fix its oft-broken escalators and elevators, and officials apologized to irate commuters for letting the previous maintenance contract lapse 49 days ago.

The Federal Transit Administration has begun an investigation into complaints that PATCO failed to meet federal requirements to make its trains accessible to handicapped customers.

In August, escalators at PATCO's 11 escalator-equipped stations were functional only 55.8 percent of the time. Unhappy passengers were left to trudge up stairs, which was especially difficult for handicapped and elderly customers.

Five of PATCO's 14 escalators remained out of service Wednesday.

"We acknowledge we undermined our customers' confidence," PATCO general manager John Rink said at Wednesday's PATCO board meeting. "We failed, and I'd like to apologize for that."

John Matheussen, the president of PATCO and chief executive of its parent Delaware River Port Authority, said: "We will make certain something like this never happens again. . . . We will work diligently to win back our customers' trust."

The new three-year maintenance contract was awarded to Fujitec America Inc., of Sharon Hill, Pa., the U.S. subsidiary of the Japanese manufacturer of most of PATCO's escalators. Hiring the manufacturer to maintain the escalators and elevators will make it easier to get parts and service quickly, Rink said.

PATCO also finalized a $50,000 emergency contract Wednesday with Fujitec to maintain the machinery until the new three-year contract takes effect in several weeks.

But it will still be more than two weeks before broken escalators at Westmont and Eighth and Market stations can be fixed, Rink said, because of a wait for parts.

The escalator at 12th-13th and Locust is to be demolished and replaced; that will take until the spring of next year, Rink said.

Escalators worked 81.6 percent of the time in June and 68.2 percent of the time in July, according to PATCO data. The agency's goal is 90 percent.

The broken escalators have become a flash point for customer dissatisfaction, and PATCO riders also have complained of deteriorating train service and dirty stations.

"I think they're strapped for money," said commuter Stephen Segrave-Primus, of Washington Township, who rides PATCO daily from Lindenwold to 8th and Market for his job in customer relations. "What I really think is the problem is that the DRPA spent all that money - over $500 million - on all those things other than the maintenance of the trains and bridges."

"You can only put Band-Aids on things for so long."

Another commuter, legal secretary Lynn Lukaszewski, of Cherry Hill, who boards at Woodcrest station for her daily trip to Center City, said train service has gotten much worse in the last four or five months.

"It's always 'emergency track work.' Why is it always an emergency? Why aren't they doing routine maintenance? This is one line, 14 miles and back. This isn't rocket science."

"My guess is it's a lack of money."

"It should not be this way," she said. "Since most of the riders are from South Jersey, why isn't some politician in New Jersey screaming about this?"

PATCO hopes to improve service with a $194 million overhaul of all 120 of its rail cars, but officials said Wednesday the delivery of the first of those cars has been delayed.

The first two of eight "pilot" cars were to be delivered this month to PATCO from the New York factory for final testing, but "there is now no date certain" for their arrival, Matheussen said.

Alstom Transport Inc., in Hornell, N.Y., was hired in 2010 to retool the cars, replacing interiors, brake and propulsion systems, lighting and messaging systems, and heating and cooling systems.

The stainless-steel car shells, wheel assemblies, and traction motors will not be replaced.

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


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