Bright Idea for SEPTA: Regional Rail Lite

Less costly, more frequent service could become possible as soon as next year. Will SEPTA seize the day?

New Jersey Riverline car. Photo | Sanoyes

New Jersey Riverline car. Photo | Sanoyes

This week’s big news out of 1234 Market Street is that, as part of its big capital project catch-up list, SEPTA may purchase bilevel electric multiple-unit (EMU) railcars to increase capacity on its Regional Rail lines.

They’re definitely needed, as Regional Rail ridership has been climbing steadily over the last several years. It seems that not even heavy snow has put a real dent in its growth: In December, according to figures from SEPTA, Regional Rail ridership rose from year-ago levels while the two snowstorms that month caused transit ridership to fall off slightly.




So there's no question that more capacity is needed on Regional Rail, and bilevel railcars are a good way to provide it at peak commute times. But what about the rest of the day?

Thanks to a proposed rule change, it is now possible to contemplate a solution that would add off-peak capacity while achieving one of the goals recommended in my earlier post on ways to get more riders on board public transit in Philly.

The Philadelphia City Planning Commission likes this idea so much that it touted it on its Philadelphia Planeto blog last week. Boston is seriously considering this idea, and we should too.

It's this: Run service on the Regional Rail lines using lightweight diesel multiple-unit (DMU) railcars.

Service of this type already operates in our region: New Jersey Transit's River Line, which connects Trenton and Camden via a freight railroad line. New Jersey is currently in the process of extending this service south from Camden to Glassboro.

It's proved more popular than originally forecast, but it cannot reach its full potential because of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) safety rules. Because the River Line diesels do not meet FRA crashworthiness standards for mainline railroad equipment, they must be kept separate from those heavier railcars. The way the rule works on lines that both types of cars use is that the two types of equipment cannot use the line at the same time. That's why you can't travel between Pennsauken and Bordentown on the River Line after about 10:30 p.m.

The Obama administration has pledged to get rid of this "temporal separation" requirement this year. That opens up a world of possibilities for expanding Regional Rail service, and the lightweight railcars are the key to that world.

Boston magazine reports that as part of its 10-year long-range capital plan, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation envisions a new network of commuter rail lines using existing rail corridors with more closely spaced stations. These new lines would be serviced by those diesel (DMU) cars.

Philadelphia's Regional Rail network used to have many more — and more closely spaced — stations than it does now, and it used to extend further into the city's hinterlands and operate on more corridors. Those corridors were served by diesel rail cars operating out of the Reading Terminal. When the Commuter Tunnel and its Market East Station replaced the terminal in 1984, SEPTA eliminated all non-electrified service because diesel-powered trains could not run in the tunnel.

That's still true today. But with recent improvements to facilities just outside the tunnel, it is possible to run diesel trains to stations equipped to handle transfers well. On the Reading side, the rebuilt Wayne Junction makes an ideal transfer point. On the Pennsylvania side, 30th Street Station's suburban platforms could be re-extended to handle the extra trains.

Service of this type could be operated more frequently as well, and it could be done with smaller crews than are required for the mainline railroad trains.

More frequent off-peak Regional Rail service would not only be good for Center City, it would unlock the potential for transit-oriented development and redevelopment of our region's suburban town centers as well. Given all the upside potential, SEPTA would be wise to give this idea a good hard look.

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  • DTurner

    Sandy, can you explain the fascination with DMUs here? I know that there are also electric multiple-units (EMU), I’ve ridden on them in Germany and France. Wouldn’t these make more sense, given that we already have the electrified infrastructure? Are DMUs the focus since SEPTA would be able to piggy-back off of other agencies’ orders?

    It’s my understanding that NJT and other agencies went for DMUs because they were trying to keep costs low by not having to worry about electrifying their lines, but that’s not a real concern for SEPTA.

    • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

      If all you’re talking about is improving frequency on the existing Regional Rail network, then yes, that’s not a real concern for SEPTA. But if you’re talking about restoring service that went away with the opening of the Commuter Tunnel, then it IS a real concern.

      The alternative would require building catenary on lines to places like Quakertown, Pottstown, and Newtown. That’s an extra expense SEPTA can avoid by running the type of diesel service that used to operate on these lines.

