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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


Wednesday morning service disrupted on PATCO and SEPTA after storm

The violent thunderstorm that swept over Greater Philadelphia Tuesday evening, disrupting all modes of travel during the evening rush, has apparently let the magic smoke out of at least six area rail lines. The most serious outage is PATCO, which is entirely without electric power and does not expect restoration until after the morning rush.

New Jersey Transit buses will have three extra burdens this morning, since in addition to cross-honoring PATCO fares and contending with detours around storm-damaged roads, they will be carrying passengers from the Atlantic City line, which also remains suspended. NJT has, in its usual inimitable way, been less communicative about what is wrong with the ACRL and when they expect it to be fixed. The only statement that affirmatively said that service would remain bustituted through the morning was a tweeted @-reply:

And on the PA side of the river, SEPTA is reporting that the Media/Elwyn and Fox Chase Lines are out entirely, the Paoli/Thorndale Line is out west of Malvern, and the Norristown High Speed Line will be suspended between Norristown and Radnor. The NHSL outage is the only one that has been definitively stated that it will last through the morning. Also, bus routes may be on detour due to debris. As usual, the most up-to-date information can be found on SEPTA’s eye-bleedingly designed system status page.

Bridgeport viaduct reopens today as capital funding becomes grave crisis

It is 4:45am. The first northbound Norristown High Speed Line (NHSL) train in revenue service is about to cross the Bridgeport viaduct into Norristown, ending a four month closure for critical repair work. NHSL Norristown riders can breathe a sigh of relief, with cumbersome shuttle busing no longer part of their daily routine.

But as one major repair project ends, the prospect of starting others that are just as needed grows dimmer. Not a week has gone by since mid-September, that either House Majority Leader Turzai, Governor Corbett, PennDOT Secretary Schoch, or some other elected official (or their anonymous-source staffers) have repeatedly pledged a vote in the House of Representatives on the SB1 transportation funding bill within the week. No vote has occurred, presumably because the votes to pass aren’t there yet, and the forecasts coming out of Harrisburg are dismal.

The ongoing hangup seems to be an insistence on the part of conservative Republicans to remove prevailing wage rules on transportation projects between $25,000 and $100,000. That is a move designed to antagonize unions, although the level of the provocation far outweighs the level of damage to union workers’ interests, especially compared to the most likely alternative, which is a massive cutback at PennDOT. This mostly reads as what Josh Marshall once called the “Bitch-Slap Theory of electoral politics” — the substance of the attack is irrelevant, while making the attack is a goal in itself. Unfortunately for Pennsylvanians, House Democrats have closed ranks with their union supporters, and there aren’t enough Republican votes to pass transportation funding out of the House without Democratic help. It’s admirable that the Democratic Party isn’t throwing labor under the bus, but it wasn’t necessary in the first place; they and we are all already under this bus, by virtue of having lost all three elected branches of government. SB1 was already a Tea Party-friendly shit sandwich, going through extra circumlocutions to give cover to Gov. Corbett and his no-new-taxes pledge, but it was the best we could do under the circumstances.

Harrisburg Democrats have clearly been tempted by the strategy option to wait out Tom Corbett, who will no longer be Governor come January 20th, 2015, barring the biggest choke job in Pennsylvania since the 1964 Phillies. Unfortunately, SEPTA’s riders can’t wait that long; according to SEPTA’s Service Triage plan, the Cynwyd Line will be out of service before then, and the Media/Elwyn Line will follow almost immediately thereafter. Crum Creek Viaduct is in as bad of shape as Bridgeport was, and apart from some emergency repairs to keep it open on recent weekends, there is no money for SEPTA to keep it safe to operate. More than 11,000 daily riders will lose service on these two lines. Construction unions should signal to their Democratic allies that they should take the deal on the table if it means getting transportation projects like Crum Creek Viaduct repair funded, in exchange for a rollback of the offending change, and possibly other concessions, in 2015. The towns of Delaware County along the Media/Elwyn Line, both the white-collar professional boroughs west of Swarthmore, and the blue-collar working class townships east of Morton, will remember (or, with any amount of skill by the Democratic general election candidate, be constantly reminded).

SB1, with the prevailing wage rule change, is even more of a shit sandwich than it was as a clean bill, but it’s the only thing on the table that will get SEPTA through the next two years. If you have a Republican representative, call them and urge them to support a clean SB1. If you have a Democratic representative, tell them to negotiate with the construction unions to get to a deal. It is 4:45am now, but the clock is still ticking down to midnight.

