DRPA leaders mixed on PATCO takeover

Posted: February 27, 2014

A proposal to have SEPTA or NJ Transit take over operations of the troubled PATCO commuter rail line won't win support from the New Jersey leadership of the bistate agency that runs PATCO.

"That will never happen," said Jeffrey L. Nash, the Camden County freeholder who also is vice chairman of the Delaware River Port Authority, owner of PATCO.

"PATCO is one of the most successful transit systems in the nation, with an extraordinary record of customer satisfaction," Nash said Tuesday. "The recent problems experienced by PATCO have been addressed and will be resolved."

Nash is the leader of the New Jersey delegation on the 16-member board that represents the two states that run the agency.

Recent problems with train delays, broken escalators, and a breakdown in a tunnel that forced the evacuation of passengers from a smoking train prompted Pennsylvania Sen. John Rafferty (R., Montgomery) to suggest that some other agency might do a better job.

"Reading about what's been happening there, with train problems and broken escalators, I'm worried about the safety and welfare of those who use PATCO," said Rafferty, who chairs the Senate transportation committee.

"If DRPA is going to treat PATCO like a poor stepsister, let someone else have an opportunity to run it."

Rafferty said Tuesday that SEPTA or NJ Transit or a private operator could buy or lease the PATCO operation.

Other Pennsylvania Republican officials close to the discussions said SEPTA or NJ Transit could be paid about $10 million a year to run the 14-mile commuter line between Center City and South Jersey. That would be an $11 million savings for the DRPA.

Currently, the DRPA's bridge-toll-payers provide a $21 million annual subsidy to make up the portion of the $47 million cost of operating PATCO that is not covered by passenger fares.

DRPA Chairman David Simon, a Pennsylvania board member, said Rafferty's proposal "merits serious consideration."

"Perhaps PATCO needs the economies of scale and broader expertise of a larger operation," Simon said, "whether it is SEPTA, NJT, or one of the private firms that specialize in rail-line operation and management."

One of those riders, Scott Johnson of Audubon, Camden County, who said he has been taking PATCO since the early '70s, said: "If SEPTA takes over the speed line, it can't be worse than it is now."

SEPTA officials have said that they would consider running PATCO, but that they have not been formally asked to do so. PATCO hired SEPTA in December to fix its balky escalators and elevators after a PATCO maintenance contract was allowed to lapse in July.

Gov. Corbett, who chaired the DRPA until October 2012, has "not seen any specifics" and so cannot say whether he supports Rafferty's proposal, spokesman Steve Chizmar said Tuesday.

At NJ Transit, spokesman William Smith said that taking over operation of PATCO "is not something we've entertained or thought of."


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587

@nussbaumpaul

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