SEPTA Preparing for More Frequent Regional Rail Trains

SEPTA’s deputy GM talks of better off-peak service to come at today’s City Hall/15th Street entrance unveiling.


On the same day that SEPTA officially rebadged Market East as Jefferson Station, as Center City District and city officials were cutting the ribbon on Dilworth Park upstairs, SEPTA general manager Joe Casey and other SEPTA dignitaries were showing off the spiffy new subway station entrance down below.

One of those dignitaries, deputy general manager Jeff Knueppel, had another bit of news that wasn’t on today’s agenda, but will be welcomed by Regional Rail riders: More frequent service off-peak.

“We are moving in the direction of increasing frequency on Regional Rail lines in the near future,” he said in response to a question from this reporter.

Knueppel explained that ridership trends warrant the improvement, and infrastructure improvements on some lines make it possible.

“Regional Rail ridership is up 50 percent over the past 10 years,” he said. “And we have made some improvements in our infrastructure, including installing turnback switches on the Manayunk/Norristown and Chestnut Hill East lines.”

These switches will permit short-turning of trains, a key element in providing more frequent service. Knueppel said that with the improvements, it will be possible for SEPTA to operate trains on these two lines at half-hourly intervals off-peak, and that such service is likely to be implemented in the next few years.

While we all await that happy day, we can, for now, ooh and aah at the new, brighter, fully accessible concourse entrance to City Hall and 15th Street subway stations beneath Dilworth Park.

The entrance is fully equipped for SEPTA’s New Payment Technology, now set to go into operation in 2015, and has wide fare gates and elevators to accommodate riders in wheelchairs. The turnstiles also accept TransPasses and TrailPasses, and an attendant in a booth at the Broad Street Line entrance accepts tokens and cash.

The new entrance is filled with natural light from two curved glass canopies covering the main entrances.

The entrance is the first phase in a multi-year series of improvements to the City Hall/15th Street station complex, culminating in the complete reconstruction of City Hall station itself, beginning in 2018.

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  • ZmanPhilly

    It’s a nice looking station, but on talking to the ambassadors It’s clear that it was not very well thought out. If you don’t have a pass, a token, or exact change this station is not for you. They have an attendant that can accept cash, but cannot make change as per Septa’s policy. They decided not to put a change machine there as well in favor of the new payment technology that will be implemented in the future. No date is set for this future electronic payment system to be ready for prime time, so for most folks this station will be more of an exit than an entrance for some time to come.

    • Astralmilkman

      Why do you think they have so few cash only lanes on the turnpike ,
      They’re trying to change people’s habits . Make it a pain in the ass not yo have the es pass or the new payment system.

      • ZmanPhilly

        It makes sense to coerce people to use the new payment system once it’s up and running, but since it’s not; the net result is the new station only accepts weekly and monthly trans passes (or exact change). To extend your analogy. It would be like the turnpike accepting only exact change, weekly, or monthly turnpike drivers; everyone else needs to get off at another exit.

        • Jake

          The booth attendant will accept tokens too. That covers all three fare types for the subway.

    • Michael Noda

      There are still old (i.e. cash-and-token-accepting) turnstiles immediately the other side of 15th Street, plus more accessible from City Hall courtyard. Installing old turnstiles under Dilworth Park just to have to rip them out again and replace them by next year would be a waste of money. It’s still more convenient like this than it has been for 2.5 years…

      • ZmanPhilly

        Agreed that you can still use the old station, but it would be nice if they added a lane or 2 that accepted tokens and a change machine. All that time and money, but no advantage gained for a large part of the ridership.

    • Jake

      “If you don’t have a pass, a token, or exact change this station is not for you.”

      What else is there? Those are literally all of the fare types that can be used on the subway. No transit system gives change when collecting cash fares; it slows down the system way too much.

      • ZmanPhilly

        Jake you and Septa overlooked the very common case that you come to the station with no singles in you pocket and want to ride on the subway. If you haven’t pre bought a token or weekly/monthly pass this station is not for you. And you are incorrect; all the main cc stations have a change machine that dispenses tokens and every rail system I have ever ridden on had a way to pay by credit card or non exact cash.

        • Poisson Volant

          Absolutely correct. SEPTA’s fare system is set up only for what they consider to be a model, well-behaved rider. I.e. they work 9 to 5 weekdays, travel from the suburbs to Center City, and don’t have any of those infernal modern devices like smartphones or credit cards.

          I’ve used transit systems in more than a dozen cities in 7 countries and SEPTA is the only one still stuck in the 1960s.

  • NickFromGermantown

    WOW. This is amazing development for anyone who lives in the Northwest.

