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.

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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.

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.

Winter Storm Nemo update

Local transit still looks in good shape, but here in South Philadelphia, there is a thin layer of ice on all exposed surfaces, so expect all modes of travel to be VERY SLOW this morning, until the salt trucks can get out to do their thing.  Also, exercise special care out there on platforms.

Amtrak is only running as far north as New York, but does not anticipate altering schedules on this side of Penn Station. With NYC area airports closed, New York O/D traffic might have been bridged to the open airports in Philadelphia and Baltimore with the equipment that isn’t running to Boston tonight, but of course there is no standard protocol between the airlines and Amtrak for such an operation.

UPDATE 7:10a: SEPTA is reporting a few scattered bus detours due to local road conditions. NJT has suspended North Jersey and Mercer County bus service.