After months of trying to fix broken escalators at commuter train stations in Center City and South Jersey, PATCO may demolish and replace some of the equipment.
That process could take nine months or more.
PATCO riders have been dealing with broken escalators and elevators since July, when transit agency officials let a maintenance contract lapse.
An emergency plea to SEPTA for help, apologies from the PATCO board, and a new maintenance contract have brought only marginal relief to many riders.
On Tuesday, six of PATCO's 14 escalators were out of service. At the 11 escalator-equipped stations, five had broken escalators.
Some escalators have been out of service for months, leaving riders to trudge up crowded stairs or seek out elevators, which can carry only a handful of people. And two elevators were broken Tuesday.
PATCO spokesman Tim Ireland said that Fujitec Inc., the manufacturer of most of the escalators and the company hired in September for $1.39 million to maintain them, "concluded that some of the machines would require more work than anticipated."
"In the interests of safety and efficiency, the contractor could not agree to maintain our escalators over the short term unless we agreed to overhaul or replace some of them," Ireland said.
"PATCO is in the process of determining whether to accelerate the escalator replacement schedule or to overhaul affected machines until they can be replaced on the current capital project schedule," he said.
Replacing an escalator would require PATCO to demolish the existing one and "then wait nine months or more for it to be custom manufactured, shipped and installed."
"If possible, we would like to avoid taking escalators out of service for that long, but if replacing existing escalators ends up being the only safe, responsible option, that's what we'll do," Ireland said.
Two escalators for the Woodcrest station in Cherry Hill "are being fabricated and are scheduled for delivery in the summer of 2014," he said.
Those new escalators won't be operating until next fall, he said.
"If we can't find a way to operate the current Woodcrest escalators safely and reliably until the new ones are delivered, we will accelerate the planned demolition and perform as much preinstallation as possible," Ireland said. "That could chop several weeks from the project completion schedule."
Meanwhile, PATCO is once again seeking a temporary contract with SEPTA to get the other broken escalators running "until we come up with a safe, reliable resolution," he said.
In August, after the lapsed maintenance contract left PATCO without repair crews for the escalators, SEPTA workers were hired to make temporary repairs.
Repeating a phrase that riders have heard frequently since then, Ireland said: "We apologize to our passengers for the inconvenience."
Passengers have been fuming for months about the broken escalators and elevators, and the Federal Transit Administration, acting on a customer's complaint, is investigating PATCO's failure to meet federal requirements to make its trains accessible.
That complainant, Constance Lyford, 70, of Center City, said Tuesday: "I believe they should lose the majority of their federal subsidy for 'handicapped accessibility.' . . . These folks may know how to manage bridges and ports but need a great deal of help in managing trains."
PATCO rider Martin Knodle, of Haddon Heights, said, "I'd have to think that there is some intermediate remedy that would accommodate seniors and the disabled if PATCO engineers thought this out more carefully."
Knodle, who said he was in his 70s and the recipient of a triple-bypass operation, urged PATCO officials to "get some critical thinking from engineering schools in the area."
"Come on, PATCO; get creative," Knodle said. "With your thinking we would have never reached the moon."
Arthur Sharon, of Southampton, Burlington County, who regularly uses the Woodcrest station, blamed PATCO's "procrastination."
"Several stations lack elevators, so those with temporary or permanent physical limitations will be at a disadvantage, and some will have to seek alternate forms of transportation," Sharon said.
Barbara Polinsky, who lives in Center City and commutes to Lindenwold, said: "Any improvement is a wonderful idea. In the meantime, better lighting on the staircases would improve safety for all of us riders."
Carl Gainsborough of Haddonfield, who travels daily to and from Center City, said he welcomed the news.
"I am very much on the side of PATCO if they make an earnest effort to get the job done right," he said. "Intermittent and frequent escalator breakdowns in the dead of summer are annoying."
"I am willing to put up with mountainous staircases in the interest of proper equipment repair," he said.
Stations with broken escalators Tuesday were:
Lindenwold, Woodcrest, and Ashland in South Jersey, and Eighth/Market and 13th/Locust in Center City.