      Sure, the ideal would be to have a fully electrified network of regional rail lines serving all the points that the Reading RDCs once served. But I’m sure you already know why we don’t have service beyond Fox Chase any more, for instance. Powerful families aren’t blocking the other lines’ electrification, but putting up those poles and wire still costs money. We can do this quickly and for less money.

      • DTurner

        That makes sense, I guess the bigger question is whether or not these expansions are necessary. Are SEPTA’s meager capital funds best used by returning service to cancelled lines or by examining the need for new or more rapid service for the urban core and inner suburbs?

        • PAPlan

          I would think the latter would be more important. More frequent service on existing lines would seem to do more for ridership than providing service to far away places. If I’m in Quakertown, would I really want to make the long trek knowing I have to transfer to get into Center City? Wouldn’t it be easier to just drive to an existing outlying station that would now have more frequent service?

          • DTurner

            That would be my guess as well.

            This is why I question the return of Media/Elwyn service back to West Chester. Would it not make more sense to use that money to run a line down, say Rt. 3, particularly the section from Newtown Square and over which has seen significant growth?

            I think we need to think more about what transit expansion would entail instead of simply following the belief that the old routes were best. Years of auto-driven development, for better or worse, have changed the economic landscape of the region, it makes sense to adapt to that instead of trying to trying to bring back old development patterns.

          • eldondre

            restoring service to kennet square might make a good bit of sense, driving in from kennet square is painful at best. often times the old right of way does make sense. west chester, sadly, does not, but there are plenty that do (phoenixville/reading, newtown, bethlehem, ivy ridge). btw, the middle of rt 3 IS old right of way. it was a trolley from west chester to 69th st

          • DTurner

            Here’s a crazy idea: why not consider a heavy rail/commuter rail line like PATCO or DC Metro that would link in to the MFL? Would still like to see a system like that considered for NHSL as well; standardized rail would provide SEPTA with a little more flexibility.

          • LexS

            Outside of DC and New York, it seems like significant rapid transit expansion is all but completely dead as everyone heads towards light rail style projects and Bus Rapid Transit :(

          • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

            You do know that the builders of the P&W had envisioned running trains over the Market Street elevated into Central Philadelphia, no?

            There was this little problem with track gauges, for one, though.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

            According to Ron DeGraw’s books, the P&W owners planned a separate, standard-gauge elevated line running along Chestnut Street. Red Arrow was a separate company at the time and built their 4 trolley lines using broad gauge and MU-capable cars with every intent of running on the Market Street El. What got in the way was politics rather than mechanical compatibility. The Taylors (who owned Red Arrow) were never able to come to an agreement with the PRT for co-running.

            The P&W did have joint operations with Liberty Bell Lines, though. LBL ran from the Lehigh Valley to Norristown where its tracks met the P&W’s elevated station at Swede and Sandy Sts. Cars shared the P&W tracks providing through-running to Upper Darby.

            Historical nugget: The LBL’s tracks dropped to grade level north of the station. After LBL abruptly went out of business in 1951 their tracks were torn up, leaving the P&W to end in mid-air.

          • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

            Standarizing gauges has been looked at many times in the past and would be prohibitively expensive. Other cities like Toronto and even entire countries such as Australia have been stuck with gauge incompatibilities for decades because the cost of remediation is so high.

            To explain SEPTA’s situation, the PRR and RDG railroads of the early 20th century used their considerable political clout to limit competition from trolley lines by requiring use of the so-called “Pennsylvania gauge”, 6 inches wider than railroad gauge. That distance effectively prevented the trolley companies from sharing tracks – it’s too far apart for wide-tread wheels, but too close to allow a third rail for dual gauge operations.

          • Steve S.

            Interestingly, turns out that there is a route to WC that makes sense–along the 202 corridor, to the north. By every appearance, that corridor follows the old PRR ROW.

          • nobody

            Why does restoring service to Kennett Square make sense exactly?

          • eldondre

            the the old row is there, the population is growing, the roads are insanely clogged.

          • nobody

            The population might be growing but very few people actually live in any of the areas that line would go through, and even fewer of them would take public transit. It’s a waste of time. The population is only “growing” there because it’s so sprawled out and that makes it seem a lot more populated than it actually is.

