Places where SEPTA Regional Rail shares track with freight

Commenter Tsuyoshi asked, “Are there any [SEPTA Regional Rail tracks] shared with freight?

That’s a bit of an involved question, but the short answer is: “yes, quite a few”.  As asked, the real answer is that all of the Regional Rail network could be used for any potential freight customer on-line, and virtually every line sees at least some freight, but as a practical matter, only some track segments see regular freight service.  Fewer still see freight in the daylight hours, in mixed traffic with SEPTA passenger service.  A handful, including the Center City Tunnel, and the Airport Line between 90th Street and the Terminals, are unlikely to ever see a freight train for reasons of geography and geometry.

This is as comprehensive a listing of where freight routes intersect with the Regional Rail network, as I can assemble:

  • SEPTA runs on CSX tracks between West Trenton and Neshaminy; the TIGER-funded track separation between the two will be done by the end of next year.  Farther down the same line, CSX and SEPTA between Newtown Jct. and Cheltenham Jct. were separated in 2004, during the Faye Moore era, and the way it was done (single-tracking both, removing flexibility without adding any capacity to compensate) is still grounds for salty language, ten years on.
  • The short line Pennsylvania Northeastern Railroad serves industrial customers in Montgomery and Bucks Counties on the ex-Reading side of the system, and acts as a bridge line between other local short lines and CSX.  Its main yard is just north of Lansdale Station, visible from the platforms.
  • NS runs on the Manayunk/Norristown Line for a very short distance to access the Trenton Cutoff from its Philadelphia-Reading mainline; someone with a good arm could hit both ends of the shared segment with thrown baseballs from the platform at NTC.
  • NS and CSX retain trackage rights over the Airport Line from CP 60TH STREET to CP 90TH STREET, and use their four-hour window to move unit trains of Bakken crude oil to the new terminal in Eddystone.  When the Class Is recently asked SEPTA to run oil trains during the day, SEPTA told them to pound sand.
  • Trains carrying stone for track ballast from the quarry in Glen Mills stopped running on the Media/Elwyn line in 2011.  Those trains stopped running because of deteriorating track conditions west of Elwyn, which are due to be rehabilitated as part of the Wawa service restoration project.  The West Chester Railroad would like that connection restored so that it might serve potential freight customers in Chester County.
  • NS uses the Amtrak Northeast Corridor in Delaware to access its lines serving the Delmarva Peninsula.
  • Conrail Shared Assets will run trains on the NEC between SHORE interlocking and Brewerytown in North Philadelphia, to interchange trains to and from South Jersey via the Delair Bridge.
  • It is very rare for through-freight to use the NEC, as opposed to a parallel mainline owned by one of the Class Is, but it does still happen on rare occasions.

Given all of that, it’s critical to be aware, as we advocate for rapid transit-level frequencies on Regional Rail, that we cannot and should not try to impose other rapid transit standards; SEPTA’s railroad is a railroad, and has all of the functions of a railroad.  Freight may be incredibly unsexy, and sharing tracks with freight is a frustration for passengers and dispatchers alike, but keeping freight on the rails is as critical for a sustainable transportation system as any passenger rail project.

Posted in Legacy Infrastructure, SEPTA | 8 Comments

A Note on the Importance of Frequency in Regional Transit

Michael Noda:

Itinerant Urbanist looks at how high frequency service makes PATCO an entirely different beast from SEPTA Regional Rail, even with very old data. One note to add; the recent PATCO debacles with the bridge construction schedules can be interpreted as PATCO being forced to give up its major attraction, its high frequency. And in that light, the PR nightmare that ensued was entirely predictable.

Originally posted on Itinerant Urbanist:

Apologies for the long periods between posts. I’ve been caught up with school, work, and the Jewish holidays, so time for blogging has been infrequent. That being said, here’s a short post on something that caught my eye as I was doing research for a paper.

Anyone interested in planning, economic, or transportation issues should be aware of a series of papers authored by Richard Voith, a former economic advisor to the Philadelphia Fed, Wharton School professor, and member of the SEPTA board. His writing covers topics like capitalization of transit access, urban-suburban real estate dynamics, and transit efficiencies. The last topic is the subject of a 1994 paper titled “Public transit: Realizing its potential,” published in the Philadelphia Fed Business Review. The paper is a general argument, but it also includes some interesting data on Philly transit systems circa 1994, which I thought it would be interesting to…

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Posted in Organization before Electronics before Concrete, PATCO, SEPTA | 4 Comments

The Blog is Back! What happened while we were gone?

Oh, yes, right.


It’s been eventful.

