SEPTA’s Big Regional Rail Schedule Changes Start Sunday

System-wide schedule changes, and big service changes on three lines, are the result of steady ridership gains. Here's what it means for you.

SEPTA's Ron Hopkins explains new service patterns on the Warminster, West Trenton and Airport lines (left). A map of the regional rail system with a North Broad bottleneck highlighted. Photos | Sandy Smith

SEPTA’s Ron Hopkins explains new service patterns on the Warminster, West Trenton and Airport lines (left). A map of the regional rail system with a North Broad bottleneck highlighted. Photos | Sandy Smith

Back in 1985, when service began on SEPTA’s Airport Regional Rail line, the agency was still trying to get its railroad operations act together after a long and crippling strike in 1982. Management couldn’t guarantee that the trains would run on time, so in order to ensure that trains to the airport did, it was kept separate from the paired former Pennsylvania and Reading railroad lines that operated through the tunnel.

Now, 30 years later, the same problem has surfaced, but this time, it’s the result of the Regional Rail system choking on its own success. Steady ridership gains over the past several years have led to longer dwell times at stations, and the delays these cause ripple throughout the system. As a result, the Airport Line is once again being uncoupled from the rest of the network as part of a larger reorganization of Regional Rail schedules and timetables.

Ron Hopkins, SEPTA’s assistant general manager and chief operating officer, called the schedule changes that take effect Sunday “the most comprehensive schedule change in 20 years” at a news conference Wednesday afternoon (December 9th).

The most significant changes are designed to move trains faster through a major choke point on the Reading side, namely, the two-track main line between Fern Rock and Jenkintown-Wyncote stations. Hopkins explained that trains on three lines compete for space on a single track in each direction. “A delay on one line causes delays on all three,” he said.

Two changes aim at eliminating those delays:

One change is the aforementioned uncoupling of the Airport Line from the Warminster and West Trenton lines on weekdays. During peak hours (6 to 9:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 7 p.m.), Airport Line trains will operate between Temple University and the airport, and at all other times, they will operate as far as Jenkintown-Wyncote on the Reading side. Likewise, trains on the West Trenton and Warminster lines will no longer operate past 30th Street Station on weekdays. West Trenton and Warminster riders who wish to continue on to University City or the airport — yes, they exist, Hopkins said — will need to change trains at one of the Center City stations.

The second change also involves the Warminster and West Trenton lines, whose trains will skip Melrose Park, Elkins Park and Wayne Junction stations on weekdays beginning with the December 13th schedule change. “By running trains express from Jenkintown to Fern Rock, we open up space between trains and improve running times,” said Hopkins. Lansdale/Doylestown trains and off-peak Airport trains will continue to stop at all three stations.

Hopkins noted that the through-routed West Trenton line was also especially long at 42 miles from West Trenton to the airport. Removing the eight-mile-long Airport line from its timetable should also improve its reliability, he said.

Finally, weekday trains on the Airport Line in both directions will depart a few minutes earlier than they do now.

All other Regional Rail lines will also change schedules on December 13th. New schedules are already available on the “Changes to Airport Line Schedule” page on SEPTA’s website, which also contains more details about the specific changes on the Airport, Warminster and West Trenton lines. Riders on the Chestnut Hill East, Lansdale/Doylestown, Manayunk/Norristown, Media/Elwyn, Warminster and Wilmington/Newark lines as well as users of the Glenside Combined timetable should download accurate copies of their schedules from the SEPTA website, as the printed copies have errors.

Riders can also get service alerts about their lines by following them on Twitter.

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