Frozen doors plaguing SEPTA

A door on a SEPTA train opened at Elkins Park - minus the bottom section. (Dylan Purcell / Staff)
A door on a SEPTA train opened at Elkins Park - minus the bottom section. (Dylan Purcell / Staff)
Posted: January 26, 2014

Malfunctioning doors on SEPTA's Regional Rail trains and Market-Frankford subway-elevated cars have plagued riders this week, as snow and ice have crippled their automated operation.

On the railroad, the new Silverliner V railcars appear to be especially vulnerable to snow and cold, leaving riders unable to get out at their stops.

Snow and ice can short out electric motors or block the tracks on which the doors move, forcing train operators to "cut out" or turn off a door to permit a train to move.

That can leave passengers unable to use the door.

"Our equipment does not like this five-degree weather," said Ron Hopkins, SEPTA's assistant general manager of operations.

"The doors are what drive our reliability," Hopkins said, noting that if doors don't work, a train often will be delayed, throwing other trains off schedule, too.

Mechanical doors on buses and trolleys are less problematic, he said.

Other transit agencies in the Northeastern United States have had similar problems with door operations and other equipment failures in the cold weather, Hopkins said.

SEPTA maintenance crews have used chemical deicers, heaters, and manual cleaning to try to improve door functions, he said.

Agency officials met Friday with the manufacturers of the doors in the Silverliner V cars to see whether operational changes or retrofits can reduce the failures.

During the assembly of the new cars at a South Philadelphia factory, there were repeated issues with the doors. The 120 Silverliner V cars - about a third of SEPTA's Regional Rail fleet - were made in South Korea by Hyundai Rotem, a subsidiary of automaker Hyundai Motor Group, and assembled in Philadelphia.

SEPTA is paying $330 million, including spare parts and training, for the Silverliner V's. The last of the cars were delivered last year, two years behind schedule, as the work had been delayed by material shortages, design flaws, production problems, labor conflict, and workmanship errors.

Since Tuesday's snowstorm, riders and train crews have complained about door failures, especially on the new cars.

Though some older Silverliner IV cars have also been afflicted with malfunctioning doors, the new cars' sensitive computer-operated doors seem more prone to failure, Hopkins said.

This is the first big winter test for the Silverliner V's, he said, because the last two winters have been relatively mild.

Matthew Mitchell, president of the Delaware Valley Association of Rail Passengers, said, "If you could pick a situation that is going to make things tough for them, this is it."

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