Some technical problems related to a self-destructing laptop took down posting access to the blog, but they’re fixed now, and hopefully will never return. (Also: SHINY new laptop.) I hope I was able to keep those of you who follow me on Twitter informed, or at least amused in the interim.

And the blog really is returning to a Philadelphia a mini-Rip Van Winkle who slept through the last two months would only partly recognize.

And that was all just one day. (September 4th)

Since then, the hits have just kept coming, the latest being SEPTA’s declaration that its pilot program of overnight Subway and El service on weekends is a smashing success, and will be “extended indefinitely”. Late night revelers and graveyard shift workers alike have taken to the restored rail service, with average weekend ridership up 66% over the Nite Owl buses. Despite that added ridership not covering the increased cost of the service, a confident SEPTA is committing itself to being a public service, driving economic growth in Philadelphia. As of now, SEPTA cannot directly recover any of the myriad gains to the city that take the form of greater economic activity, decreased incidence of driving-while-impaired, or quality of life improvements like being able to cross 2nd Street in Northern Liberties between 2:00a and 3:00a without getting run over by a taxi. But the declaration that the public good outweighs the bottom line — from a SEPTA that is still under the stringent financial management of CFO Rich “Dr. No” Burnfield — is a demonstration of self-confidence that’s still surprising, and even staggering in the context of SEPTA’s precarious position before the passage of Act 89.

Writing this blog is going to be a lot more fun, going forward. I hope I get plenty of opportunity to do so.

Posted in Housekeeping, SEPTA | Leave a comment

Weekly Roundup: Pay as you enter, IBEW settles, police body cams, Greenlee may be a fool, and Previdi definitely is

Another edition brought to you by the World’s Worst Blogger:

  • In the end of an era, SEPTA has announced that, beginning on September 1, pay-as-you-leave will be abolished on the Suburban Transit routes out of 69th Street Terminal where it is currently the rule. This will standardize the entire SEPTA transit system on the more logical and familiar pay-as-you-enter rule, ostensibly in preparation for NPT. One hopes that it will be the precursor to other steps to bring further sanity to SEPTA’s fare system. Dare we suggest abolishing the $1 transfer fee and adjusting the base fare to compensate in 2016? We can recapture the efficiencies of open boarding at 69th Street while retaining the simplicity and sense of pay-as-you-enter by putting bus and trolley boarding areas at 69th Street inside the faregates. Think on it, SEPTA!
  • A SEPTA electrical worker participating in the Trolley Tunnel Blitz apparently misjudged the distance to the adjacent active MFL tracks, and was struck by an El train in the tunnel at 22nd Street Monday afternoon. The worker, who was rushed to Hahnemann University Hopsital with injuries to the head and knee, is expected to recover soon; the Monday evening rush hour, already disrupted by the Trolley Blitz, was snarled by an El shutdown, followed by single tracking around the accident site.
  • Speaking of SEPTA electrical workers, the IBEW local representing Regional Rail workers reached a tentative contract agreement with management yesterday. IBEW was one of the two unions that staged a 24-hour-long strike this past June; the other union, representing Regional Rail’s engineers, is still in talks, and is making pessimistic statements.
  • The eyes of the world are riveted on the absolute failure of policing in Ferguson, MO, where riots and police riots have ensued after the fatal shooting of a unarmed young man by police officer. The body camera that could have told us much about that initial encounter, instead reportedly sat in a box in Ferguson PD headquarters, as North St. Louis County police officers, like many around the country, are resistant to adopting them. Meanwhile, in a display of what policing should look like, SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel thinks body cameras are the awesomest thing ever, and cannot wait until all of his officers are wearing one. Kudos, Chief!
  • The #SEPTAWILM petition is still going, having passed the 1,500 signature mark last night. And as petition starter David Curtis notes, the riders and potential riders already know that expanding off-peak Wilmington service is of mutual benefit to both Delaware and Pennsylvania: the ratio of petition signers from DE to petition signers from PA is less than 1.02:1.
  • As if the ongoing ad blitz and the swirling rumors of an imminent naming rights deal with Verizon for Suburban Station weren’t enough, Verizon’s archrival Comcast has found the name of its headquarters scrubbed from SEPTA signage throughout the concourse.
  • An extension of the 22nd Street Bike Lane from Spring Garden to Fairmount is being held up because Councilman Bill Greenlee’s office is afraid of numbers. Actually, maybe not, but that’s one of the more charitable interpretations. The space on the pavement for the bike lane is there, and it’s not taking away a legal car travel lane, just an unmarked, illegal, car travel lane.
  • Bob Previdi needs to shut up forever. The way to bring Amtrak into Suburban Station (and Market East!) already exists, and it’s called the free transfer onto SEPTA Regional Rail (Ctrl+F “Amtrak”). Quit trying to spend scarce money to fix something that isn’t broke, and especially don’t waste money trying to do something in hardware that is best taken care of in software.
Posted in Amtrak, DART First State, Fare policy, Legacy Infrastructure, Organization before Electronics before Concrete, Philadelphia City Council, SEPTA, Service Disruptions, Threats to Life and Safety | 7 Comments

