SEPTA'S 219 unionized transit cops went on strike at 2 p.m. Wednesday, just 20 minutes after their final offer was rejected at a bargaining session.

SEPTA declined to discuss numbers, but Richard Neal Jr., president of the Fraternal Order of Transit Police, said his union was striking over a "measly" 50-cent hourly raise for mandatory recertification training required of all police officers.

That raise would cost SEPTA $200,000 a year, Neal said. SEPTA's final offer of 15 cents an hour was "an insult," he said.

SEPTA announced that 24 Philadelphia cops - 11 on the Broad Street Line, 13 on the El - would patrol "critical sites" during the school-dismissal/rush-hour peak from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. SEPTA will pay the overtime.

In addition, SEPTA announced that 40 AlliedBarton Security Services officers would work two shifts not covered by city police: 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 2 p.m. to 10 p.m.

"I take that as a slap in the face and a joke to the riding public," Neal said, adding that private security guards are not police officers. "They have no police powers," Neal said. "They cannot make arrests." He said all they can do is "watch people get on and off the train."

Neal said that overlapping shifts of 150 or more transit cops are normally on duty during the school-recess/rush-hour peaks that SEPTA plans to patrol with just 24 city police officers.

Returning to Philadelphia from Washington, D.C., Wednesday night, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who has a long history of settling difficult labor disputes here, told the Daily News: "I have no idea what the hell is going on. Rich Neal called me and told me they got slapped in the face at the bargaining table today, so they went out on strike. I got to fix this."

FOTP spokesman Anthony Ingargiola characterized as "balderdash" SEPTA's claim that it was surprised by the sudden strike. He pointed out that the transit agency had a plan to immediately replace striking transit officers with city cops and private security guards. And, Ingargiola said, the union made its final offer in early February. "Even a first-year law student understands what a 'last best' offer means," Ingargiola said.

The new contract would include an 11.5 percent pay increase for transit police over five years. Ingargiola said that was not in dispute.