How to go around the Northeast Corridor shutdown after the Frankford Junction derailment

UPDATE 5/14: As of Thursday morning, SEPTA and NJT are co-ordinating detour service via the West Trenton Line.  SEPTA will be running a new weekday schedule with about twice as many trains as normal.  NJT will be providing free shuttle buses between West Trenton station and Trenton Transit Center.  SEPTA is also providing extra parking at West Trenton Line stations, extra Route 14 bus service, and peak-hour shuttle buses from the Cornwells Heights park-and-ride to Frankford Transportation Center.  Amtrak tickets will be cross-honored on NJT and SEPTA for the duration of the service outage.


In the wake of the derailment of Amtrak train 188 Tuesday evening, Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor is shut down indefinitely while investigators pore over the crash site at Frankford Junction.  In addition to the disruption to Amtrak service, SEPTA and NJ Transit services that run on Amtrak’s tracks through the accident area have been suspended indefinitely.  This is going to create a lot of hardship for riders for the foreseeable future, and while SEPTA has some alternate service suggestions for every Regional Rail station in the system, they tend to be rather slow, and unattractive to suburban riders who own cars and want a time-competitive trip into Philadelphia.  And driving in is not really an option; not ever, and certainly not while I-95 construction is ongoing.  So while SEPTA’s instructions are valid and fine as far as they go, I want to take some time to point out some of the other options available.

NJT River Line

NJT's River Line provides an alternate route from Trenton
NJT’s River Line provides an alternate route from Trenton

This will be the easiest and fastest way for people coming from Trenton, including connecting passengers from New York: From Trenton Transit Center, go outside and across Clinton Avenue to the Trenton River Line station.

From the Bristol/Croydon area, go over the Burlington-Bristol Bridge (toll $2.00 westbound only, no pedestrian access), and turn right onto Broad Street for the Burlington South station. As an alternate route, take the Turnpike Bridge to US 130 south, for Florence station.

From River Wards and Tacony going to New York, take the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge (toll $2.00 westbound only). Drivers have a straightforward path down River Road to Route 73/Pennsauken station, while the few hardy cyclists and pedestrians who try this and who don’t enjoy the prospect of being squished by New Jersey’s finest stroad engineering can use Temple Boulevard and Cinnaminson Ave to Palmyra station.

South Jersey’s DLRT line takes an extra half hour or so compared to SEPTA, but is quite inexpensive: a flat $1.50 all the way from Trenton to Camden. From Walter Rand Transportation Center, connect to PATCO or a NJT bus to Center City Philadelphia. BE AWARE that the River Line has a late start and an early last run, to maintain temporal separation from freight traffic on the line.  (It also takes the River Line a while to run end-to-end, so starting up and shutting down take time.)

SEPTA West Trenton Line

The West Trenton Line will be thronged, but there will be ways to beat the crush
The West Trenton Line will be thronged, but there will be ways to beat the crush

For many others, especially those with destinations in West or North Philadelphia, the SEPTA West Trenton Line will be the next best option.  There is an NJT bus that connects West Trenton station with Trenton Transit Center, but it runs peak hours only, so use that at your own risk.  Passengers connecting to and from NJT may want to co-ordinate and share cabs. Since station parking lots will be oversubscribed all along the line, park-and-ride customers should probably consider backup parking locations, especially Oxford Valley and Neshaminy Malls.  Both malls have an mediocre but serviceable bus connection to the West Trenton Line: Oxford Valley to Langhorne via the 14, and Neshaminy to Neshaminy Falls via the 58.  Neshaminy Mall to Neshaminy Falls station should be walking distance, but Bristol Road is narrow and fast and has no sidewalks, so I can’t recommend it in good conscience.

As of 8:52 Wednesday morning, SEPTA has announced that it is adding cars to trains and running unscheduled extra trains on the West Trenton Line to deal with the crowded conditions.

SEPTA Local transit

If you’re coming into the city from Torresdale, Holmesburg, Tacony, or Bridesburg, then congratulations, your local bus service doesn’t entirely suck.  Busing to Frankford Terminal and picking up the El is not the most fun thing in the world, but it will have to do for now.

SEPTA Chestnut Hill Lines


The Chestnut Hill West Line does not run through Frankford Junction, but it is suspended for now due to sharing an electrical circuit with the accident site.  If they manage to turn on the power to Hill West before the NTSB releases the site, that will be a big boon to the Northwest, but as long as it’s down, riders should switch to the Chestnut Hill East line or to local buses.  CHW riders should keep a close eye on SEPTA news sources for updates.
Chestnut Hill West service is operating as of Wednesday morning.

South Jersey

Atlantic City Line passengers, who have been blissfully immune to the vagaries of PATCO’s frequently-altered schedules, should prepare to connect at Lindenwold.  Have nextpat.co bookmarked to keep track of the mess. Pennsauken riders should take the River Line to WRTC and connect via bus or PATCO.

Systemwide cascade

Riders not on the suspended lines who have a marginal decision between two transit options should be aware of how their commutes may be affected by crowding and associated delays.  Park-and-ride customers who live roughly halfway in between the West Trenton and Warminster Lines may want to ride Warminster this week.  Not many LaSalle University students take the Chestnut Hill East line at Wister, but for those who do, the 18 bus to Olney Terminal may be particularly attractive for the rest of the week, and so forth.  SEPTA probably doesn’t have much in the way of rolling stock trapped on the Trenton Line, but checking that hasn’t been anybody’s priority yet.

Cross-honoring

As of 7:30am Wednesday, NJT is cross-honoring Amtrak tickets on the Northeast Corridor Line between New York and Trenton, and on the River Line between Trenton and Camden. After a communications delay, PATCO is cross-honoring NJT Atlantic City Line and Amtrak tickets. So Amtrak ticket holders who don’t mind taking quite a long time to get where they’re going can get completely around the suspension with their existing tickets.

Weekend Update, October 5-6

Happy weekend! With everybody’s attention riveted to the ongoing Federal Government Shutdown, here’s what you need to know if you’re planning to distract yourself with a day out this weekend.

  • Lansdale/Doylestown is bustituting between Lansdale and Doylestown for catenary work. Shuttle bus schedule here. This is third of seven planned work weekends.
  • Media/Elwyn is once again massively upgescrewed. On Saturday:
    • Trains will be operating on the inbound track only between 49th Street and Secane (inclusive), and will be operating on altered schedules, until 6:00pm. Evening service will be unaffected.
    • Inbound trains (before 6:00p) will run between 9 and 14 minutes later. Outbound trains (before 6:00p) will run between 21 and 14 minutes earlier. Consult SEPTA’s schedules for exact times.
    • Train #7303, the first outbound departure Saturday morning, is cancelled.

    On Sunday:

    • Due to emergency repairs to the Crum Creek Viaduct, instead of replicating the Saturday changes as planned, Sunday will instead feature bustitution west of Morton Station.
    • Inbound shuttle buses from Elwyn will run bewteen 25 and 13 minutes earlier than normal schedule, and inbound trains will leave Morton 5 minutes early before resuming normal schedules at Secane.
    • Outbound trains will arrive at Morton 5 minutes later than normal, and shuttle buses will leave 5 minutes after that. Outbound shuttle buses will run between 14 and 25 minutes later than scheduled times.
    • The repairs to Crum Creek Viaduct are spot repairs intended to forestall immediate closure of the bridge, and will not affect the scheduled 2015 closure of that bridge in the absence of subsequent major investment.
  • Chestnut Hill East, which runs through with Media/Elwyn on weekends, is getting follow-on disruption. On Saturday, inbound trains will run 21 minutes earlier, and outbound trains will run 14 minutes later, until about 6:30pm.
  • SEPTA City Bus routes 2, 5, 23, 26, 27, 32, 37, 38, 43, 47, 47M, 48, 53, 54, 55, 68, 77, G, K, H, and XH all have posted detours. SEPTA’s system alert page was malfunctioning when I tried to pull details of any of those detours.
  • SEPTA Suburban Bus routes 94, 95, 103, 113, 129, and 139 all have posted detours. Again, SEPTA’s system alert page was down and details were unavailable.
  • Trackwork on PATCO is resulting in adjusted schedules, but no closures, on Saturday and Sunday.

Weekend Update

Happy weekend! Pennsylvania’s SB1 Transportation funding bill may be back from the dead; I’ll have more by tomorrow morning, or you can look in on the Pittsburgh Comet or Keystone Politics for the fast update, or if you’ve forgotten what SB1 actually does, there’s the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from June.

Meanwhile, we have a big weekend of construction and disruption around the weekend to look forward to. Here’s the roundup:

  • Lansdale/Doylestown is bustituting between Lansdale and Doylestown for catenary work. Shuttle bus schedule here. This is second of seven planned work weekends.
  • Media/Elwyn is a hot mess. On Saturday:
    • Trains will be operating on the outbound track only between 49th Street and Secane (inclusive), and will be operating on altered schedules, until 6:00pm. Evening service will be unaffected.
    • Inbound trains (before 6:00p) will run between 9 and 14 minutes later. Outbound trains (before 6:00p) will run between 21 and 14 minutes earlier. Consult SEPTA’s schedules for exact times.
    • Train #7303, the first outbound departure Saturday morning, is cancelled.

    On Sunday:

    • Due to emergency repairs to the Crum Creek Viaduct, instead of replicating the Saturday changes as planned, Sunday will instead feature bustitution west of Morton Station.
    • Inbound shuttle buses from Elwyn will run bewteen 25 and 13 minutes earlier than normal schedule, and inbound trains will leave Morton 5 minutes early before resuming normal schedules at Secane.
    • Outbound trains will arrive at Morton 5 minutes later than normal, and shuttle buses will leave 5 minutes after that. Outbound shuttle buses will run between 14 and 25 minutes later than scheduled times.
    • The repairs to Crum Creek Viaduct are spot repairs intended to forestall immediate closure of the bridge, and will not affect the scheduled 2015 closure of that bridge in the absence of subsequent major investment.
  • Chestnut Hill East, which runs through with Media/Elwyn on weekends, is getting follow-on disruption. On Saturday, inbound trains will run 21 minutes earlier, and outbound trains will run 14 minutes later, until about 6:30pm.
  • SEPTA City Bus routes 7, 39, and 54 will return to their newly-reconstructed homes at 33rd and Dauphin Loop at 5:00a Sunday morning. This will conclude the 13-month reconstruction process for that facility.
  • SEPTA City Bus routes 39, 47, 54, 56, 57, 60, and 89 will be detoured for the Puerto Rican Day Parade on Sunday. This map gives the best summary of all the extensive changes.
  • Atlantic City Line will be bustituted between Philadelphia and Cherry Hill on Saturday, 7:00am to 3:00pm, for an emergency preparedness drill in Pennsauken. Tellingly, the shuttle bus operation is not expected to take any more time than is scheduled between Cherry Hill and 30th Street.
  • Trackwork on PATCO is resulting in adjusted schedules, but no closures, on Saturday and Sunday.
  • Eight NJT 400-series Bus Routes are disrupted by street repair in Camden near Walter Rand until Tuesday.
  • Amtrak service on the Northeast Corridor is thoroughly boned by ConEd’s mishap restricting electrical power to Metro North in Westchester County. Trains originating and terminating in New York ought to be unaffected, but trains running through the affected area to/from Boston will see either delays or cancellations. Acela Express service is not running between New York and Boston until at least Monday, maybe later; Northeast Regional service is being towed through the affected areas by diesel locomotives. We expect to hear more on Sunday, but the prognosis from ConEd has been grim.

Weekend shuttle busing on the Chestnut Hill Line continues

Tomorrow and Sunday will be the second weekend out of six of bustitution on the Chestnut Hill West Line for a track maintenance blitz. Catching up to this project six days after it’s started disrupting travel is a new low for timeliness on this blog, which I’m sure that this summer-of-moving will see surpassed, ironically even as SEPTA Regional Rail itself is maintaining high standards for on-time performance.

Shuttle buses are running an inner zone/outer zone pattern, with the cutoff between Allens Lane and Carpenter stations (confirming, if there was any doubt, that Intermediate ridership on the CHW is presently negligible). Trains are meeting buses and turning at North Philadelphia station; times on Fox Chase trains are affected on Saturdays but normal on Sundays. Canny riders with passes may wish to opt for the Broad Street Line between Suburban Station/City Hall and North Philadelphia, although that connection is not guaranteed.

SEPTA also suggests the Chestnut Hill East Line as an alternate, but no extra service is running, in another missed opportunity; the four outer zone stations (CHW, Highland, St Martin’s, and Allen Lane) are less than 15 minutes walk from CHE stations. SEPTA could have had a natural experiment in what 30 minute headways on weekends did to CHE ridership, under the guise of saving a bus and a driver for the shuttle operation. (The details would be more complicated than that, due to the legalities regarding the presence of ADA accessible stations on the CHW line, but the concept still holds.)

The Saturday bustitution schedule is here (PDF).
The Sunday bustitution schedule is here (PDF).
Outbound Fox Chase trains run 10 minutes later than scheduled on SATURDAYS ONLY.