The End of an Era

At a ceremony this morning at the Hyundai Rotem assembly plant on Weccacoe Avenue in South Philadelphia, officials from SEPTA and Hyundai Rotem celebrated the construction of Silverliner Vs 881 and 882. When this pair of cars completes its testing period and is accepted by SEPTA, it will mark the end of the Silverliner V acquisition process. That period started, depending on how one counts, either on March 3 2010, when Rotem delivered 701 as the first of the 120 Silverliner Vs, or in June 2002, when SEPTA first issued the RFP for the new railcars.

And what a long, strange trip it’s been in the eleven years since those early days. The contract was awarded, sued over, rescinded, then re-awarded to the same bidder. (Oh, and we fought the entirety of the Iraq War.) Construction was delayed, delayed, and delayed again. (The poor sods at MBTA, who ordered bilevel commuter rail cars from Rotem after SEPTA gave them a foothold in the American market, have threatened cancellation over the delays that have cascaded to their order.) SEPTA waffled back and forth over whether they would have full cabs or half-cabs for their engineers, before settling on half-cabs. And when the Silverliner Vs first rolled out, they had to be pulled from service to correct assembly defects that caused cracked shells, and design errors that compromised the climate control performance.

We hope MBTA had a penalty clause in their contract like the one SEPTA rightly insisted on, which levied a penalty on every late Silverliner of $200/car/day. We hope that SEPTA insists on payment in cash, and not in-kind payments of the kind they have negotiated previously with other vendors. And we hope that SEPTA remembers all this when they consider the replacements for the 231 Silverliner IVs, just as the 120 Silverliner Vs replaced 75 Silverliner IIs and IIIs.

After all, the Silverliner IVs turn 40 this year. Even shotwelded stainless steel railcars have a shelf life. The calendar marches forward…

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