SEPTA train

USA: Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority is seeking feedback on options for the long-term development of passenger services around Philadelphia, which it says are currently focused on traditional suburban commuters but could be used to create a ‘lifestyle transit network’ of frequent all-day and all-week rail and bus services meeting changed public needs.

The proposals have been drawn up as part of the Reimagining Regional Rail initiative within the SEPTA Forward development programme.

  • Scenario 1 focuses on providing consistent rail services throughout the network, with a train every 30 min.
  • Scenario 2 focuses on providing services every 15 min where demand supports it.
  • Scenario 3 focuses on faster and integrated service across agencies, including express services across the system all day.

‘SEPTA has one of the best rail systems in the country’, said General Manager & CEO Leslie S Richards on May 18. ‘The options released today will create a vision for better integration between regional rail and other SEPTA modes.’

SEPTA Regional Rail
Lines 13
Track-km 450
Stations 155
Vehicles 411 (maximum of 348 in service)
Passengers/day (pre-pandemic) 132 000

SEPTA is to collect feedback and then set out its vision and short, medium and long-term implementation plans later this year.

To support this process SEPTA has produced a document setting out the current status of the network and making comparisons with other cities.

This notes that the existing infrastructure has capacity for significantly more services, especially off-peak, but a few bottlenecks contain the entire network.

Unlike most US commuter rail operators, SEPTA’s fleet is mostly EMUs. These will need to be replaced soon, with 56% having been built before 1976, and so decisions need to be made about what should replace them; SEPTA has an option to purchase double-deck EMU cars as part of a New Jersey Transit order.

In the USA the term commuter rail suggests ‘a service operated primarily for 9-to-5 work trips from the suburbs to downtown’, and ‘operating practices inherited from steam railroads and little changed since the 1950s’, the report says, and so it looks for global inspiration from Auckland, Barcelona, London and München, where services have been modernised to be more efficient to operate, easier to use and useful for a wider range of trips. 

Possible SEPTA rail expansion projects
Fox Chase to Newtown
Lansdale to Allentown (via Bethlehem, Quakertown)
Elwyn to West Chester (Elwyn to Middletown is under construction)
Norristown to Reading
West Trenton into New Jersey
Potential services on Amtrak lines
Thorndale to Harrisburg (Thorndale to Coatesville is under consideration)
Newark to Maryland