NHSL King of Prussia Scoping Meeting tonight

The planners working on Round N+1 of the effort to bring a Norristown High Speed Line branch to King of Prussia are having a public scoping meeting tonight at the Valley Forge Radisson, from 4:00p to 8:00p. The main presentation will be at 6:00p. This will be the public kickoff of the Environmental Impact Statement process, which hopefully will take less time and be more fruitful this time around.

The Radisson at Valley Forge is adjacent to the Valley Forge Casino, and is reachable via SEPTA Routes 99, 125, and 139. SEPTA is also laying in extra shuttle bus service from Norristown Transportation Center; that schedule can be found in PDF form here.

NHSL Bridgeport Viaduct closes tonight for at least four months: what you should know

The Bridgeport Viaduct, which carries the Norristown High Speed Line over the Schuylkill River between its namesake borough and Norristown Transportation Center, is in bad shape. Bad enough that SEPTA announced last December that it does not believe it will be safe to ride over after this summer, unless repairs are started pronto. Unfortunately, the capital funding crisis has meant, among other things, that basic maintenance like fixing the bridge has been put off for years, until now when it’s critical. Fortunately, SEPTA was able to scare up just enough money to do a temporary fix to this critical link in the regional network. It’s not really enough, but it will do for now, until the deadlock breaks in Harrisburg.

Starting tomorrow (Monday, 8 July), the NHSL will not serve Norristown. Shuttle buses will be provided. Mondays through Fridays, the NHSL will go as far as Bridgeport, and shuttle buses will run between Bridgeport and NTC. Weekends, NHSL trains will terminate at Hughes Park. Since Hughes Park is not an ADA accessible station, the shuttle buses will instead run from Gulph Mills, and stop at DeKalb and Bridgeport stations on their way to NTC.

The fix being done now is replacing the ties installed in 1985 and at the end of their service life, plus some band-aids applied to structural elements. It will not cure the entire litany of structural problems of the 101-year-old bridge, but it will allow service to reopen this year. NHSL service over the viaduct does not have a fixed reopening date, but it is expected to happen in November. That’s better than we expected in December, when we thought “temporarily suspended” might mean for Norristown what it meant for West Chester, Newtown, and Bethlehem. But we need to keep leaning on legislators in Harrisburg to fund SEPTA sufficiently that we aren’t repeating this dance in three years, either here at the Schuylkill on the NHSL, or at Crum Creek on the Media/Elwyn Line, which SEPTA has indicated is the most endangered bridge in the system after Bridgeport. Our predecessors skimped on prevention; now we need many pounds of cure.

The US Open is in town, and so is a lot of water

The big to-do in Philadelphia this week is the 2013 US Open, back at the Merion Golf Club for the first time since 1981. The Main Line neighborhoods are thoroughly disrupted, with Ardmore Ave., Haverford Road, and College Ave. all completely closed to traffic, and hordes of spectators descending on any real estate available for hire (including, for the official hospitality and media structures, much of the Haverford College campus). SEPTA is expecting crowding on the NHSL and Paoli lines usually only seen during the Flower Show or similar events, only instead of having the throughput of Market East Station and Center City to work with, the destinations are Ardmore Ave. on the NHSL, and Rosemont on the Paoli Line. Ardmore Ave., the preferred alternative right on the doorstep of the Merion Golf Club, has seen a major renovation in preparation for the expected crowds, including a platform lengthening to accommodate two two-car trains in the station at the same time. Rosemont station is a staging point for shuttle buses connecting Paoli Line riders, and extra trains will be added to the schedule later this week.

Unfortunately, this big party has already hit a snag in its first day: the weather. We’ve seen a lot of rain in the last four days, and the ground is saturated. Not only are the US Open officials preparing backup plans in case the 11th, 12th, and 4th greens get flooded out, SEPTA is having stormwater management problems of its own, diverting passengers from Ardmore Ave. to Haverford stations due to flooding. Not exactly the best foot forward, but the rain is not under the control of either SEPTA or the USPGA. I’ll be keeping an eye out for further rainouts, both SEPTA- and golf-related, but for real-time updates, the best bet is still SEPTA’s Twitter stream.