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Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority Serving Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties

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SEPTA - Brought to You By Science

Jerri Williams
Director, SEPTA Media Relations

Did you know if you switch your daily car commute to riding public transportation you can prevent 20 pounds of CO2 - equivalent to approximately 360 full balloons - from being released into the atmosphere each day?

Scientists say by riding public transportation you can reduce the environmental impact of your commute by up to one-third. And remember, that's just one person's contribution. There are more than 400,000 SEPTA riders eliminating thousands of pounds of harmful emissions daily too.

These and other SEPTA science facts were shared with visitors attending the Philadelphia Science Festival recently held on the parkway where Logan Circle was transformed into a science wonderland with more than 100 exhibitors offering family friendly activities. The line of parents and children waiting for a peak inside was proof the big green diesel-electric SEPTA hybrid bus on display was one of the most popular attractions at the festival. In addition to sitting in the operator's seat and blasting the horn (children) and taking a rest in cool air conditioned interior (parents), visitors touring the bus had the chance to chat with engineers from SEPTA's Vehicle, Equipment and Maintenance Department's (VEM) Vehicle Engineering Group. The group provides technical services, practice audits and other duties needed to support fleet operations.

Peter Duffy, a Senior Project Designer with 30 years of service; Pat Bleen, a Project Engineer with five years of employment; and Richard Beyers, an Engineer I with 10 months at SEPTA explained the science behind the hybrid technology. They informed bus visitors how regenerative braking captures the heat normally lost while stopping and converts it into electricity. The electricity is then used to start the bus from a full stop and to support the diesel engine for a cleaner, more fuel-efficient ride. Up on top of the bus is an energy storage unit that holds the electricity that helps power the bus. Think of it as an electric backpack. With all the electricity in use and ultra low-sulfur fuel to boot, engine exhaust is minimal.

The engineers enjoyed their time out of the office. "VEM strives to ensure the highest level of customer service by meeting and exceeding expectations," said Duffy. "Representing SEPTA at the Science Festival helps us meet our goals."

Some of the fun facts Duffy, Bleen and Beyers shared with the hybrid bus visitors are:

  • SEPTA has nearly 472 diesel-electric hybrid buses on the road.
  • Diesel-electric hybrid buses are 36 percent more fuel efficient and run on cleaner, ultra low-sulfur fuel.
  • A big bus with just seven passengers is more fuel-efficient than the average car. A full bus is six times more efficient. A full train is 15 times more efficient.

Under the SEPTA's Science Festival big white exhibition tent, Joe Catto, a senior project engineer with the Power Engineering Department, showed visitors how science works throughout the new Silverliner V Regional Rail trains. Catto, who has worked for SEPTA for 25 years, used interactive displays to illustrate how the energy-saving and efficient AC Propulsion System uses a traction motor to regenerate electricity during braking, thus saving energy. Other Silverliner V science-related features are:

  • Conductor Communication Panel: The panel is designed using state-of-the-art electronics to allow the crew to communicate with each other and passengers. The materials are able to withstand even the coldest winter weather, and can survive in temperatures as low as 40 degrees below zero.
  • Wind Screens: Hand rails are carefully designed into the side walls and floor using scientific structural analysis to ensure they can withstand forces that may be applied.
  • HVAC: To prevent cold air from entering the train every time the door is opened, the interior cabins have a slight positive air pressure. This means each time the door opens a small amount of warm air pushes out, instead of cold winter air entering the cabin.
  • Seating Units: Silicone padding is used for seat cushions because of its increased elasticity. This allows the seat to return to its original form after repeated and prolonged use.
  • Windows: Panes are made of polycarbonate rather than glass since it weighs less and is extremely durable.

SEPTA's participation in the Philadelphia Science Festival was fun and entertaining. However, the Authority's use of science extends beyond environmental benefits. It affects our everyday lives.

Did you know if just one in 10 Americans used public transportation regularly, U.S. reliance on foreign oil could be cut by more than 40 percent?

Did you know if you switch your daily commute to public transportation, your annual carbon savings is more than weatherizing your home, adjusting your thermostat, replacing five incandescent bulbs with fluorescent lamps, and installing an energy-efficient refrigerator - combined?

Now that's science brought to you by SEPTA!


Families made sure to climb aboard the diesel-electric hybrid bus to learn more about the technology.



SEPTA engineers Peter Duffy, Pat Bleen, and Richard Beyers.



Bus operator Katrina Sanders, who has been with SEPTA for 14 years, operates out of Midvale District.



Engineer Joe Catto, and Marketing Director Rich DiLullo (now retired), Braithwaite Communications intern Mary Byun and marketing staff member Bill Deboer seek shade under the Silverliner V exhibition tent.



Star Wars Storm Troopers stop by to say hello to SEPTA's Buddy The Bearing - a distant cousin of R2-D2 and C-3PO.