Category Archives: Philadelphia

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.

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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.

East Coast railroads, transit agencies gear up for blizzard

With winter storm Jonas expected to pummel the East Coast this weekend, several railroads and transit agencies have announced preparation plans and service modifications.

The announcements come as at least four states have declared states of emergency in light of the potentially crippling snowfall.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), for example, will suspend all rail service starting at 11 p.m. today. The agency’s rail operations will remain offline until Sunday, WMATA officials said in a press release.

In the meantime, WMATA will protect hundreds of rail cars by storing them in tunnels during the storm, they added.

As much as 30 inches of snow could fall on Washington, D.C., which is slated to be the “bulls-eye” of the blizzard, The Washington Post reported.

“This is not a storm that anyone should take lightly, and I would urge all residents to plan to get to a safe place before the storm arrives Friday afternoon,” said WMATA General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul Wiedefeld. “The actions we are taking today are all in the interest of our customers’ and employees’ safety, and will help us return to service once the storm passes and the snow is cleared.”

Meanwhile, the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is running only “S” trains today. The agency is monitoring the weather with its host railroads, the National Weather Service and the Virginia Department of Transportation, VRE officials said in a weather advisory update.

While most of Amtrak‘s Northeast Corridor service will operate as scheduled today, several routes will be cancelled or modified tomorrow and on Sunday.

MTA New York City Transit (NYCT) also is preparing for potential snowfall. The agency will activate the incident command center in its subway system and place personnel to communicate with outlying local storm fighting centers. Additionally, NYCT will use a tool for tracking field reports on snow removal and station conditions, as well as a database of essential resources such as salt, sand, and generators to enable better collaboration and response time.

Although NYCT staff will be ready to drop salt and clear platforms and stairs of snow, the agency urged customers to “use extreme caution while navigation the system,” agency officials said.

Furthermore, NYCT has added more third rail heaters and snow melting equipment at critical points throughout its system, agency officials said. Currently, the agency has more than 1,000 remote-controlled third-rail heaters, as well as 494 manual ones.

On the freight side, Norfolk Southern Railway yesterday released a service alert informing customers that there could be delays of 24 to 48 hours on traffic moving through the Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions.

NJ Transit unveils transportation plan for Pope Francis’ U.S. visit

New Jersey Transit officials yesterday announced the agency’s plans for operation during the weekend of Sept. 26-27, when Pope Francis visits Philadelphia.

The agency will change its regular service to accommodate the estimated 2 million people who are expected to travel to see the pope during his two-day visit to Philadelphia. The pope also will visit New York City on Sept. 25 and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24.

NJ Transit will offer a special, limited service on its Atlantic City Rail Line and River Line for people attending the World Meeting of Families and papal visit on Sept. 26-27.

At noon tomorrow, the agency will begin selling special tickets for travelers planing to ride the Atlantic City Rail and River lines — only those with special event tickets purchased in advance will be able to ride the lines during those two days, officials said.

NJ Transit will try to accommodate as many riders as the system will allow, said Executive Director Veronique “Ronnie” Hakim in a prepared statement posted on NJ Transit’s website.

“We have put forth a transportation plan that will get as many people as possible, as close as possible to Philadelphia, all with an eye on safety,” she said.

The agency has set up a webpage with additional details about the event. The New Jersey Department of Transportation also has posted a webpage with transportation information during the papal visit.

SEPTA immersed in ‘unprecedented’ planning for papal visit to Philadelphia

Ever since November 2014, when Catholic Church officials confirmed Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia over two days this September, there’s been an all-hands-on-deck mindset at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA).

Philadelphia officials estimate 1.5 million to 2 million visitors will descend on the city for the pope’s Sept. 26-27 visit, which will coincide with the World Meeting of Families, a conference organized every three years by the Holy See’s Pontifical Council for the Family. Although the city and its affiliated agencies have prepared for many major public-gatherings in the past — Philadelphia hosted the Republican National Convention in 2000 and will host the Democratic National Convention in 2016, for example — SEPTA’s planning for the papal visit is unprecedented, says Deputy General Manager Jeff Knueppel.

“In all my years here, I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Knueppel said. “It’s been a massive undertaking.”

