PATCO board approves $7.5 million in upgrades

DRPA acting CEO John Hanson said it would likely be eight to 10 months before the new signs are installed and functioning.
DRPA acting CEO John Hanson said it would likely be eight to 10 months before the new signs are installed and functioning. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 18, 2014

PATCO commuters will get train-information message signs, new safety cameras in stations and parking lots, and full-time repair crews for escalators and elevators, following approval Wednesday by the PATCO board.

The $7.5 million package of improvements is designed to bring relief to passengers who have endured months of delays, crowded trains, and broken escalators.

But the new message boards, with real-time train information, won't be operational for at least six months, so they won't help during summer construction delays, PATCO general manager John Rink said.

John Hanson, chief executive of the Delaware River Port Authority, PATCO's parent agency, said it was likely to be eight to 10 months before the signs are installed and functioning.

Even then, he said, the messages would be posted manually by PATCO employees. Only when newly rehabbed PATCO cars, with improved electronic and computer capabilities, are fully in service in 2016 will automatic train messages be possible, Hanson said.

"It will be incremental improvements," Hanson said. "We will try to get a little better at first. We knew we could do better than nonfunctioning signs."

The PATCO board authorized a $3 million contract with SimplexGrinnell Co. of Westminster, Mass., to install the messaging system.

Work could start in about a month.

Schneider Electric Inc. of Palatine, Ill., was hired to install 230 video cameras in stations and parking lots for $578,158.

The cameras are to take the place of outdated analog cameras that often are broken. The new cameras should reduce maintenance costs by $175,000 over five years, PATCO staff said.

To repair and maintain elevators and escalators at PATCO stations, the board on Wednesday agreed to hire SEPTA crews for $3.9 million for five years.

SEPTA was hired on an emergency basis in August, after PATCO officials allowed an existing repair contract to lapse at the end of July, leading to a cascade of broken escalators and elevators.

SEPTA's work already has shown benefits: On Wednesday, Rink said the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) will no longer require monthly reports on elevator performance since PATCO has had three consecutive months of 97 percent working elevators.

But the FTA, which ordered the reports last year after an investigation, said PATCO must continue to provide escalator reports until at least June 5, because PATCO has not achieved three consecutive months of 90 percent operability of escalators.

In other developments Wednesday, Philadelphia union leader John "Johnny Doc" Dougherty returned to the DRPA board and quickly signaled he may revive two crusades from his previous term.

Dougherty asked Wednesday for the results of a study he had requested in 2010 on the feasibility of selling PATCO to a private operator.

Dougherty, who had been an appointee of Gov. Rendell, and who left the DRPA board early in 2011 when Gov. Corbett replaced Rendell's appointees with his own, had advocated selling or privatizing PATCO because it requires about $16 million in subsidies each year from DRPA bridge tolls.

There was no support from New Jersey board members for selling PATCO, so the idea gained little traction during Dougherty's first term.

He is now back on the board as the designee of Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

On Wednesday, Dougherty also asked for a breakdown of the number of DRPA employees who are residents of Pennsylvania and how many are from New Jersey.

He has long maintained that Pennsylvania residents do not get their fair share of jobs on the bistate port authority, which employs about 860 full-time workers.


pnussbaum@phillynews.com

215-854-4587 @nussbaumpaul

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