You always wanted somebody to fix SEPTA?
Well, wait no longer. Professional fix-it guy Sean Riley tackles the transit agency Thursday at 9 p.m. in an hour-long episode of World's Toughest Fixes on the National Geographic Channel.
Riley has previously worked on cruise ships, suspension bridges, ski lifts, and a giant Las Vegas video screen. Now he joins SEPTA crews in the bowels of the Broad Street subway and atop Regional Rail power poles.
On "Philly Mega Transit," he tags along on the "money train," where gun-toting SEPTA workers collect the day's receipts from subway stations. He helps replace sections of damaged rail on the Market-Frankford Line. He rides the vacuum train ("a job that sucks") to clean up drain-clogging debris between Fern Rock and Erie subway stations.
Riley breathes drama and suspense into every task. That unattended red suitcase on Track 0 could explode! If the subway pumps don't start, the Tasker-Morris station could flood! With a wire-repair crew out to remove old insulators from 12,000-volt lines, "one wrong move could be your last!"
He does not, however, try to fix SEPTA's biggest problem: its $110 million budget hole. Perhaps some jobs are too huge even for professional riggers.
On Tuesday evening, Riley joined many of the featured SEPTA workers for a preview party at the Comcast Center. They got to watch a snippet of the show and hear warm words from Mayor Nutter and Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen.
"We are hopeful that when folks see the full version . . . they'll have a much greater appreciation of the hard work of SEPTA employees," Nutter said.
Riley and his crew spent about a month last spring and summer filming SEPTA workers day and night to get the material for the episode that will be shown Thursday.
"We have to wait for something to go wrong," Riley said Tuesday. "Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for SEPTA, that happens here on a daily basis."
He said he found the workers, from bus drivers to dispatchers to track maintainers, "very competent and generally excited to tell their stories."
"They're something of unsung heroes. If they do their jobs right, you never hear about them."
One of the featured workers, electrician Jeff "Tag" Tartaglione, got to watch himself slip climbing down a 30-foot-high power pole. He caught himself and regained his footing.
"He tells me sometimes what he does, but to see it is something else. . . . That was scary," said his girlfriend, Elizabeth Jasolosky.
Tartaglione said he likes his job with SEPTA's power department for the "sense of excitement. . . . You're up in the air, you never know what you're going to get."
Bus driver Bill James, a 30-year SEPTA veteran, said he was glad that viewers would get a chance to see more of his job than just the front of his Route 55 bus.
"Most people just see the bus. They don't know that they're cleaned, fueled, their tires are inspected, the lightbulbs are inspected. . . . They don't see what goes on behind the scenes."