          • eldondre

            people have lived there for a long time. people always say “it goes nowhere and no one will ride” but are typically wrong. aside fro serving southwest chester co it also crosses concord pike. the fact the towns are small is what makes them a good fit for the lite idea. the reality is what passes for transit out there now is useless

          • http://sictransitphiladelphia.org/ Sic Transit PHL

            Organization vor Elektronik vor Beton. The Media/Elwyn Line is already in place to West Chester, while any restoration of the 104 trolley tracks would require obtaining the land and building tracks from scratch. That adds up to a heck of a lot of money.

            Of course, there’s another ROW available for Central Delco: the PRR Newtown Square Branch, which is long-abandoned and mostly used by PECO. My personal fantasy project is trolleys running on the branch from Congress Square to as far as the ROW is recoverable, but I wouldn’t pretend that that’s a high priority for anyone other than Delco.

          • Steve S.

            AFAIK, the 104 ran in the median; this is why West Chester Pike is so broad and has such a broad median even in Upper Darby. So easement-acquisition costs are not quite as high as you’d think.

            Onto the Newtown Square Branch: It is an interesting possibility as a commuter rail route. PECO still has an easement following the entire route, but poorly planned housing between former Foxcroft and Hunt stations makes line reactivation to its original terminus a tricky endeavor, at best.

          • http://sictransitphiladelphia.org/ Sic Transit PHL

            Steve, there wasn’t a median on West Chester Pike when the 104 trolley ran. The tracks came up contemporaneous with the widening of WCP to the stroad we all know and love today. Pre-1954, the 104 track was adjacent and parallel to the roadway. My use of the singular is not a typo; Red Arrow bustituted the 104 because they couldn’t run sufficient frequencies on the single-track line to meet demand, and the capital cost of doubling the line was prohibitive.

          • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

            I think you’re half right here. I’d need to go back and see pix, but I think the West Chester trolley ran in the median of West Chester Pike in Upper Darby and part of Haverford – the parts that had largely built out by the end of the 1920s – then switched to interurban-style side-of-the-road running beyond that. I’m certain it ran in the median at least as far as Llanerch, where the old Ardmore line, which ran up the median of Darby Road as far as Oakmont, then on a PROW to Ardmore, split off.

          • quinyus

            or make 104 a full LTD stop bus use 112,120&126 for local service

          • nobody

            It should be a high priority, connecting SAP to Center City, as well as unlocking that market. There are plenty of people along that line who would take public transit as well. Between 19082, East Lansdowne, and Yeadon alone there are over 50,000 people, many of whom do or would take public transit.

            In my opinion, the best way to go would be to do both. Make the former 104 into more of a light-rail line with less frequent stops and make the former Newtown Square branch into more of a trolley line with more frequent stops. If you want to be really thorough, you could use the former Cardington branch to connect the line to Upper Darby or even run a branch up Garret Rd and then have it turn into the cut instead. Have the 104 turn onto Rt 3 in Haverford if necessary.

            It really annoys me that a bunch of people from the suburbs took it upon themselves to destroy the ROW near Cobbs Creek and elsewhere to build a trail.

          • eldondre

            very good point, the applications are limited. here’s to hoping train service does get extended to quakertown AND bethlehem. now diesel hauled service from wayne junction to newark nj via jenkintown might make some sense

          • Roin

            Sure doesn’t

            Diesel never makes sense.

          • LexS

            It would be if driving down 309 to get to the closest station (Colmar) wasn’t already a horrifying traffic experience. Of course, we have to keep in mind that some of these exurbs tend to commute towards other areas like the Lehigh Valley and New York, rather than Philadelphia.

            The dialed back extension to “Pennridge” in the last proposal for the Quakertown service seemed reasonable, and was even electrified. :)

          • nobody

            But plenty of existing lines are in far away places.

          • Roin

            Lol. Quaked town. Screw that. Not even worth having service.

          • http://batman-news.com Herb63

            Roin, your comments are abusive, idiotic, imbecilic, and largely serve to illustrate your vast wealth of shortcomings. I would advise all others who are making intelligent, rational contributions to this article to turn a blind eye to Roin’s rants.

