The first of PATCO's long-awaited refurbished railcars have arrived in Lindenwold for final testing and will be carrying paying customers by February, PATCO officials said Wednesday.

PATCO passengers have endured months of crowded rides as the commuter rail agency has shipped cars to a Hornell, N.Y., factory for a $194 million makeover. The entire fleet of 120 cars is supposed to be back in service by October 2016, despite delays in delivering the first cars.

So far, 26 cars have been sent to the New York factory for overhaul.

Even as the rehabbed cars return to service, though, PATCO riders can expect continued delays and slower rides because of a major track-replacement project on the Ben Franklin Bridge.

That $103 million project is to start in April and take about 21/2 years. Preparatory steelwork that began in August already slowing is eastbound trains.

The first refurbished "married pair" of prototype cars was delivered Nov. 11 to PATCO's Lindenwold shop, chief engineer Mike Venuto said Wednesday. There, wheel assemblies will be attached and the cars will be tested.

A public unveiling of the cars is expected by early December, Venuto said.

Along with four additional prototype cars, the rehabbed cars will be put into service in February, PATCO general manager John Rink said.

Alstom Transport, a French company, won the contract in December 2010 to overhaul the cars.

Alstom workers in Hornell are replacing interiors, brake and propulsion systems, lighting and messaging systems, and the heating and cooling systems. The existing stainless-steel car shells, wheel assemblies, and traction motors are being reused.

Most of PATCO's fleet dates to 1969, when the line opened.

For the track-replacement project, crews will begin installing a work platform next month on the south side of the bridge.

The track work that is to begin in April will require the closure of the south tracks and force all trains to use the tracks on the north side of the bridge.

"While there will be disruptions, we're working very hard to minimize the impact" on schedules, Venuto told the board of the Delaware River Port Authority, PATCO's parent, on Wednesday.

PATCO should do a better job of posting current information about the project and its impact on train schedules on the agency's website, Jonathan Latko, chairman of the DRPA's citizen advisory committee, told the board.

Tim Ireland, communications chief for DRPA, said updated information would be posted "when we have a final construction schedule."