Faced with a social-media backlash, PATCO on Wednesday said the commuter railroad would postpone until next month implementation of a new schedule that would close half the High Speed Line’s stations overnight.
The schedule was to go in effect Monday, but John Hanson, chief executive of PATCO’s parent agency, the Delaware River Port Authority, said officials decided to delay to get more feedback and “tweak” the plan. Hanson said June 1 is now the target date.
On Tuesday, PATCO announced it would run trains less often and stop only at six of the 13 stations on the 14.1-mile line during overnight hours, citing security of passengers and employees as the reason for the change.
Under the schedule, trains would run about every 60 minutes instead of every 45 between midnight and 4:30 a.m. on weekdays and stop only at the Lindenwold, Woodcrest, Ferry Avenue, Broadway, 8th and Market, and 15th/16th and Locust stations after 1 a.m.
On weekends, trains would operate every 45 minutes and make stops at all stations except 9/10th and Locust between midnight and 2 a.m. After that, trains would run every 60 minutes and only stop at the stations designated to remain open until 4:30.
Under the schedule, there would be six departures in each direction on weekdays between midnight and 4:30 a.m., down from seven. On weekends, when there is an increase in ridership in the late-night hours, the number of departures would remain at seven eastbound while going down to six westbound.
With seven stations closed overnight, trains would run faster. Before the delay was announced, Hanson said the rail line would be able to operate with one train in the system during those hours instead of the current two, and keep a police officer on board the whole time.
Hanson said the desire to put an officer on the train was not due to a rise in crime but to prevent what he called “a couple of incidents recently" — including a sexual assault on a moving train and an attack on an employee — “from turning into a trend.”
The planned change also reflected low ridership numbers after midnight and a desire to “help preserve overnight service,” Hanson said, noting that as a subsidized railroad, PATCO faces “resource constraints” and an expectation from bond rating agencies to operate efficiently.
He said the new schedule was drawn up to affect the fewest riders. “But we’re open to making some changes,” Hanson said.
Complaints on social media focused on the how the schedule would close Collingswood, Westmont, and Haddonfield stations. The stations are a mile apart from each other and their closing would create a six-mile gap between the stations at Ferry Avenue and Woodcrest. Hanson said a suggestion to keep Westmont open was worth considering.