            SEPTA used scare tactics and threatened to end service on the Newtown and West Chester lines unless Bucks and Chester counties contributed an exorbitant amount of funds to keep the trains running. Neither county could pay for it, so instead of trimming service to a skeletal schedule like their counterparts NJT, LIRR, Metro-North, etc. do, they cancelled service outright to avoid having to maintain the infrastructure. SEPTA also has a strong bus lobby within the ranks, which helped kill rail service outright.

            SEPTA is not progressive and never has been. It is to the great detriment of the Delaware Valley that SEPTA is not a branch of PennDOT. Many if not all other transit systems have to answer to their respective DOTs, which entitle them to a secure source of funds. The myopic politics in Harrisburg prevent this, so SEPTA executives cry poor and make little effort to expand.

        • LexS

          Yes…yes they are, especially since SEPTA still owns the right of way. The problem with abandoning these lines is that after the cancellation of rail service to these areas, they started to boom with housing and commercial development. The 422 corridor which runs right along the old Pottstown/Reading service, has developed so much that the 422 highway is regularly jammed.

          • DTurner

            I think the 422 and Glen Mills expansions would make sense, just less convinced that other lines would make sense to bring back. If there is a case to be made, SEPTA should go for it, but past service should not necessarily be a reason for future expansion.

          • nobody

            I don’t see how either of those would make sense. It seems like you’re basing your opinions on which area is more quickly increasing in population without actually taking into account why that is or what kind of population it is, let alone how few people actually live in either area.

          • DTurner

            Oh, I agree. I am suggesting that those growing areas MIGHT have the latent demand for rail, but that is by no means a given.

            Again, this is why it is critical that we focus on determining actual & latent demand on these defunct rail lines instead of just making the blanket claim that all of these lines must be restored.

        • nobody

          All of it seems moot given that SEPTA seems to be putting an emphasis on building rail out to KOP.

          Also, there’s more than a few former lines that go through the urban core and “inner suburbs”.

        • Roin

          No. They’re best used on new vehicles and fixing bridges and infrastructure they have now. SEPTA is best not returning service ever to newtown. Ever. More rapid transit is needed in the city, yes. And if any expansion is necessary, this is where it would start.

      • quinyus

        want service simple DMU service between norristown and quakertown timed with doylestown trains. then Reroute 132 bus via I-476 to allentown since most riders will simply transfer at hatfield or use other stations in areas 132 serves.

  • Jon Frey

    Its high time that this region get its act together and start restoring rail service to areas once served, and not let SEPTA spend every last nickel of precious funding on cosmetic upgrades that don’t serve new fare paying customers. As an example, SEPTA has built brand new stations at Fox Chase and Langhorne within the last 3 years. Those stations may be permanently locked once the new fare system goes into place, making those investments unhelpful to riders. Restoring service to Newtown, Bethlehem and West Chester will bring new customers (voters) to the system and provide relief to the overcrowded existing lines. For point of reference on why this has not been done, refer to http://www.pa-tec.org.

    • DTurner

      Why would Fox Chase and Langhorne be locked as a result of NPT?

      • Jon Frey

        There won’t be any need for station agents selling tickets anymore. The idea has been floated, I’m not sure if a final decision was made, but I suspect it will be done as a cost saving measure.

        • DTurner

          I don’t follow; they’re going to close entire stations because they are reorganizing station agents?

          • PAPlan

            I assume he means the actual building and is implying that you wouldn’t need to go inside the building to buy a ticket so they would just close the building up.

          • DTurner

            Would that really be the case? I know that most stations on the Paoli line are still open when station attendants are not on duty.

          • Jon Frey

            Not true. I’ve been at several stations at night (Overbrook, Malvern, Devon, and they are locked in the afternoon. It would be great if they could be kept open as it beats standing in the cold.

          • PAPlan

            They do close the Norristown building after the attendant leaves for the day.

          • DTurner

            Agreed, and it would not require much more than the installation of security cameras and coordination with local police

          • Roin

            Get over it.

        • LexS

          Last I heard, the idea was that SEPTA would look at using NPT cards to unlock the station waiting rooms after hours for passengers that travel in the evenings.

          • DTurner

            That would be an extremely good idea.

      • nobody

        It’s a waste of time to try to draw riders in places like Langhorne when there are much better underserved markets on the western and even northwestern areas outside of the city.

