Category Archives: Philadelphia

Forget the Hyperloop. Just make Amtrak affordable.

An opinion on HYPERLOOP versus AMTRAK from

A couple weeks ago, Elon Musk — our nation’s armorless Tony Stark — tweeted that he got the verbal OK to build a high-speed train connecting New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Hypothetically, his Hyperloop could travel 800 mph and get riders from New York to D.C. in the time it takes to watch an HBO comedy. The reaction was split among breathless urbanists begging for more and realists saying that “verbal approval” means nothing. Musk has since stepped up the campaign, with the White House saying it’s had “promising discussions” with him.

This is the kind of pitch that makes upper-class commuters salivate. It’s one step away from being a teleporter!

But here’s the problem: It screws over pretty much every single working-class and middle-income commuter in the city. How dare you build a magic Star Trek train to ferry wealthy folks to and from New York when many Philadelphians can’t even afford a weekly Amtrak ticket! How can you possibly look at infrastructure in this city and think, “What we really need is an even more exclusive train”?

A round-trip Amtrak ticket from Philly to New York costs more than $130. A ride to Harrisburg costs nearly $60. Want to get just to Wilmington? Yeah, that 30-mile ride will run you about $80, round trip. These prices aren’t just unfeasible for the average Philadelphian who needs to get to work. Many local families can’t afford to foot this bill for a holiday visit to see friends and family.

So most people who either can’t use a car, or don’t want to, are doomed to budget buses. Perhaps those lusting for a Hyperloop have never ridden the Greyhound or Megabus before. For the unedified, let me break it down. I was a super-commuter for more than a year, traveling from Philly to New York by BoltBus every morning. The trip often lasted three hours, each minute more nightmarish than the last. The bus reeked of travel-toilet chemicals, broke down on the turnpike regularly, and rattled like a plane flying through a hurricane even on flat road.

In upper-class social strata, there’s this ubiquity about the Acela. Because the wealthy ride it, they assume everyone rides it. In reality, when a well-off Philadelphian urges a not-so-well-off Philadelphian to take Amtrak – and gushes about how they just can’t wait for the vacuum-powered mega-train to be installed – it’s like telling an unemployed post-grad that they simply must go to Ibiza to relax.

Before the nation starts building a high-speed train, it should make Amtrak affordable for all Americans. Currently, the company is little more than a taxpayer-funded luxury service for the rich. Here are three ways to change that, ranging from straightforward to a tad utopian.

1. End the cross-country travel line.

The first solution may sound a bit wonky, but it’s important. Amtrak can make relatively short trips more affordable by ending its cross-country travel lines. Experts say that Amtrak tickets are expensive on the coasts, in part, because our tickets subsidize long-distance trains that crisscross the country. These rides are something of an extravagance – and further proof that Amtrak could not care less about the average commuter – and could be cut in favor of more local trains.

2. Add more trains on the Northeast Corridor.

A second idea comes from Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of policy at the National Association of Railway Passengers. Just add more trains and cash. He says we pay a premium because the federal government refuses to invest in the improvement and expansion of Amtrak trains and lines. The current situation on the Acela corridor is one of demand greatly exceeding supply — one so egregious that those who can afford to ride Amtrak will pay anything for it, and those of us who can’t, well, who cares? Unfortunately, President Trump is doing the exact opposite of what Jeans-Gail recommends. For all of Trump’s talk of investing in American infrastructure, the White House is cutting $630 million from Amtrak’s long-distance rail budget. This will likely lead to line closures and possibly even steeper prices.

“The only way we can address this issue is by building our way out of it — by dramatically increasing the number of trains on the Northeast Corridor,” says Jeans-Gail.

3. Federalize Amtrak.

The third proposal would amount to a sea change for American travel, but I’m so sick and tired of riding BoltBus that this idea must be pitched: Completely federalize Amtrak. As it stands, the company is technically a private-public enterprise. It has shareholders. It has to appear as though it’s making moves to help the bottom line, even though it operates eternally in the red. Were Amtrak to become a wholly public operation, it would compel the powers that be to install pro-commuter pricing. After all, who expects a public service to make money?