SEPTA normally carries 1.3 million people every weekday on its commuter-rail, subway, trolley and bus lines. Add another 1.5 million or more potential riders to that mix, “and we know we can’t handle that level of crowd by running a normal schedule,” said Assistant General Manager of Operations Ron Hopkins, who has been in charge of putting together the agency’s transportation plan for the papal event.

SEPTA officials knew as early as spring 2014 that the visit was a possibility. Once they knew for sure it was a go, Hopkins and his team began drawing up a game plan. By January, they had the gist of the operations plan down and have been modifying and adding to it since.

The first thing Hopkins and his team did was study past planning mistakes. Their best example of lessons learned? The city’s parade honoring the Philadelphia Phillies after they won the 2008 World Series. Held just two days after the Series’ conclusion, the event brought more than a million baseball fans into Center City and along the parade route. SEPTA struggled to respond to the sudden big boost in ridership, especially within the hour after the parade ended. The result was gridlocked rail stations, overflowing and late trains, and very unhappy passengers.

“We learned a lot about what really moves people quick and what doesn’t, and what doesn’t is stopping at every station that we had,” Hopkins said of SEPTA’s service lapses. “We disappointed a lot of people that day and got a lot of complaints.”

One thing the agency will do differently for the papal visit is limit the number of rail stations that will be open. Also, the train schedule will be drastically altered. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced in June that SEPTA will cut back the number of open stations from the usual 282 to 31 on the regional rail lines, Market-Frankford Line, Broad Street Line, trolley and Norristown High Speed lines. Trains will operate express-type, pick-up only service to the event from 18 of the outlying stations; post-event, express service will leave Center City to those 18 stations.

The agency also set up online lotteries for a limited number of transit passes for commuters using the regional rail lines, the Norristown High Speed Line or Trolley Routes 101 or 102. The process hasn’t been without glitches, including a website crash when too many people logged onto the site at once.

Special holding pens the size of a single trainload will be organized at stations as a crowd-control measure, and to guide passengers to platforms and vehicle-entry points.

Limiting station stops, controlling crowds and tailoring the train schedule according to the weekend’s activities will address another major challenge: Security. While transit agencies typically heighten security measures to handle larger-than usual crowds, the papal visit has been designated a “national special security event” by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which bumps up SEPTA’s security scheme to a much higher level of requirements.

“Security has been an integrated part of all our decision-making,” said Hopkins.

The agency has its own police force of 275 officers and a K-9 unit, which will have its own deployment plan to cover the crowds traveling to and from the event. Additionally, SEPTA’s team will be part of a coordinated effort among other agencies, including the mayor’s office, Secret Service, Philadelphia police and fire departments, the Philadelphia Office of Emergency Management, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the Philadelphia Parking Authority, Delaware River Port Authority/PATCO, New Jersey Transit, DHS, the governor’s office, Pennsylvania National Guard, State Police, and government agencies in surrounding Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties.

SEPTA also has coordinated its transportation plan with Amtrak, and kept the freight railroads informed of the passenger-rail and security strategies.

Then there’’ the practical matter of keeping the trains running. SEPTA’s maintenance, engineering and construction crews already are thoroughly checking the entire system — trains, communications and signals, track and stations — to make sure “everything is working,” Hopkins said. Mechanics and electricians will be on standby at each open station to fix any problems that pop up during the big weekend.

SEPTA employees assigned to work the event will be trained and prepped in how to assist visitors — many of whom will be traveling to Philadelphia from other countries — with their transit needs.

“We have a plan in place for every station. Each will have designated transportation people, or ‘ambassadors,’ to help people. And the World Meeting of Families is coming in with their 10,000 volunteers, said Hopkins.

SEPTA officials are praying that their meticulous planning will pay off in a safe and joyous weekend.

“One thing we know about these events is that there will be criticism of why we did certain things,” said Hopkins. “But our task is to step up to the plate and do things creatively to get as many people onto mass transit and into the event area as possible.”

And who knows? Maybe Pope Francis, who was known for using public transit when he lived in his native Argentina, will take the train.

“We would be honored,” Hopkins said. “We would make sure that he enjoys his ride.”