        I’m in agreement with Jon Frey. It’s ridiculous that we can’t even get service out to West Chester or Reading or Allentown or Newtown. SEPTA plans an unnecessary line out to King of Prussia yet they won’t even give any thought to restoring service or even restoring the 104 trolley to West Chester if an extension of the Media/Elwyn doesn’t make sense? Langhorne is an exurb or far suburb compared to places outside of the western and northwestern parts of the city or even the northern.

        • Roin

          Not ridiculous. Elect the right people. The studies are done. It’s impractical to go out to west Chester. Not enough ridership. West Chester is already served by SEPTA bus. That’s more than enough. You still complain of course.

          • LexS

            I fail to understand how a return of West Chester service would not attract ridership. Besides the fact that there are two University that the extension would directly serve, the area around West Chester has developed quite a bit since service was suspended. Just look at the Baltimore Pike Corridor for reference!

          • quinyus

            what does that have to do with a corridor that isn’t even close?

          • quinyus

            really what bus goes from media to west chester?

        • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

          “Roin” is needlessly antagonistic and often flat-out wrong, but on the issue of service to KofP, while I might not use the word “practical” to describe it – it will require the acquisition of all-new ROW at the KofP end – that’s a more appropriate word than “unnecessary.”

          The 124 and 125 are probably the two most heavily patronized bus lines in the Suburban Division, and they have a problem that keeps them from reaching their full potential, namely, operating on that stretch of the Schuylkill from Wissahickon to Gulph Mills. While a spur off the 100 might not grab a lot of Center City traffic off the line given the transfer involved, it probably will grab some. The 123 would be rendered moot by the spur. .

    • Roin

      Go screw yourself and your group. Bunch of scumbags

  • Dave

    FYI, the linked article from PlanPhilly is about a potential purchase of bi-level coaches, not bi-level EMUs. I am unaware of any bi-level EMUs operating in the US, but I believe they’re widely available in Europe at potentially different boarding heights that might be incompatible with the trap door steps in the northeast…

    • matthew brandley

      marc has bilevel coaches on the nec . septa would be a unique case since they have a hieght problem in the tunnel and loading, platform problem since all stations are not uniform. my guess is they stick with urrent design

      • LexS

        New Jersey Transit runs bi-level coaches that were designed to be able to fit into the Hudson Tunnels in New York, which are rather small and comparable to the Center City Commuter Tunnel. A car like those coaches would probably be used for SEPTA.

        • matthew brandley

          Dint think about that. thanks. Forgot how low that is and I have never taken amcrap up that far since I refuse to after reading how bad the bridges are in the inky in june of 2010.

      • Dave

        Right, MARC has bilevel coaches, as does NJT. But they are push/pull trailer coaches and cab cars, not EMUs.

        • Roin

          Push pulls are cheaper. Not as efficient. But they do work

    • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

      Chicago’s Metra Electric lines (ex-Illinois Central, operating from Randolph Street to southern suburbs) use bi-level EMUs.

      Otherwise, mea culpa.

    • quinyus

      bilevel EMUs are used extensively on the NJT system. and Metra

  • NateFried

    very cool idea… but, would this do anything for greater center city stops? Maybe give a stop at 10th and girard? What other spots might this help transit in the city’s core?

    • Jon Frey

      A stop at 9th/10th & Girard would be very useful, especially for riders of the busy Route 15 which serves booming Fishtown and Northern Liberties. Reopening the old Nicetown station on Hunting Park Ave would also be helpful as many busy SEPTA bus routes pass under the tracks there. The inner city lost many good stations in the 80s because they were in such bad shape that not even the dead would use them.

      • Roin

        You’re a fool. We need to be closing stations to speed up service. Not looking for excuses to open new ones.

        • Jon Frey

          Hater.

          • Roin

            Yep. Your organization does nothing decent but complain. The newtown line will never, ever come back. No reason for it. Ever. You are best off living somewhere else.

          • Jon Frey

            That’s your opinion.

          • Roin

            It’s a fact. You’re a nuisance. Please go away. Give up.

          • Jon Frey

            Funny, I was going to ask you the same thing!

          • Roin

            Well I don’t live in a fantasy world. Or in Southampton, outside the PHL Metro. I live somewhere that matters. And I’m a civil engineer. So at least I go by facts. You best quit beating a dead horse. You only live life once. Every second you waste on your useless opinions and unrealistic views, is a second wasted. Go travel. Do something productive.

