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69th Street Carhouse: Repairing Trucks And Brakes

The Market-Frankford Line provides over 160,000 daily rides to passengers. And 31-year veteran Ritchie Byers is just one of the many employees responsible for ensuring that the "El" cars are in top working condition.

Stationed at 69th Street, Byers is aware of every aspect of the work the mechanics perform. Starting as a mechanic's apprentice, Byers quickly advanced and now is one of the more seasoned mechanics regularly servicing the fleet of over 200 M-4 subway cars that run on the Market-Frankford Line. Byers and the other mechanics work to insure the cars are in top condition for continuous operation throughout the day. Byers will be the first one to tell you that it's not an easy job. Every six-months, the 65,000-pound vehicles undergo a thorough inspection and maintenance of units called "trucks." Two trucks located under each car contain the vehicle's wheels, gearbox, motors, brakes, axles and shock absorbers.

"We can't get started until the car is hoisted up on a lift," Byers said. "We are always prepared for a challenge with equipment of this size. It's not unusual to come in early in the morning and leave late at night. The job has to be done right."

Because the trucks weigh over 5,000 pounds, heavy duty equipment is required to remove the units from the car. They are then placed onto special inside tracks built into the floor of the shop, which allows the trucks to be easily rolled and moved to shop work bays.

"Depending on the maintenance being performed, a car can be in the shop eight hours or longer," Byers said. "It's not a simple job."

Very often the larger projects - like the gearboxes - require more than one individual to maneuver. Another mechanic will assist by attaching the truck to heavy duty chains connected to a motorized crane suspended from the shop ceiling. The crane can hold at least 10 tons.

As technology progressed, so did the opportunity for providing safer service. Other work being performed at the 69th Street shop involves the repair and maintenance of the advanced propulsion and braking system on M-4 cars. The Automatic Train Control (ATC) braking system helps to prevent hazardous conditions on the line.

Frank Brinkman, a Field Apprenticeship Coordinator and light-rail specialist who has worked for SEPTA for 25 years, trains technicians on the ATC system. The ATC system controls train speed through information received from the rails. ATC provides trains zones set to specific maximum speeds. If the trains exceed the zone speed, their propulsion is shut down.

"The previous technology used on the old M-3 cars was called the 'block' system. It simply prevented the car from striking another car," Brinkman said.

The ATC system controls the speed of the train between stations and in work areas, increasing safety on the system. Should the system experience problems, a fault notification failure light on the dashboard will alert the operator and the car will be taken to the 69th Street shop, where system information is downloaded from the car's internal computer. The information gathered isolates the area of the problem so technicians can repair and return the car to service. The problems range from circuit board malfunctions to power supply issues.

Thirty-year veteran Brian Miley knows very well the difficulties associated with the job. Miley cut his teeth as a First Class Machinist constructing replacement parts from blueprints for Broad Street line trains. At night, he repaired the trucks for the old Brill subway cars. Replacing brakes, repairing wheels and motors, he surrounded himself with the intricacies of rail vehicles. With the vast information he received, he soon became a Technical Instructor of Mechanical Equipment and then Chief Instructor of Light Rail Operations.

"It was just something I was able to pick-up and run with," said Miley. "I like learning and being involved mechanically."

Miley has always had a full plate. When he wasn't crafting a new part, he was putting one in. When he wasn't learning, he was teaching.

"Technology advances so fast - you have to keep up with it," said Miley. "We have new vehicles using state-of-the-art technology; I have to make sure our mechanics have the most up-to-date education and training on the repair and overhaul of our rail vehicles."

Miley added: "My two daughters believe I must know what I'm doing because I spend so much time here."

A 65,000 pound M-4 car is hoisted up on a lift.

Veteran Mechanic Ritchie Byers uses a motorized crane to raise a dismantled truck unit into the repair bay.

Light Rail Specialist Frank Brinkman instructs technicians on the repair of Automatic Train Control (ATC) systems.

Brinkman downloads information from the car to a laptop computer to determine the condition of the ATC system.

Brian Miley makes certain mechanics receive valuable instruction on M-4 truck repair.