PATCO, the troubled commuter rail line between Center City and South Jersey, is about to get a major makeover.
Up-to-date train information will be displayed on variable message signs and flat-screen monitors at train stations, 230 new video cameras will be installed in stations and parking lots, and SEPTA crews will be hired for five years to maintain PATCO's balky escalators and elevators, if the PATCO board approves the plans on Wednesday.
The upgrades will cost $7.5 million.
The changes are planned as PATCO riders, who have endured their winter of discontent, are about to get an inglorious summer.
In June, a rail reconstruction project will shut down one of two tracks on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge for two months, guaranteeing delayed and crowded trains. Then, after a monthlong respite, five more weeks of one-track operation will follow.
That will be a 24/7 version of the hassles that commuters have dealt with on extended weekends since January, as construction crews have temporarily shut down one track.
In February, trains broke down on the only operating track during both the morning and evening rush hours in a single day, and in the evening incident, passengers had to be evacuated from smoke-filled cars to walk through a dark tunnel to safety.
PATCO's ridership has dropped amid the unpleasantness, and trains' on-time performance in February was 85 percent, far below the agency goal of 98 percent.
One of the chief complaints of commuters was a lack of information and communication about delays, and the new electronic signs and monitors are designed to fix that.
The messaging system, which is expected to be fully installed in five or six months, is designed to provide timely information about train arrivals and delays. Now, passengers must rely on loudspeaker announcements that are often unintelligible or on PATCO texts, which are often late.
Simplex Grinnell Co., a security and communications firm headquartered in Westminster, Mass., will be hired for $3 million to install the messaging system, if the PATCO board authorizes the contract at its monthly meeting Wednesday.
Work could start in about a month, PATCO staff said.
The 230 replacement cameras to be installed in stations and parking lots are to take the place of outdated analog cameras that are often broken.
Schneider Electric Inc. of Palatine, Ill., is slated to install the cameras, under a proposed $578,158 one-year contract.
Escalators and elevators at PATCO stations will be repaired and maintained by SEPTA crews for five years for $3.9 million, under terms of a contract to be considered by the board on Wednesday.
SEPTA was hired on an emergency basis in August, after PATCO officials allowed an existing repair contract to lapse at the end of July, leading to a cascade of broken escalators and elevators.
The Federal Transit Administration, after an investigation, found that PATCO had failed "to keep federally funded equipment in good operating order."
PATCO must now submit to FTA monthly maintenance reports on the availability of elevators and escalators, including reasons for any failures, corrective actions and schedules, until PATCO documents three consecutive months of service with 97 percent operability of elevators and 90 percent operability of escalators.
In March, PATCO escalators were 81 percent operational.
SEPTA will add five repair workers to its staff to help fulfill the PATCO contract as well as maintain its own escalators and elevators, SEPTA chief financial officer Richard Burnfield said.