Wednesday Roundup

Things that are happening that I haven’t been able to catch up on yet:

  • If you live or work in West Philly, your trolleys have been diverting to 40th/Market since Friday night, and will continue doing so for the rest of this week, next week, and the weekend after that. Why? SEPTA Media Relations explains what is going on in the trolley tunnel:
  • The SEPTA Night Owl Subway trial has been extended from Labor Day to November 2nd, to see if the spectacular ridership numbers stay high enough to make rail service a permanent feature of our Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Friend of the Blog David Curtis is meeting with the arithmetically-challenged CEO of Dart First State, John Sisson, to discuss the petition Curtis spearheaded to make SEPTA service in the First State not resemble a giant middle finger.
  • Rep. Chaka Fattah wants to rename 30th Street Station after his mentor, Bill Gray. It would be a better tribute to Rep. Gray if he had something named for him that had a snowball’s chance in hell of actually associating with his name; every Philadelphian I’ve talked to has said that they intend to refer to the station as 30th Street in perpetuity, regardless of what Congress thinks. Meanwhile, Bennett Levin eviscerates the idea on the merits, or lack thereof.
Posted in DART First State, Legacy Infrastructure, SEPTA, Service Disruptions, Wilmington/Newark Line | 4 Comments

Somebody get John Sisson a calculator and show him how to use it

In remarks to Jake Blumgart writing for Next City, John Sisson, CEO of the Delaware Transit Corporation, says as part of the first official response to the #SEPTAWILM petition that doubling service will result in quintupling costs. That is an extraordinary claim, and nobody should take it at face value until they provide extraordinary evidence, including a complete breakdown of those numbers, before and after.

I’m not saying he’s lying. I’m saying that getting the $751,300/year figure of their current contract with SEPTA was like pulling teeth, and included no details. So there’s an airtight case that DTC is too opaque for a government agency, and a building, prima facie case that somebody there doesn’t know what the hell they’re doing.

Meanwhile, you should sign the ‪#‎SEPTAWILM‬ petition if you haven’t yet.

Posted in DART First State, Organization before Electronics before Concrete, Wilmington/Newark Line | 2 Comments

Sign the Petition: Unsuck SEPTA Wilmington service

On the subject of Better Living through Higher Frequency: Friend of the Blog David Curtis has posted a petition calling on DelDOT and SEPTA to attack the low-hanging fruit of SEPTA’s Wilmington/Newark Line, and extend all off-peak and weekend Marcus Hook trains to Wilmington. This comes after the bewildering success of the petition to reinstate overnight Subway and El service, which has now led to >50% increases in overnight ridership on the two nights a week the trains run.

As I may have mentioned, repeatedly, at every opportunity, the two-hour Wilmington headways are the bane of my household’s existence. They are also dirt-cheap to fix; I looked over David’s cost estimates and agree that the marginal cost to DelDOT should come in on the low side of the $350K-1M range of estimates, and very probably less than the $751,000/year they already pay to SEPTA, for twice today’s service. By any standards of transportation spending, that is pocket change, even for a small constituency like Delaware.

Today’s SEPTA schedules are well-optimized if you are a Delawarean working in Philadelphia, or if you are a Pennsylvanian working a 9:00-5:00, Monday-Friday, job in Wilmington. If you work in Wilmington and your hours are 8:00-4:00, or 10:00-6:00, or 4:00-11:00, or anything involving weekends? Or if, God forbid, you might want to stay in Downtown Wilmington or Center City Philadelphia after work and do something fun? Today, DelDOT’s message to you is “Fsck You, Drive.” Which might go a very long ways to explain why most New Philadelphians have no interest in even visiting Wilmington, much less living there. If Wilmington wants to be the city its leaders are clearly trying to make it, as opposed to a more upscale version of Camden, then all of its good options start with fixing the woefully unuseful connection to Pennsylvania. And in turn, Philadelphia has strong incentives to connect to a rare concentration of rail-accessible suburban jobs.

And yes, more SEPTA Wilmington service means more Claymont service, which will lead to more time together for me and my wife, and less time spent by either of us driving a car, so I have deeply personal reasons to want this petition to come to fruition.


Posted in Organization before Electronics before Concrete, Wilmington/Newark Line | 3 Comments