Two years of pokey trains, parking disruptions, and noisy nights around the Collingswood PATCO station are almost over.
Just when a columnist - puzzled by the seemingly inscrutable and endless goings-on - got curious enough to ask a couple of questions.
Turns out a $12 million project to replace 5,000 concrete pads under the tracks along a half-mile elevated stretch of the commuter line should be finished this month, PATCO general manager Bob Box says.
Although this sort of infrastructure project is a major undertaking, there's little glamour attached. The need isn't evident to the public, but the annoying nature of the work is all too clear. And there's little visible difference after the project is done.
Hardly the stuff of photo ops and ribbon-cuttings.
But the wear and tear caused by the trains and the weather made continued spot replacement of the pads on the 42-year-old viaduct impractical. So in October 2008, crews began jackhammering out, and pouring a replacement for, each of the pads, which sit atop the concrete deck and keep the tracks at proper grade.
The rails were then bolted into the new pads.
"It's very precise work," Box says.
Noisy, too: "Pennsylvania concrete contractors are working at night removing concrete. It's an inconvenience for people who live around the viaduct, and it impacts the [train] schedule."
PATCO, which carries about 36,600 passengers on a typical weekday, maintained service during the project.
Work was done during off-peak hours and involved closing sections of track and slowing trains to 15 m.p.h.
While the 219 trains that hurtle along the viaduct on weekdays (156 on Saturdays and 124 on Sundays) should run a bit smoother and quieter after the repair, passengers may not notice. But the job was essential.
"You could call it a midlife rehab," Box says.
Whatever you call it, the imminent completion is good news.
"We'll be happy to see it end," observes Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley, who says PATCO was generally cooperative in resolving noise and other complaints.
"In the evening you could hear them out on the tracks with heavy tools. It was definitely noticeable," says Michael Miles, a lawyer who lives in the LumberYard condominium complex adjacent to the viaduct and uses PATCO to get to work.
"We got through it!" says Betsy Cook, director of the Collingswood Farmers' Market, a Saturday morning attraction under the Speed Line between Irvin and Collings Avenues.
Two dozen vendors and thousands of patrons had no choice but to go along for the ride. And the market's musicians found themselves competing with not only the rattle and roar of trains but also the buzz of generators, the hiss of hoses, and the rat-a-tat of jackhammers.
"Some of the seniors complained," says Cook, whose house backs up to the viaduct. "There were bright lights and loud noises in the middle of the night. It was annoying."
"But I grew up in Collingswood," she adds. "The Speed Line is my neighborhood train. It really does make a contribution to the town. So whatever they had to do to fix it up is all right with me."
In the enveloping heat of the station platform Wednesday, riders Chad Jackson of Philadelphia and Rose Del Vecchio of Collingswood had no complaints about the project. Or PATCO, either.
"I've been taking the train for a while, and I hadn't even noticed, really," said Jackson, a 27-year-old mechanical engineer.
"I take this train to work every day," said Del Vecchio, an Atlantic City casino worker. "I love it."
Gotta love this, too: PATCO has no major projects planned for the Collingswood station area for the next several years.