    • PhilliesPhan4102

      Out of curiosity, do you think 1/2 hour service in the CHE all day will hurt ridership on the CHW? This is great news and I’m assuming Knueppel is implying the added Norristown trains would turn at Miquon.

      • NickFromGermantown

        Not sure. The lines are far enough apart except for a few places (e.g., top of the Hill, downtown Mt. Airy, and the Germantown business district) that I don’t think many people have a choice unless they drive.

        I wonder if CHW would ever get 30 minute service. Amtrak interferes with operation of CHW a lot.

  • Jen

    What about ticket machines in the stations? It’s insane that there is one person manning the ticket counter in each ticket office, when they could have a row of ticket machines in the stations like the rest of country’s mass transit.

    • ohnonononono

      And many (most?) of the suburban station ticket window hours are ridiculously short weekday morning hours only — basically if you’re not commuting into the city during peak morning hours you have no way to get a ticket and are forced to pay the ridiculous extra on-board fare charge. SEPTA is the only system in the country that pulls this. I understand an on-board cash fare charge if I have an opportunity to buy a ticket but if no window open and no machines, it’s criminal.

      • Jen

        Exactly! And there aren’t even any ticket offices in some of the regional rail stations, so you HAVE to pay that added charge if that’s your origin.

        • Mike

          To be fair, if you have a moment once you arrive at a CC station, you can take advantage of the fare credit to recoup the added cost of being forced to buy onboard. That being said, I agree, the RR ticket purchasing system at outlying stations is ridiculous.

          • Poisson Volant

            That’s IF you’re going to CC, and IF the ticket office is open. Even though SEPTA has finally discovered people like to use trains late in the evening, CC ticket offices still close at 8. Case in point, I attended a late concert over the weekend. Trains were packed and EVERYONE had to pay the &*&# surcharge because all sales windows were closed.

      • Poisson Volant

        It’s especially onerous at the Airport. Probably 99.9% of incoming passengers have no plans to return the same day and are stuck paying the bleeping surcharge. Every time I’ve used the Airport line I hear riders complaining. Worse yet the conductors have apparently been instructed to give an Alice-in-Wonderland “explanation” that “there’s no surcharge, just a higher fare”.

        What does it say to visitors when their first encounter with Philly is to be suckered because SEPTA is unwilling to install even a single ticket machine? At one point I tried to get the involvement of Rina Cutler, the mayor’s transportation chief, but wasn’t even given the courtesy of a form-letter response. Sheesh!

      • quinyus

        Get a day pass and be done with it

    • Sandy Smith

      Wait, you’re talking about Regional Rail. I realize this was the main news item in this story, but the station I’m talking about here is a rapid transit station – no tickets are required to use it.

      As for “ticket machines in the stations,” when NPT is finally implemented for real, there will be machines where you can load fare media if you don’t have a card that will work with the system (and the system is supposed to work with a variety of payment cards, including standard credit and debit cards).

      • Jen

        Right, I should have added I was speaking about Regional. They just got a few million dollars for renaming Market East to Jefferson and I’ve read they are looking at Verizon or Comcast to give them money to rename Suburban. I was hoping with that money they’d catch up to the 21st century. I use to think NJTransit was terrible, but Septa is worst. A lot of the regional train stations aren’t handicap accessible, no ticket machines, lots of old train cars are still being used… vs. NJTransit that has double decker train cars, mobile tickets, and lots of platforms that are handicap accessible. I know we are talking about two different states and I don’t expect SEPTA to be up to par with NJTransit, but I wish they would take a page out of their book and start making improvements.

        • Sandy Smith

          SEPTA did order a bunch of new rail cars a few years back, and I suspect that there are other NJT lines besides NEC that use older fleets. I’m not at all sure that’s a fair comparison. Take a trip on the Morris & Essex lines, or the diesel-hauled route to Bay Head, and tell me what they run there.

          As for the rest, yeah, those need to be addressed. I do think it unfair that SEPTA got rid of the ticket vending machines it did have (they were made by a Swiss firm and installed in the late 1980s; they had gotten balkier with age and couldn’t handle the new paper currency, so they were removed without replacements being ordered) yet kept the surcharge in place.

          As for fare payment, I know this won’t satisfy you, but hold your breath for NPT. The $4 million Jefferson is paying SEPTA for naming rights will pay for the installation of the turnstiles the agency insists on installing in that station as part of the new fare technology implementation. (Turnstiles will also be installed at Suburban. I don’t know about UC, 30th Street or Temple University.)

  • George Lee

    one more reason to believe that SEPTA has the best commuter rail system in the country. Philly > other cities in transportation.