Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Serving Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties
At the start of the evening rush last night (05.29), SEPTA Regional Rail customers experienced something that hasn't happened in quite awhile - an incident on one train that cascaded and ended up impacting service on every Rail Line except Cynwyd.
Where did it begin? Paoli/Thorndale Line train #9559 made up of Silverliner V cars, left the yard on its way to Center City to begin service to Paoli. At 4:50 p.m. this train broke down at a critical point at the 16th Street Interlocking, effectively blocking the Track 3 crossover for Manayunk/Norristown Line trains. The position of the train made it difficult to operate the switches at the Interlocking, impacting other trains. What caused the equipment problem is still under investigation.
As you might imagine, even with 2 tracks still open for inbound and outbound service, having equipment blocking this key diverging point for Regional Rail service and the switch issue coming at the beginning of evening rush, SEPTA customers were not going to have a smooth PM rush.
In total, 68 trains were impacted with delays ranging from 6 minutes to 52 minutes with most running in the 15-30 minute timeframe. Some customers were delayed at stations waiting for trains to arrive and some customers experienced in-service delays with trains halted on the tracks. Beyond the mechanical problem, we were also delayed in getting concrete information out to customers and that only heightened frustrations.
In the age of Social Media, there are many who believe we should be able to instantaneously communicate detailed information explaining exactly what is going on and what impact it might have for that moment's commute. It all comes down to a question of balance - quickly delivered bad or incomplete information or good information that has the benefit of a few minutes of investigation - which is more valuable to customers in the long run?
If we have an equipment failure, it can take 8-10 minutes to complete the initial diagnosis and to start our remediation program. So should we announce that the train is having a problem at minute 2 when we don't yet know how we're going to fix it? Some may say - yes SEPTA - talk to us - and some may say Duh SEPTA, we're stuck on the train or waiting on the platform - tell us something we don't already know. We readily admit that communications in an emergency or altered service situation is something we need to keep working on but we also need customers to think about the challenges we face communicating accurate and meaningful information.
Was 30 minutes too long a time before we had a full scale communications effort for last night's incident? Absolutely yes - and we will take our licks on that one. We continue to look at ways to improve our processes including the idea of establishing defined windows of time, based on the situation, when customers can expect to begin getting service delay information.
To those customers inconvenienced or delayed by last night's incident we offer our apologies and a pledge that we keep the conversation going with you about our service emergency communications program.