To ease passengers' frustration with late trains and crowded platforms, PATCO may change its construction schedule on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the commuter line's chief said Wednesday.
PATCO may temporarily reduce the track-replacement construction work to weekends, said John Hanson, acting chief executive of the Delaware River Port Authority, which owns and operates PATCO.
Since Jan. 18, PATCO has been closing one of its two tracks on the bridge from 11 a.m. Fridays until 3:30 a.m. Tuesdays.
That has meant rush-hour headaches for passengers on Friday evenings and Monday mornings and evenings, with scheduled delays of up to 30 minutes between some peak hour trains.
And when trains break down on the lone operating track, as happened Feb. 10 during both the morning and evening rush hours, the headaches become nightmares.
Service had to be halted twice on Feb. 10, and in the evening breakdown, hundreds of commuters had to be evacuated from a smoking train through a dark tunnel to a long-closed underground station in Old City.
PATCO officials are working with construction managers to temporarily reduce the track closures during at least some of the rush hours, Hanson told DRPA commissioners at a board meeting Wednesday.
That could last until spring, when there is less danger of snow shorting out trains' traction motors and halting service.
But Hanson said the "competing demands" of critical construction requirements and riders' needs would mean some delays for the next two years.
"We are doing everything we can to try to make this process better," said Hanson, who took over as acting CEO on Jan. 17. "In the end, though, there's going to be some pain."
In other business Wednesday, the DRPA board extended Hanson's interim contract to March 17. By then, Board Chairman David Simon said, a nationwide search will be complete for a possible replacement for former chief executive John Matheussen, who was named last month to a New Jersey judgeship by Gov. Christie.
Hanson is considered a front-runner for the permanent post, and Simon praised him Wednesday for having "really taken a hold of the issues that confront the authority."
The board balked Wednesday at a request from DRPA Inspector General Thomas W. Raftery for permission to operate a consulting business in his off-duty hours.
The board tabled Raftery's request and will take it up next month, when it considers other managers' requests to have outside employment.
Raftery, who is paid $130,000 a year by the DRPA, said he wanted to make extra money because of financial hardship inflicted by Hurricane Sandy. He said he wanted to do "due diligence and compliance" work for several unnamed clients.
Board member William Sasso argued against giving Raftery blanket approval for outside work, saying each proposal should be evaluated separately.
"I'm sorry you have these economic conditions, Tom, but I also have heard you talk about how you're understaffed and overworked," Sasso said.
Board member Rick Taylor recommended tabling Raftery's request, and after a split vote by the board, Simon deferred the matter to next month's meeting.
Raftery did win a victory on a separate matter when the DRPA's audit committee recommended the agency pay the inspector general's legal bills in a long-running dispute with DRPA officials over his independence.
More than $58,000 in legal bills were submitted last year to the DRPA by the law firm Elliott Greenleaf of Blue Bell on behalf of the Office of Inspector General.
The firm employs Deborah H. Simon, wife of David Simon. David Simon has been an ally of Raftery in the DRPA infighting.
Simon recused himself from Wednesday's vote on the payment of the legal bills. He said his wife has not worked on any DRPA matters and has a specific agreement with her firm that she will not receive any financial benefit from the firm's work for Raftery or the agency.