In accordance with its enabling legislation, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority has held hearings on the proposals comprising its Fiscal Year 2020 Capital Budget and Fiscal Year 2020--2031 Capital Program. The Philadelphia Street Railway Historical Society is sympathetic to the aims and objectives of these proposals, and we are grateful for the opportunity afforded to us on April 29 to query the staff of the Authority concerning the details of these proposals and the process of their development.
As ridership continues to decline precipitately throughout the system, it is essential for the Authority to advance the projects most likely to reverse this trend. Among these is the project identified as "Trolley Acquisition and Infrastructure." Currently programmed for Fiscal Years 2025--2031, we request that the Authority prioritize this project, shifting it to Fiscal Years 2020--2024.
At the same time, we must caution the Authority that the introduction of low-floor articulated streetcars onto the narrow streets of Southwest Philadelphia, where the majority of the Subway--Surface routes now operate, will necessitate parking, curbing and other streetscape modifications of a magnitude certain to provoke a firestorm of political protest. As an alternative, we strongly urge the Authority to consider the acquisition of partial low-floor, standard-length cars, which are currently available from several European manufacturers and potentially from American manufacturers as well. These cars can easily be equipped with couplers for multiple-unit operation during peak hours.
In the interim, we urge the Authority to initiate a program substantially to extend the serviceability of its existing fleet of light rail vehicles, acquired thirty-eight years ago from Kawasaki Heavy Industries. In their ruggedness and durability these vehicles are virtually unsurpassed, and in the course of rebuilding, they can certainly be retrofitted with wheelchair lifts. Upon the acquisition of a new generation of streetcars, the Authority can retain these vehicles for eventual operation on several crosstown, linehaul, or radial routes on which streetcars are more appropriate than buses.
Among these routes are Routes 23 and Routes 56, which the Authority has been operating with buses since the fall of 1992. Since their nominally temporary conversion to bus operation, the Authority has, until recent years, repeatedly affirmed its commitment to restore them ultimately to streetcar operation. In pursuance of this commitment, we urge the Authority to reinsert a placeholder for this project in the Capital Program.
Time and again, public transportation experts of international renown have attested to the superior ability of streetcars to attract and to retain ridership. On the City Transit Division, capital investments in this mode hold the greatest promise of stanching the continuous hemorrhage of passengers availing themselves of Lyft or Uber.
Submitted by: MARK D. SANDERS, PRESIDENT
PHILADELPHIA STREET RAILWAY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
SEPTA has selected the final route for the King of Prussia rail extension of the Norristown High Speed line.
While the Key project is not yet complete -- including its cost -- the money spent thus far would have paid for restoration of a portion of an existing rail corridor on the SEPTA system. New riders, new voters using SEPTA, and new revenue. SEPTA's priorities remain on untested gadgets.
During the winter of 2014, the SEPTA board of directors quietly signed over the out-of-service Fox Chase-Newtown corridor to Montgomery County. "Their portion" of the railroad has since had the rails and ties removed in the spring of 2014 as part of the extension of the "Pennypack Trail" from the Philadelphia county line to Byberry Road. The dream of Feodor Pitcairn of killing the railroad since the 1960's has finally become reality.
While SEPTA retains legal ownership of the land, this effectively kills off any future consideration of restoring rail service to Bucks County where existing SEPTA regional rail stations are at capacity, roadways congested, and no other means of expanding effective mass transportation possible.
As previously documented by PA-TEC, SEPTA has refused to assert ownership of the trailway with the placement of signs acknowledging the corridor as railbanked. It is certain that any future aspirations for reactivation will be vehemently opposed by trail users, NIMBYs and BANANAs (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything).
The Newtown corridor is another missed opportunity, a direct violation of SEPTA's enabling legislation, in part caused by inaction on the part of Bucks County who had the opportunity to restore RDC service in 1983, the corrupt politicians in Montgomery County, the wealthy Bryn Athyn clans, and SEPTA's own corrupt board of directors who have poorly planned investment in the region's rail system. It should also be mentioned the lack of real public support has contributed to the Newtown line's fate. Have fun.