Reimagining Regional Rail
Below you’ll find responses to questions raised during the Reimagining Regional Rail October 12, 2021 Public Conversation.
Starting this fall, SEPTA is rolling out new and improved fare validators that will allow mobile/digital ticketing through the SEPTA phone app, and ultimately allow riders to pay via credit card, mobile phone, in addition to current SEPTA Key Cards and cash.
Changes to how Regional Rail fares are structured, and how fares are integrated with other parts of the SEPTA system, are a consideration of Reimagining Regional Rail. To best support ridership, we are looking at how fares and transfers are structured based on examples from around the United States and the world. Lessons we could apply from systems elsewhere include fare integration among multiple agencies, ticket vending machines at all stations, and unified fare policy that integrates all modes.
SEPTA is currently acquiring 45 multi-level vehicles that will provide additional capacity. This project may propose additional acquisitions of the same or different vehicles depending on the final vision and recommendations for the system.
The Reimagining Regional Rail effort will consider fleet composition, especially in light of the fact that SEPTA will be purchasing new vehicles over time. Silverliner IV cars, built in 1973-1976, currently make up nearly 60% of the current Regional Rail fleet. These cars will need to be replaced in the near future. This provides us with a relatively near-term opportunity to match future vehicle procurement with Reimagining Regional Rail recommendations. The right fleet could vary based on what mix of service SEPTA will operate. Frequent service with many stops that serves shorter trips benefits from vehicles with many doors and lots of interior circulation space; longer distance express service benefits from more seats. We will also look at how to make vehicles more passenger-friendly with features like better onboard passenger information and more bike storage.
Yes. Infill stations could serve neighborhoods and destinations that are currently not served by the system and could create better connections between Regional Rail and other transit.
The legibility of the system - clear communication that is easy to find on the website, on social media, clear wayfinding - is critical for those who are not riding Regional Rail every day. The navigational experience informs and determines how and if new riders will ride again, so wayfinding will be an important consideration of this and other SEPTA Forward projects of significance as they develop. SEPTA is currently redesigning its wayfinding system for the rail transit network through its Rail Transit Wayfinding Master Plan. A major emphasis in this plan, as in the Reimagining Regional Rail effort, is to make the connections between Regional Rail and SEPTA transit easier. In addition, SEPTA’s bus network is currently undergoing a comprehensive network redesign (Bus Revolution) which will lead to completely new routes and services – many of which have yet to be confirmed. Each of these efforts is coordinating with one another so that recommendations work together towards making the SEPTA system work better and easier for the region. Eventually, we anticipate that similar flexible wayfinding hierarchy and design language will be applied to bus and Regional Rail, creating one single, unified network.
SEPTA is developing improvements to our mobile application and other real time information systems to provide better information on service changes. As Reimagining Regional Rail continues, this effort may identify additional improvements, such as to the real-time display of train arrival and delay information and schedules at stations.
There are multiple Regional Rail networks in the Philadelphia region. SEPTA connects with New Jersey Transit in Trenton, where some riders make connections to New York City (and beyond), and to the Atlantic City Line at 30th Street. Amtrak shares tracks with three of SEPTA’s Regional Rail lines, offering service that is sometimes similar to SEPTA express service. PATCO also provides regional-scale rail service into Center City. The Reimagining Regional Rail effort will be exploring better connections, looking for opportunities to partner, and creating a more integrated regional system.
SEPTA has developed a number of scenarios regarding projected ridership as the pandemic abates. We expect ridership to be lower for the immediate future, but are seeing significant increases as service levels increase and destinations continue to re-open. However, with increases in hybrid and fully remote work, Reimagining Regional Rail sees this as an opportunity to reimagine the way we structure our service to create an all-day, frequent lifestyle network that serves all types of trips.
