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It’s been a very busy few weeks in Greater Philadelphia transportation news. The 24 hour Regional Rail strike. The continuing saga of Delaware’s I-495 bridge. The reintroduction of overnight weekend service on the El and Subway, which despite the lack of staffing at most stations, has so far been a smashing success. PATCO’s travails with the Ben Franklin Bridge reconstruction. Proposals for renaming 30th Street Station, and selling naming rights at Suburban Station.

I’ve barely written about any of it.

I’m sorry. I’ve been busy.

(Warning: pictures and self-indulgence after the jump)
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SEPTA Regional Rail strikers ordered to return to work tomorrow

And just like that, it was over.

President Obama has created a Presidential Emergency Board to intervene in the strike by engineers and electricians at SEPTA Regional Rail, which forces both sides back to the negotiating table and forces the strike to be called off for the next 240 days. As the order is timestamped at 12:01 AM tonight, that will delay any further strike action until February 10, 2015.

While it is faintly possible that there will be lingering disruption as service resumes, service should be normal tomorrow morning.

SEPTA Regional Rail on strike for first time since 1983

Engineers and electricians hit picket lines at the close of the service day last night, marking the first strike against SEPTA Regional Rail since the first year SEPTA operated the service.

Governor Corbett is publicly stating that he will ask President Obama to compel workers back to the negotiating table and back to work, under the terms of the Railway Labor Act.

While it is not clear how long this strike will continue (if Governor Corbett has his ducks in a row, it may not last the day), it’s worth knowing alternatives for service. SEPTA City and Suburban transit is still running: SEPTA has a guide for alternate transit service. DART First State is running express bus shuttles from the four Delaware stations to pAT&Tison Station on South Broad Street, for Monday-Friday traditional-peak service only: the timetable is here. (One would think that DART might want to serve weekend and reverse-commuters as well, especially in light of the I-495 bridge closure, but nobody has accused them lately of outside-the-box thinking.) PATCO is still on a construction schedule, and NJT is running normal service. Amtrak is running normally on the Northeast and Keystone Corridors.

Finally, a safety note: do not assume that just because train service is suspended, that tracks are safe. Inspection trains will run throughout the day so that service can be brought back quickly when engineers return to work. Trespassing on the railroad is still a good way to get yourself killed or traumatically injured. Don’t do that.

STRIKE WARNING: SEPTA Regional Rail

It is the duty of this blog to forecast that the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, Division 71, will commence a strike action against SEPTA’s Regional Rail Division tonight at 12:01 am.

What remains unclear is how long the BLET will remain off the job. Under the Railway Labor Act, President Obama may, at request, establish a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) to take over the discussions between the union and management. Workers would be legally enjoined from striking for 240 days.

This strike has snuck up on Greater Philadelphia, because requesting a PEB is standard procedure, and everyone, including me, was still factoring in the 240 day delay. But SEPTA management has decided on a gambit to catch the unions short and risk a strike now in the summer, when the city is better equipped to handle a strike, rather than wait until next February when the weather will be against both SEPTA and its passengers. SEPTA is also disrupting any pre-assembled plans to co-ordinate strikes with City and Suburban transit workers, represented by TWU 234. What remains to be seen is what Governor Corbett will do; he has indicated that he will request a PEB on his own, as soon as the engineers walk. Whether he is capable of following through on that effectively remains to be seen.

The BLET, which represents Regional Rail’s engineers, has been without a contract since 2010. The proximate trigger of the walkout is SEPTA’s unilateral imposition of contract terms announced for this weekend, which voids the RLA’s prohibition against striking during negotiations.

The last Regional Rail strike began on March 15, 1983, and lasted 108 days. The primary conflicts were about new work rules imposed or proposed by SEPTA on its takeover of Regional Rail from Conrail that January.

