Winter freezes out PATCO rush-hour riders

Posted: January 29, 2014

Winter's prolonged toll included overcrowded PATCO trips during rush hour Monday morning - so much so that some travelers could not board the trains.

The packed trains became a reality after 7:30 a.m., when several cars' electric motors failed, forcing cancellation of some trips, according to the Delaware River Port Authority.

DRPA spokesman Timothy Ireland attributed the motor problems to accumulated snow in the engines, which can cause short circuits when it melts and freezes. Ireland said the circumstances were not unusual given the weather.

The crowded cars Monday came as PATCO debuts a schedule that includes 30-minute gaps during rush hour, as the agency begins a two-year project to replace tracks on the Ben Franklin Bridge. The construction schedule will run Fridays from 11 a.m. to Tuesdays at 3:30 a.m.

But Monday, Ireland said, all cars supposed to be running on a typical rush-hour schedule because ice on the bridge had impeded construction.

Of 70 cars sent to Philadelphia during rush hour, Ireland said, 15 experienced motor problems during the morning.

"As a result, some scheduled PATCO trains were 'annulled' - or canceled," Ireland wrote in an e-mail to The Inquirer. "The remaining trains filled quickly and passed passengers waiting on station platforms until empty trains could arrive to accommodate them."

Alyssa Clement boarded a train about 7:50 a.m. in Lindenwold, the first stop on the 14-mile railroad. By the time the train reached the third stop - Woodcrest, in Cherry Hill - the cars were filled, she said.

"People really couldn't get on," Clement, 43, said. "I just felt so bad. They were just packed door to door."

Cherry Hill's Lynn Lukaszewski said she feared for her safety during the packed ride toward Center City. She got on the train in Haddonfield, leaving some travelers behind.

"This proceeded all the way into the city," the 59-year-old legal secretary said. "It was just a nightmare."

"Every curve we took, I thought the train was going to derail - that's how crowded it was."

Ireland said service returned to normal after the morning rush.

But, he wrote. "what happened today won't be an uncommon event from Friday afternoon through Monday night into the spring."

The weekend schedule began Jan. 18 to account for the closure of one of two lanes on the bridge as the $103 million project begins.

During the gap period, PATCO "stacks" cars at the first station for the rush in an attempt to move passengers quickly during the peak demands.

The DRPA has advised riders to expect more crowding on trips following such gaps, and to consider taking the train on the third or fourth trip following the gap period.

"Although PATCO is a commuter line, most PATCO customers ride it as if it were a subway. They show up on the platform and wait for the next train," Ireland wrote. "But during the Ben Franklin Bridge track rehab project, it pays to use the train timetables."

About 38,000 passengers use PATCO daily.

PATCO officials have said the tracks were last overhauled in the mid-1980s.

856-779-3917 @AJFichera

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