We are currently running 65% of pre-COVID service. We agree that frequency of service is really important to gaining and keeping riders, especially throughout the day and not just in the traditional peak hours. In SEPTA Forward, the Authority envisioned Regional Rail as a foundational part of one unified, equitable transit network serving all kinds of trips, no matter where people are or what mode they choose. Reimagining Regional Rail is a key initiative, alongside Bus Revolution, to revamp our services and deliver a seamless transit network to keep our region moving throughout the 21st century.
In fall 2021 the project received approval from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to enter into the project development phase under the FTA’s Capital Investment Grant (CIG) program. This follows the FTA’s adoption of a combined Final Environmental Impact Statement/Record of Decision which allows SEPTA to continue the design and construction of the Norristown High Speed Line to King of Prussia. You can learn more about the King of Prussia Rail Project at https://www.kingofprussiarail.com.
Absolutely. We know that accessing stations can be one of the biggest challenges for potential Regional Rail riders. We will partner with cities, counties, and others to improve pedestrian and bicycle connections to address “first-last mile” issues. We may also see opportunities for new development around stations, including on SEPTA-owned property, which could allow more people to live and work near Regional Rail and give riders access to more services like retail.
No. We are still relatively early in our process and are learning about the system and its needs. Early next year we will be preparing some ideas and conducting initial evaluations, comparing benefits and impacts. We’ll be sharing and further evaluating these ideas with the community in the Spring of 2022.
Yes, SEPTA continuously invests in station accessibility improvements as part of our ongoing capital investments. Improving the accessibility of the system is important to improving its value and importance to the region. Currently, many of the stations in the network are not accessible to those using assisted mobility devices and wheelchairs, as well as those who have difficulty moving up and down stairs - that includes people using strollers, bicycles, or heavy bags. Many stations have low-level platforms, and increasing the number of stations with high-level platforms increases the number of stations that can be accessible to all. High platforms also make the service faster and more reliable, because there is real time savings from level boarding and not having to use the stairs on and off the train. At low-level platforms conductors must lower the trap door, and this takes time, and it can make riding difficult for those carrying bags or a stroller, and impossible for those using assisted mobility devices.
We believe that there are substantial portions of the system where more frequent service may be possible, especially at mid-day, evening, and weekends. We’ll be looking more closely at which corridors may justify additional frequency based on demand (e.g., land use surrounding stations) and potential ridership.
Demand for frequency is based on population density, employment density, socioeconomic factors, and industry types. Combining these factors and relating them to frequency is based on research and work we’ve done around the country. This analysis doesn’t take into account the level of service or ridership currently, but instead assesses what factors create demand for transit. The demand criteria are more focused on activities, and not just work. We do see that the job density is a good proxy for activities - where you have major job centers you tend to have clusters of restaurants, shopping opportunities, entertainment, medical or health care uses, and etc. That said, we are absolutely looking beyond the traditional work-based trips as a part of our efforts to create a lifestyle transit network.
Much of SEPTA’s infrastructure has the capacity for more service: a double track rail line could easily service trains operating every 15 minutes. However, a few bottlenecks limit the capacity of the network. Several junctions around Center City require trains to cross each other where lines branch; as one train passes through it blocks the other line. There are also constraints where SEPTA shares track with Amtrak and sometimes freight.
The SEPTA system includes some relatively short lines like the Chestnut Hill lines, Fox Chase, and Norristown. There are also some long ones like Newark, Thorndale, and Doylestown. That’s not uncommon, though: systems like London, Munich, Tokyo, and Sydney are similar, as are domestic systems like Metro-North Railroad and Long Island Railroad in NYC and the MBTA in Boston. What we find is that demand for service varies by distance to each city center. Shorter lines are more likely to be operated as frequent all-stops service, while longer lines often have an overlap of service types, with frequent all-stops service on the inner part of the line, and various kinds of express service for longer trips. However, the right service pattern for a line depends on a variety of factors, and we will want to look at tradeoffs before making specific recommendations.
Yes. We will estimate capital and operating costs for the plan’s recommendations, and identify what funding sources might be available.
SEPTA is actively training and hiring engineers - it can take more than one year of training for a new engineer. