Advanced tips for how to get in and out of Center City during the SEPTApocalypse: Manayunk-Norristown Line

After two days of travel woes due to the Silverliner V crisis, some patterns have been established in terms of where the worst delays are, and how best to avoid them.  This series will be a listing of the best strategies to avoid the worst.

These will all assume an origin or destination in or beyond Center City Philadelphia. Directions will be for inbound travel, and will be reversible unless noted.  There will be some assumption made that money is available to exchange for time and/or comfort.

Norristown

Take the NHSL, take the NHSL, take the NHSL.  This is not hard.  Why are people still trying to take Regional Rail here whyyyyyyyyyy….

Conshohocken

Many options from here.  Take the train back one stop to Norristown for the NHSL.  Take the 95 bus to Gulph Mills for the NHSL, 124, or 125.  If you drive here, drive instead to Plymouth Meeting Mall for the 27 bus to Center City, or the L bus to Chestnut Hill.

Manayunk

Take the 61 bus.  You can stay on, or change to the 9/27/62/124/125 at Wissahickon, or change to a crosstown at 33rd/Dauphin Loop for the BSL, or change directly to the BSL at Fairmount.

Wissahickon

Another case of “you have such good options, why would you even try?”  The 9, 27, and 62 are Expressway buses; the 124 and 125 also take the Expressway but are premium-service routes, so have your Zone 2 Trailpass ready (and be kind about leaving seats in the outbound direction for those continuing on to King of Prussia).  All the buses other than the 9 and 27 stop at Wissahickon TC, a short walk down the hill from Wissahickon RR station.

East Falls

Give up, take the bus.  Best option if you can get there is to walk down to 33rd/Allegheny for the 60, but the 1 or R to Hunting Park Station BSL, or the 61 down Ridge, are also good choices, so choose depending on where in the neighborhood you are.

Allegheny

Please re-evaluate whether whatever reason you have for not taking the 33 or the 60 is really still applicable.

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The pros and cons of SEPTA’s King of Prussia Rail

SEPTA’s King of Prussia Rail project has finally selected a Locally Preferred Alternative, and much to my surprise, the winner was not the elevated alignment over US 202, but rather the alignment alongside the PECO transmission line and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Screen Shot 2016-03-03 at 4.03.26 PM
I’m borrowing this map from the Philadelphia Inquirer under Fair Use.  I don’t know who actually made it, though.  They didn’t say.

There’s a lot to take in, so I’ll just hit the top five highlights on each side.

The Good:

  1. It’s short.  That’s an awfully weird thing to lead with, but it does mean that the amount of budget bloat due to scope creep has been kept to an absolute minimum.
  2. It has the backing of the KOP/VF business community.  The KOP Rail Coalition, which was started as an advocacy arm by the KOP Business Improvement District, was backing PECO/Turnpike.  That political support from deep-pocketed interests might be crucial if local funding needs to be found.
  3. It provides the opportunity for real, from-scratch TOD near the Henderson Road station.  The land south of the proposed station site is self-storage and other light industrial that can be easily redeveloped into a walkable core in notoriously car-dependent Upper Merion Township.
  4. Jason Laughlin reports that there may be a station “inside” the KoP mall.  This would be a new feature, since all of this round of proposals have previously been kept to the perimeter of the property, which was an unideal way to serve the biggest destination on the line.  However, details on this are waiting for the open houses to clear up.
  5. It provides the opportunity to gloat at Turnpike drivers.  Under most circumstances, having a highway and railway next to and parallel to each other is bad design, since the highway both siphons away ridership and blocks access to stations.  In this case, there are no stations proposed on the segment along the Turnpike, and the Turnpike is serving a different market than the train.  Which means that one can engage in one of my favorite pastimes, which is laughing at the occupants of cars stuck in self-inflicted traffic as one whizzes by in the comfort of a fast-moving train.  (I have never claimed to be a nice person.)

The Bad:

  1. The price tag.  As of the release of the Economy League of Philadelphia/Econsult Economic Impact Study last December, the projected budget of this project is $1.0-1.2 billion.  This would have been a disappointing-but-reasonable per-km budget for one of the longer alternatives, like US 202/North Gulph Road.  But at $150 million+/km, it shows a dangerous amount of flab for a purely elevated route.  Sources inside SEPTA claim that the underlying geology and topography are challenging, and that this is driving up the per-km cost.  I’m open to that explanation, but not yet convinced.  This is also blowing a giant hole in any case we might have had that we can keep costs under control in this town.  Not only is this a large number in absolute terms, it is a 100% increase over SEPTA’s estimates from two years ago.  The public is owed a deeper explanation of what happened here.
  2. No sprawl repair forthcoming on US 202.  Dekalb Pike (a/k/a US 202 through King of Prussia) is a concrete hellscape of a stroad, lined with strip malls, punctuated with hotels, and only consistently possessing a narrow, anxiety-inducing sidewalk on one side.  And yes, I have been there on foot before.  The strip malls have increasingly high vacancy for the area, and the hotels could use the boost from direct connections to the mall, the convention center, and other destinations along the KoP extension and the NHSL.  Redevelopment is called for.  So is a road diet.  Unfortunately for future taxpayers of Upper Merion Township, it doesn’t seem like either is in the cards.
  3. Still no Greater Philadelphia Wegman’s with good transit access.  This is mostly Wegmans’ fault for choosing such obnoxious locations, though.  (Their complete abandonment of urban Rochester, where they started, is still shameful.)  SEPTA had higher priorities and stuck to them.
  4. No commitment to frequent Manayunk/Norristown service.  It had better not even take that long; GM Jeff Kneuppel promised us 30 minute headways “soon” in September of 2014.  Without frequent connecting service in Norristown serving Conshohocken, Northwest Philadelphia, North Philadelphia, and Center City, the NHSL extension makes much less sense as a regional project, and also abandons those passengers who take the 124/125 today from Wissahickon.  30 minute headways need to happen Right Now.  There should be a plan in place for 20 minute headways by the time the NHSL extension opens.
  5. Unlikely to satisfy NIMBY opposition.  I lied.  This isn’t actually bad.  The loudest NIMBY opposition is more concerned with keeping out the poors and the blahs than it is with wise investments for the future of Upper Merion Township.  If they’re successful, they’re clearly intending to get out at the top of the market, or perhaps they’ll enjoy watching their children immiserated by spiraling tax burden as the bill for maintaining the infrastructure that underpins sprawl development comes due.  In any event, we should welcome their hatred, while taking care to address the more legitimate concerns of impacted neighbors.

The next round of public meetings starts next Monday, March 7th.

 

Midday service changes on Doylestown, Norristown Lines

Almost missed this entirely, but there were Regional Rail schedule adjustments that went into effect Sunday.  They come in two primary groups, both affecting only weekday middays.  

  • The first, to accommodate wire work, is the bustitution of the Doylestown Line east of Colmar.  Buses will leave Doylestown inbound 12 minutes before the train schedules, and will leave Colmar outbound 5 minutes after the arrival of the connecting train.  SEPTA has posted a bustitution schedule. (PDF)
  • The other is minor schedule adjustments on the Manayunk/Norristown Line, and the breaking up of through trains to the Wilmington/Newark Line into two halves at Center City, again to accommodate work schedules.  The Wilmington/Newark Line schedule has been reprinted, but no actual train times have been affected there, just the run-through origins (and, thus, the train numbers).  That is a tell that SEPTA expects on-time performance on the Manayunk/Norristown Line to degrade during these weekday middays, beyond the point where they’re willing to risk missing schedule slots on Amtrak’s NEC.  Bad news for Manayunk/Norristown riders, but that’s construction season for you.

Another weekend of bustitution on the Manayunk/Norristown Line

As much as I give SEPTA a hard time for its failings, I try to also point out where it does a good job. This goes doubly for the realm of customer service and communications, an area where SEPTA has historically done quite poorly, and where it still falls short on occasion.

In that spirit, let me point to this wonderfully-written and mercifully complete explanation of the medium scale-project, underway over recent weekends, to upgrade and maintain the Manayunk/Norristown Regional Rail Line. It gives a complete overview of what is happening and why, with enough technical detail to satisfy the knowledgeable, but not so much that it overwhelms the ordinary reader. Well done, SEPTA communications!

In brief, this project is adding a crossover between the two tracks near Miquon station, which will allow for partial service when the line is blocked by Schyulkill River flooding, which is a nearly-annual (and, as climate change grows worse, increasing) annoyance to Manayunk/Norristown riders. It will also allow for hourly service on the line during the remainder of this project and all future maintenance projects, much to the delight of riders, who are probably growing tired of these weekend shutdowns.

This weekend’s disruptions, detailed here by SEPTA, run as follows:

  • Train service will run from Center City to Ivy Ridge. Trains will be on normal schedules in both directions at Wissahickon, but inbound trains will leave Ivy Ridge 10 minutes ahead of schedule.
  • Shuttle buses will serve Elm Street, Main Street, Norristown TC, Conshohocken, and Spring Mill stations. Shuttle buses will connect at Wissahickon in both directions. Inbound bustituted service will depart about 32 minutes ahead of scheduled times.
  • Miquon station riders are SOL.
  • Norristown TC passengers will retain the option of taking the NHSL to Gulph Mills for the 124/125, or to 69th Street for the MFSE.
  • Special conditions will apply to the late night Saturday runs.

No word yet from SEPTA as to whether this weekend’s shutdown is the last, or if there is another weekend of pain in store before RIVER interlocking goes online.