        • Jon Frey

          No we need to stop the trains at more stops so more people can ride.

  • matthew brandley

    O K folks. heres the problem . On the old reading side the main trunk line is narrowed down to 2 lines and is maxed out by the amount of trains the lines can handle right now durring rush hours. Between Jenkintown and Fern Rock theres. only 2 lines. At one time there was 3 beween melrose park and Wayne Junction but that has been long dicontinued years ago. The old fox chase Newtow line? rails have been torn up in the Bethayres area. The b ridge over Neshaminy creek needs to be completely replaced with the entire line rebuilt. Bethlehem? freight currently runs as far north as Quakertown with the track grown over after there. If the state wants to ive septa the money let them build it.

  • thegreengrass

    Awesome news.

    Does this mean that the Riverline might one day run later than 10:30pm, and perhaps even go into Philadelphia? Is that possible?

    • DTurner

      That’s a good question, I wonder what the FRA change would entail for the Riverline.

      Also, are they really going to make the line down to Glassboro an extension of the Riverline? That seems uncharacteristically efficient for NJT…

      • thegreengrass

        I’m not sure they know what they’re going to do yet. Actually, I’m not sure who “they” even are. DRPA doesn’t want to run it, NJTransit hasn’t said no. The site’s at http://www.glassborocamdenline.com/, and it makes it seem like it’s a line going only from Glasboro to the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden. Why not keep going to Trenton, or somehow otherwise link up to the end of the Riverline, I don’t know.

        • DTurner

          Looks like they’re calling it a “Riverline-like” light rail

          Darn, was hoping for something that would be a little more integrated with the current network. :(

    • http://sictransitphiladelphia.org/ Sic Transit PHL

      I doubt you’ll see River Line service over the bridge ever (requires construction, there are better uses for the capital budget), but I think a lot of the silly temporal-separation regs are going to get revisited and axed in the upcoming years.

      • thegreengrass

        Oh duh, the bridge. I forgot about that.

    • Roin

      No. NJT isn’t welcome in PA.

      • kclo3

        This idiotic turf-war feudalist mindset is exactly what hinders passenger rail advancement in the Northeast. Let NJT run a restored Clocker service, I say.

  • kclo3

    Transfers are generally one of the worst detriments towards unpopularity of transit. Transfer leading to unreliable service were partly why the Fox Chase-Newtown High-speed Line lost many riders and fell into oblivion. I’m not sure what bringing the transfers all the way up to Wayne Junction and 30th St. would accomplish, It’s sort of like the old Manhattan Transfer PRR station where riders would switch from diesel to electric to travel under the Hudson to NYP. It was an less-than-ideal interim solution that was destined to be scrapped once the NEC was electrified. Utilizing these EMU “shuttles” to get to the CCCT would also mean utilizing current crew sizes anyway as well as the DMU crew.

    I’m also not really clear on how you want to use these DMUs. You point to the quick expansion of long-abandoned PRR/RDG corridors using these DMUs as the solution, and yet we know the FRA restriction loosening is a MUCH more definite and immediate possibility than securing funding and support for any of these lines. If SEPTA wants to take advantage of the reforms immediately, then their “Silverliner VI” would also be sourced from a European lightweight EMU model, perhaps the Stadler FLIRT. Using a frequent service at closer stations, as well as reopening/building stations at 52nd Street, the Reading mainline, or south of Univ. City, would be the closer analogue to what MBTA wants to accomplish. These lightweight EMUS would also be perfect for retrofitting inner-city freight lines for transit use, such as running on the 25th Street Viaduct towards Sports complex/Navy Yard and possibly even the City Branch, connecting with the NEC.

    Until then, DMUs and the costly construction of infrastructure/maintenance to support an entirely different set of equipment (fueling stations) are out of the question. With the exception of Newtown (which has the least chance of coming back), the outer long-distance branches are heavily commuter-oriented, serving far-flung communities at peak hours. They are perhaps the least suited for low-capacity DMUs of this sort, much less off-peak service where it wouldn’t gain many riders. If SEPTA is to purchase bilevel coaches anyway, then dual-mode locomotives like the ALP-45DP seem to be the best option to plan for the very distant/murky future of rail restoration, notwithstanding their very high cost.

    • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

      Good points all, especially the one about building back-end support infrastructure for the diesels. However, wouldn’t such facilities exist on the Reading side already, given that the RDG ran RDCs up through 1984? Or would those have been ripped out completely?

      • kclo3

        The RDCs were originally all serviced in Reading at the RDG shops. When Conrail intercity passenger rail stopped in 1981, the shop was closed and SEPTA could only perform makeshift maintenance services at Newtown, dooming the RDCs to deterioration. Mechanics would literally perform last-minute service operations while passengers were boarding.

      • Roin

        Gone

        Never coming back. Ever.

    • pat

      If transfers are a detriment, why do transit agencies charge passengers extra for them? :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.karpinski.14 Sick Transit

        Because they can. SEPTA has long used transfer charges as a substitute for zones, especially within the city. Many years ago there was an internal study indicating SEPTA’s transfer charges, which are higher than those on many other comparable systems, were encouraging counterproductive behavior. E.g. riders would remain on the C bus along Broad Street instead of transferring to the subway, and some suburban riders would drive to more-distant stations to avoid paying for a transfer.

        Of course, SEPTA’s solution has been to continue to increase transfer costs.

  • Tim

    While the contents of this article are interesting, I am more excited about the passionate and intelligent dialogue concerning transit’s future in the Philly region in this article’s comments. It is nice to see folks dreaming again about transportation beyond the auto in Philly and the ‘burbs.

  • Mark Dowling

    Sumitomo/Nippon Sharyo are building FRA compliant DMUs in Illinois right now for Sonoma-Marin in California and Metrolinx in Toronto. No waivers or rule adjustments required. http://www.nipponsharyousa.com/tp101216.htm

    • kclo3

      And LIRR once toyed with the option of ordering a DMU version of the Bombardier M7. It will be interesting to see how successful this will be, and what it could entail for the many systems employing loco-hauled coach service or ancient RDCs, as the Colorado Railcar DMU was a massive failure.

      • Mark Dowling

        I think the difference between CR and C/NS is the substantial industrial and financing resources behind the latter. Like the car and aviation industries, it’s difficult to design and construct modern vehicles without the resources to weather issues like delays, design flaws or customer cancellations..

    • Roin

      Yes but they’re low quality cars

      • kclo3

        They haven’t even been tested yet. Nippon Sharyo has had decades of experience with American rails, building bilevel coaches and EMUs for Metra, South Shore, Caltrain, MARC, VRE, and Amtrak.

  • BuddCarToBethlehem

    I like this train (no pun intended) of thought, but unfortunately it seems to be a somewhat impractical solution to the problem. Wayne Junction could serve as a transfer point for any Quakertown extension on the Bethlehem Branch as well as any Newtown extension on the former Philadelphia, Newtown, & New York branch. However, if service is restored to Reading, that would require using the Philadelphia, Germantown, & Norristown line which joins the old Reading mainline at North Broad Street station. Because of the reconfiguration of the station in the 1990’s which replaced the island platforms with side platforms, transfers at North Broad may cause traffic to back up. I think the most practical solution would be to use Dual-Powered locomotives like NJ Transit. While the acceleration would probably be slower than the Silverliners on steeper grade lines like the Bethlehem branch, it would allow for a “one-seat” ride to Center City.

  • George Lee

    SEPTA already has the best commuter rail system in the country. We have the ONLY through-routing system and fully electrified and Regional Rail has frequencies light years better than New York, Boston, or Chicago’s overrated systems. This will make things even better if it’s implemented.

    • kclo3

      That doesn’t excuse SEPTA of their criminal neglect at maintaining their unused ROW, towards restoration of abandoned intercity service. MBTA, even though they have infrequent service, has restored much of their outer branch service that was abandoned from the 1950s.

      • Roin

        Hey can do what they want. This is a transit system. Not a museum. Service isn’t coming back to newtown ever. And SEPTA has a few branches more than 40 miles long. Mta LIRR isn’t even a railroad. And it’s privately run. So it’s not even mta’s. Which is a garbage agency

        • kclo3

          You seem to be deliberately ignorant of the population growth in suburban areas such as Pottstown, Quakertown, West Chester and the very poor highway access to these areas. Right now PennDOT is spending $400 million for a Northeast Extension lane widening, which could have easily gone towards a 1st phase restoration of service to Quakertown. But we all know that you are guided by emotions and not reason when talking about extensions.
          And I was referring to MBTA as in Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, not the LIRR, which I don’t know why you have a beef with anyway.