A bicyclist’s guide to Delaware Carmageddon

As the I-495 bridge closure passes its third day with not even a hint from DelDOT that they are considering expanding transit service, Reddit user /u/wild-tangent has created an excellent overview of bike facilities in Northern New Castle County, especially those that interface with SEPTA Regional Rail stations. Check it out. If you use Reddit Enhancement Suite, you can view the map images inline, which helps a lot in reading comprehension.

Be aware that there is some misinformation in the section on transit: SEPTA passes and tickets are sold at Wilmington and Newark train stations.

I-495 bridge closure: how to go around the snarl

Today has been a second consecutive day of traffic nightmare in Delaware, as the First State copes with the failure of the I-495 Christina River Bridge. While people making short trips to Wilmington or Philadelphia should switch to transit, those relying on the I-95 corridor for longer trips may not have such an easy alternative. For those drivers, I’ve put together this list of recommended alternate routes around the gridlock that is Wilmington. They break down into two broad categories. As a convention, I will assume the direction of travel is towards Philadelphia, and all maps will be clickable links.
Continue reading I-495 bridge closure: how to go around the snarl

Carmageddon Delaware: I-495 bridge to be closed “for weeks”.

DelDOT officials have confirmed what many suspected when Interstate 495 was closed late Monday after an inspection: shifting support pillars have left the Christina River Bridge unsafe to drive on, and the bridge will remain closed indefinitely until major repairs are complete.

That means Interstate 495, the main highway link between Southeast Pennsylvania and points south, will remain severed at its closest approach to Downtown Wilmington. From the hours-long delays today, this has all the trappings of an ongoing traffic disaster in Northern New Castle County, and beyond.

The remaining main roads in and around Wilmington, especially I-95 through Downtown, simply do not have the capacity to deal with the load that they were called on to deal with today. Drivers need to start making plans now for the summer, that do not involve those roads. And transportation officials need to help them.

The easiest thing for local traffic is for as many people as possible to switch modes away from driving. Delawareans have a poor relationship with their statewide transit operator, with many regarding the bus only as a last resort of those too poor to have any other choice. This needs to change, quickly. While SEPTA’s Regional Rail service to Wilmington and Newark is parallel to the affected highways and will do a lot of heavy lifting, the train schedule is still sparse and irregular. Anyone with a schedule that is not a traditional 9-5 may find the extra frequencies of DART bus service more convenient. Still, for those who can use it, i.e. those with driving commutes along I-95 and I-495, and destinations in Newark, Wilmington, Philadelphia, or lower Delaware County, the train is going to be a very attractive proposition. Hopefully SEPTA can shake the weeds for an extra Silverliner or two for Newark service.

For those taking the train from Churchman’s Crossing, be aware that, if the parking lot fills up, there is additional parking available at Delaware Park Casino. You can take selected runs of the DART #5 bus one stop to Churchman’s Crossing Station. (The #5 also goes to Rodney Square, but it crowds uncomfortably under normal circumstances.) Park-and-ride is also available at the nearby DART hub at Christiana Mall.

For those taking the train from Claymont, be aware that, if the main lot off Myrtle Ave and the secondary parking area on Governor Printz Blvd Extension both fill up, there is ample unrestricted curb parking on the residential streets in the neighborhood bounded by Governor Printz Extension, Governor Printz, Philadelphia Pike, and Manor Ave. If you have to avail yourself of that option, please be a good neighbor to the people who live there, and leave rights of way and sightlines open, and keep noise pollution as close to zero as possible.

Those commuting to Wilmington or Newark from Delaware County may want to use SEPTA’s most underrated park-and-ride asset, Springfield Mall, and connect to the Wilmington/Newark line at Chester via the 109, or park on an upper level (5+) of the garage at Harrah’s Philadelphia and ride the 37 or 113 to the train station. There is no parking directly at Chester T.C., nor would this blog recommend parking there if there were.

If anyone needs personalized Delaware commute advice, I will be in the comments of this post and happy to assist.