Philadelphians of all stripes should be able to leave the city without blowing up their checking accounts. Let’s figure out how to do that before we worry about shooting attorneys through a tube at 800 mph.


Work at Penn Station N.Y. to impact Amtrak’s Keystone service

PennLive via California Rail News

Frequent rail travelers to New York take note: Amtrak service from Philadelphia to New York is about to change slightly this summer.
As part of infrastructure upgrades to New York’s Penn Station, Amtrak has announced a short list of service changes that may impact travel from Harrisburg to Philadelphia to New York.

Acela Express service will run as scheduled.

Trips that do not make as much money like some Harrisburg trains are killed.

Going South, there are no alternatives to switch too like Grand Central.

Philadelphia Trolley 2266 “North Carolina” postcard

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) “North Carolina”.

SEPTA’s Star-Spangled Bicentennial motif trolley was purchased for Philadelphia’s system from Kansas City in 1955, then patriotically refurbished for about $25,000. It is viewed on Fifth Street at Girard Avenue.

Find more great stories on Philadelphia

Judge Approves ‘Historic’ $265M Settlement In 2015 Amtrak Derailment

A federal court judge in Philadelphia has signed off on a $265 million settlement program for all pending claims in connection with the May, 2015 Amtrak Train #188 derailment.

Lawyers involved in the Amtrak 188 litigation believe it’s the largest payout of its kind in the US, since the federal damages cap for railway accidents was previously $200 million.

Victims will be compensated now, rather than the 3-5-years he estimates it would take to litigate more than 125 pending cases.

Investigators looking into the Amtrak 188 derailment concluded that the engineer accelerated the train to 106 miles per hour, instead of slowing to the 50-mile per hour limit on that dangerous curve. They say he lost his bearings likely because he was distracted by radio talk about a SEPTA train struck by rocks.

Amtrak, SEPTA and other partners introduce Philadelphia station development plan

Yesterday, Amtrak, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Brandywine Realty Trust and Drexel University unveiled the Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan, a long-term vision for growth and development in the area surrounding the station.

The partners also announced the initiation of several follow-on projects to improve the immediate station area and catalyze future development throughout the district.

The result of a collaborative two-year joint effort, the plan calls for 40 acres of open space and 18 million square feet of new development, including a new mixed-use neighborhood anchoring the district atop 88 acres of rail yards along the western bank of the Schuylkill River.
A rendering depicts the proposed changes included in the Philadelphia 30th Street Station District Plan. Source: Amtrak

With a proposed $2 billion investment in roads, utilities, parks, bridges and transit service extensions, the plan has the potential to unlock $4.5 billion in private real estate investment, in addition to $3.5 billion for Drexel’s Schuylkill Yards project that’s being developed by Brandywine Realty Trust, officials from the five partners said in a joint press release. In the coming months, SEPTA expects to begin preliminary work to support consideration of a preferred option for restoring the underground connection between 30th Street Station and the Market-Frankford Line.

“The 30th Street Station District Plan is a transformative approach,” said SEPTA General Manager Jeff Knueppel. “This location is well served by the Market-Frankford Line, five trolley lines, six bus routes and all Regional Rail lines, and the plan is another example of how transportation can drive economic development.”

Amtrak plans to pursue funding to advance the station plaza concept outlined in the plan. The plaza involves the development of new public spaces on all four sides of the facility to create a more welcoming and seamless experience for all station users. Later this year, Amtrak also plans to solicit partners to develop certain property adjacent to the station, as well as analyze and suggest station improvements, including retail offerings.

“Philadelphia’s iconic 30th Street Station is poised to anchor what could be a transformative new neighborhood built around transportation and the Schuylkill River waterfront,” said Amtrak Chairman Tony Coscia. “The Amtrak team is committed to continuing the important and productive collaboration reflected in the creation of this single, integrated District Plan, and will work hard to help realize the great opportunities it envisions.”

SEPTA preps for trolley line track renewal

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) on Sunday will begin a track renewal project on a portion of its Route 15 trolley line.

The project will take place at various points on Girard Avenue in Philadelphia and be completed by Sept. 3.

Some track in the area dates to the 1940s, while other track was installed in the 1950s and 1970s, SEPTA officials said in a press release. The street structure supporting the track has deteriorated due to weather, traffic and age. The agency will excavate and replace about 9,800 track feet and repave the track area.

