Empty trains rolling by stations during rush hour and 30-minute service gaps will soon be the norm for PATCO High-Speed Line riders, as the transit authority gets set to rebuild both sets of tracks along the Ben Franklin Bridge.
The $102.8 million, two-year track replacement project will periodically shut down one side of PATCO’s twin lines along the bridge and throw a wrench into commuting schedules starting this weekend, transit officials said.
Starting Saturday and running weekly into the spring, PATCO will close one bridge track from Friday at 11 a.m. until Tuesday at 3:30 a.m., pushing the gap between trains to 26 minutes on Saturdays and about 30 minutes on Sundays.
“We recognize that some passengers will be inconvenienced by the new train schedule, but we must rehabilitate our tracks on the Ben Franklin Bridge,” said John Rink, PATCO’s general manager. “Fortunately, this investment should improve the long-term customer experience. When the project is completed in early 2016, PATCO passengers will be riding in rehabilitated trains over rehabilitated tracks.”
The weekend closures will expand to daily track outages by spring, officials said, as PATCO shuts down an entire side of the bridge 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a roughly four-month period.
Some trains will still run every five minutes during rush hours, officials said, but there may be similar 30-minute gaps due to what they referred to as “car stacking,” where the transit authority will mass cars in Philadelphia and Lindenwold ahead of the heaviest portion of the commuting day.
That may result in empty trains bypassing stations, officials said.
“We care about every passenger’s needs, and we won’t be ignoring anyone,” Rink said. “We’re simply arranging trains in ways that move everyone through the system as quickly as possible under the circumstances.”
There may be other service issues, officials said, including:
- The first few trains to leave station platforms after a rush-hour service gap are likely to be more crowded than usual. The crowding will increase as those trains pick up passengers at stations down the line.
- During a scheduled track outage, a system-wide train delay caused by a mechanical malfunction could last much longer than a delay which takes place when both tracks across the bridge are open.
- Evening rush hour passengers who board open trains in Philadelphia and Lindenwold may wait longer than they typically would before doors close and trains depart.
- This spring, construction crews will use one eastbound lane on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge as a multi-month staging area. The lane will be closed to car and truck traffic while the crews are using it.
The rail work comes alongside PATCO’s train car refurbishment program, which is set to deliver a full set of rebuilt cars by the end of 2016.
It’s the first major work on the bridge tracks since the mid-1980s, officials said, putting it roughly in line with the expected 30- to 40-year expected useful life of those lines.