    • Clark

      Frequencies better than New York, Boston and Chicago? I don’t think so. New York maintains better than hourly headways on most of its lines and all operate well into the evening.with one system operating 24 hours. Those systems instead of dropping diesel service, have been expanding them, many with an eye toward future electrification when the funds are available.

      • George Lee

        Well, New York’s system has been constantly having problems with performance and equipment. Heard of the Bronx derailment or the polar vortex that took out Metro North’s power? Or the fact that neither New York, Boston, nor Chicago is through-routing. How about SEPTA having 30 min. frequencies on WEEKENDS when many other systems don’t even operate. I also noticed that New York, Chicago, and Boston have 2-hour gaps for midday while SEPTA still keeps 1/2 hr to 1 hr frequencies.

        • BuddCarToBethlehem

          I agree with your assessment on the Metro-North operations of the MTA, but I often travel back and forth to Long Island. The Long Island Railroad hasn’t been plagued with the same problems as the Metro-North. While the MTA may be slow to make improvements, such as the long awaited double tracking for the Ronkonkoma line, something that should have been done when the line was electrified 25 years ago, I find the service to be better than SEPTA. However, the fares are much higher. If you compare Pinelawn, Nassau County to Penn Station and Doylestown to Market East, which are both an approximately 35 mile trip, the fare is 65% to 125% more on the L.I.R.R. I find that SEPTA is the more affordable, compared the MTA; however, I feel that the MTA & MBTA provide more convenient service because SEPTA doesn’t have a line more than 40 miles long.

        • Clark

          The New Haven line provides half-hourly service on weekends and the Port Jefferson Branch and New Jersey Transit’s Northeast Corridor line have better than half-hourly service. SEPTA has two lines, the Paoli/Thorndale and Airport Line. And frankly, the airport line should have better than half-hourly service. LIRR also operates 24 hours. So I’m not sure how you can still say that SEPTA provides better overall service than the New York railroads, through-running isn’t the end-all be-all of passenger service, there are far more factors than someone being able to go from one side of the city to the other.

    • nobody

      The first two lines were a joke, right?

  • thetransportpublic

    it makes about zero sense to turn a station such as Wayne Junction into a transfer station. Sandy, I know you went to Harvard and all, but as a transportation professional, your skills are isolated to pipe dreaming

    • http://blog.philadelphiarealestate.com/ Sandy Smith

      I’m not a “transportation professional,” nor do I play one on TV. I do think the label “knowledgeable amateur” would apply to me, though, and like you, I know enough to report and comment on the subject competently. That doesn’t mean everyone will agree with all my ideas or that they’ll all be great ones. Many of the commenters who have posted here offer reasonable, and in some cases better, alternatives to what I propose here.

  • Roin

    No. Pollutes far too much. May as well drive a 18 wheeler to work. Electric is much cleaner. Not gonna happen.

    SEPTA knows this is a horrendous idea which is exactly why they would be stupid to implement such a disaster.

    Also, “lightweight” railroad cars don’t exist unless we go against federal requirements which is essentially what Amtrak does and why they have such shoddy equipment. (Don’t ask why. They just do.).

    SEPTA has heavy, durable and efficient railcars that are built like tanks. Your suggestion puts us all in danger not only in terms of safety, but it pollutes tremendously and only a fool would think that the Regional Rail should use diesel. You’re supposed to be making a better move by taking the train. Not a worse move.

    • kclo3

      Not a single piece of Amtrak’s equipment goes against any FRA rules or is lightweight. Some of their worst equipment like the HHP-8s and previously the Acelas are even grossly overweight, which inflates NEC track maintenance costs and is a horrible solution for future technologies. Even the FRA now admits that building railcars like tanks is not the way to go, and that using crumple zones that absorb collision energy is far superior. But their buff strength requirements are outdated, arbitrary, and unfounded on any basis of mechanical engineering. That, hopefully, will change in 2015.
      http://nextcity.org/theworks/entry/modern-european-train-designs-american-tracks-2015-fra