The new track will result in reduced sound and vibration because the new rail is incased in an insulated rubber boot.

Additionally, the new track components will result in a smoother ride for passengers, SEPTA officials said.

SEPTA eyes new locomotives, station renewal in $548.6 million capital budget

The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has slated $548.6 million in capital projects for fiscal-year 2017.

The capex plan calls for renewing critical infrastructure, replacing aging portions of SEPTA’s fleet and expanding capacity to meet growing ridership, SEPTA officials said in a press release.

Specifically, the FY2017 budget includes $15.5 million toward acquiring new electric locomotives for SEPTA’s Regional Rail lines, as well as $43.8 million to renew several stations.

In addition, the budget advances the agency’s ongoing “Rebuilding for the Future” initiative. SEPTA kicked off that program following the November 2013 passage of Pennsylvania’s Act 89, which provides capital funds for transportation improvements throughout the state.

The FY2017 budget reflects a $14 million increase compared with the prior fiscal year.

Amtrak, SEPTA Envision Underground Concourse to Connect 30th Street Station With SEPTA Lines

A partnership that includes Amtrak and SEPTA is working to develop an underground concourse to link 30th Street Station and SEPTA’s subway and trolley station across the street.

The 30th Street Station is the third-busiest Amtrak station in the United States with direct connections to a number of modes of transportation, but “the modes do not clearly connect, creating a confusing and sometimes precarious experience for visitors,” according to a draft of a 30th Street Station District Plan, which  will be shown at an open house at the station for public feedback.

Amtrak responds to FRA safety directive following deadly accident

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has directed Amtrak to conduct an immediate safety review with key workers, including track workers and train dispatchers, as the regulator continues its investigation into this week’s fatal train accident in Chester, Pa.

The FRA also directed Amtrak to improve communication among work crews, supervisors and rail dispatchers.

The directive suggests that investigators may be focusing on a breakdown in communication that may have occurred between shift changes prior to the crash, various news media reported yesterday.

Amtrak President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph Boardman said yesterday in a prepared statement that the railroad agrees with the FRA directive and is moving to take immediate action.

The accident occurred when Amtrak Train 89 struck a backhoe that two Amtrak maintenance workers were using on a stretch of track just outside Chester, Pa. Both workers were killed.

The FRA and the National Transportation Safety Board are still investigating the crash. Neither agency has said who was authorized to be on the track.

To ensure compliance, Amtrak will begin a “safety stand down” with all active crews “to draw immediate attention to and reinforce understanding of an issue that we believe has the potential to affect the safety of the railroad or our employees,” Boardman said.

“We have a systematic approach to launching a safety stand down to ensure all employees are reached with this critical message,” he added.

NYTimes paints picture of Amtrak derailment engineer Brandon Bostian

Eight months after Amtrak 188 derailed in Philadelphia, claiming the lives of eight people and injuring hundreds of others, a piece on the deadly crash in the New York Times is shedding light on the “worst American rail disaster in decades” and the engineer who was at the helm when the speeding train left the tracks.

In the weeks that followed the May 12, 2015 derailment, investigators worked to determine if Brandon Bostian was using his cell phone when the train came barreling into Frankford Junction. Concluding the cell was not used at the time of the crash, authorities have yet to rule on the cause of the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board, which has yet to discuss its finding publicly, will likely say “the key to the wreck is something investigators call ‘lost situational awareness,'” according to the New York Times report.
The in-depth piece suggests Bostian, who had only recently switched to the route, confused Frankford Junction with a previous, and less dramatic, curve and may have been distracted by a rock thrown at the train.
The media still hasn’t gotten it that this crash could have been prevented using existing technology from the Pennsy Railroad which is still in use on the NEC. The in-cab signaling in the locomotive was capable of stopping the train for speeding. The tracks next to this train had the signals for it, the tracks the train was on that crashed did not. The FRA ordered the signalling be restored on all tracks before it allowed Amtrak to restore service. While the media is ignoring this, the lawyers bringing lawsuits for the victims of this crash against Amtrak are very aware of this old technology.