One of SEPTA’s brand spanking new ROTEM-Hyundai-built (American assembled) Silverliner V cars is on permanent display on Suburban Station’s Track 0 until October 15. And if you’re bewildered by the LCD screens and strangely placed doors at quarter points there are about 15 SEPTA personnel on the platform prepared to guide you through the boarding and detraining process. And in a bit of nimble PR, SEPTA prepared a handout to address the inevitable questions about their circumvention of the Buy American contract clause. Entitled “Silverliner V Philadelphia Regional Manufacturers”, the sheet lists the regional firms that will supply components for the assembly. Batteries from Cherry Hill, operator seats from Exton; HVAC systems from West Chester! Glass from Trumbauersville? And true to the Regional Rail’s form, Philadelphia is not well represented in the list of suppliers.
But truly the Silverliner V is a sight to behold. SEPTA still uses Silverliner IIs that they purchased in the late 1960s. Not since the 1970s have new trains plied the rails. New vinyl seats provide peace of mind the old cloth couldn’t. LCD screens provide directional information, transfer options, and safety advice. Even better, the LCD screens are supposedly connected to a SEPTA’s central traffic control, enabling real time information to get to passengers. The doors, which are placed not at the very end of the cars but at quarter points provide greater structural rigidity in case of a collision. New exterior LED info lights means no more ganking blue “R5 Paoli” signs. The station stop announcement is detailed and discernible if a little roboty. And there’s additional space for both bikes and wheelchairs. But like any bright shiny new public technology handed down to the citizens of Philadelphia, there will have to be some hardening/securing/downscaling of some of the bells and whistles. For instance, I don’t know how long the LCD screens will last without some sort of plastic coating for easy graffiti removal or general protection.