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
To date, the only township along SEPTA's Fox Chase-Newtown line to not endorse the conversion of SEPTA's railroad to a bicycle trail is Northampton Township. Most residents along that stretch of SEPTA's commuter rail corridor are opposed to the trail. On January 22, 2020, Northampton Township's Board of Supervisors held a presentation on the trail project prior to the endorsement of a "study". During the meeting, many residents vocally objected to the concept on the grounds of cost, liability and privacy. Despite this, the township board seemed to indicate that the trail would move forward regardless of taxpayer sentiment. In 2019, Upper Southampton aprroved the conversion.
While SEPTA, DVRPC and political officials have written off any possibility of restoring commuter rail service on this corridor, it appears that the permanent riddence of this line as a mass transit asset is part of the agenda started in the 1970s to reduce this high grade piece of infrastructure to low grade use. The position of the Northampton Township board of supervisors confirms that the politicians do not care what the voters want and that they are taking orders from higer authorities.
We note this because until 2010, Bucks County had continued to endorse the reactivation of the Fox Chase-Newtown line as a vital transportation corridor to the municipalities in Bucks County that have little to no access to mass transit. Once the Bryn Athyn inspired and Montgomery County led charge to convert the line to a trail took hold, Bucks County, with the help of ex-Commissioner (and pal of SEPTA boss Pat Deon) Charley Martin who quashed any discussion of restoration of commuter service.
Light rail service on SEPTA's Route 15 is suspended from January 25, 2020 until further notice. The line is being suspended due to failing rolling stock. In the early 2000's, SEPTA chose to rehabilitate 18 PCC cars for use on the line. The cars were reconditioned by a then unknown vendor, Brookville. Only 18 cars were rebuilt while the line requires 15 cars at peak times.
It remains unseen how long temporary bustitution will be in effect on the line. Past failed promises on lines such as Fox Chase-Newtown do not give much credit to SEPTA's
promise of temporary suspension. In addition, SEPTA has no funding to modernize the trolley system with new cars and level boarding stops across the system.
Over the past several years, interest amongst residents and elected officials in West Chester have been discussing options for restoring commuter rail service to West Chester.
Unlike other abandoned SEPTA corridors, the West Chester branch is intact and operating, thanks to the West Chester railroad, who operates occasional tourist service between
West Chester and Glen Mills.
While West Chester would benefit from reactivated rail serivce, much of the line traverses sparsely populated areas and would attract little ridership between West Chester University and the future Wawa station. It remains unclear where funding for this project will come from.