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The Wire Train: Keeping SEPTA Powered

Sound judgment and job knowledge go hand-in-hand for Gary Roney. As foreman of the wire train, his job is as serious as his no-nonsense personality.

SEPTA's Regional Rail trains operate on electrical power transmitted from overhead catenary wires and collected in a device called a pantograph which is mounted on top of each train. If the power goes off or when the wires are down, the trains don't move.

Roney's crew is responsible for replacing catenary wire throughout SEPTA's 80-year-old rail system. They keep the wire up and in-line to power the trains. The tough fix for Roney is ensuring his crew does not get shocked by the catenary wires or hit by passing trains; these are both major safety concerns on this job.

Roney makes sure this does not happen. He is in constant communication with SEPTA's power dispatcher and Control Center - the eyes and ears of the entire transportation system. The power dispatcher ensures power is shut off in precisely the area in which Roney's wire train crew is working. A large schematic of the power network visually reflects, in red, all energized lines. Green sections show the areas where the catenary wires have been de-energized.

Once the work site is de-energized, the wire train crew begins the grueling job of removing and replacing deteriorated lines. First, they must install electrical grounds so if there is any chance of electric shock, the charge goes straight into the ground.

After precautions are taken, the work begins. The wire train raises the workers up on an elevated work platform nearly 20 feet in the air so they can remove old wire, splice the ends together and retire ancient, rusting insulators.

Hoisting the wires in place and re-connecting them properly is a metaphor for Roney's perfect fit for the job.

The task is often difficult and intense. With safety always in mind, the objective is to get the job completed as soon as possible. If not, service could be crippled, an option never taken lightly at the Authority.

"My crew's focus is always on the job," Roney says. "With 12,000 volts at hand, replacing catenary wire is no joke."

Roney has worked for SEPTA for 24 years, the last seven years as foreman.

When asked what he likes most about the job, Roney said: "I just like to come in and get the job done," a true reflection of his strong character. His crew is always aware of his forceful presence and determined watch over the task. His seriousness instills a safe and reassuring work mode among them.

The catenary system projects are a major component of SEPTA's capital improvement plans. To date, nearly 60 percent of old wires have been replaced. Roney knows the impact his job has on service.

Roney directs his crew to work steady and safely. They know that the day's work is not finished until the Control Center has turned the power back on and they hear, "Hot rail."

Wire train Foreman Gary Roney.

Control Center staff stay in close communication with wire train crews.

Wire train crew members on an elevated work platform.

A lineman prepares to splice in new contact wire.

The wire train heads out to the work site to begin pulling in new wire.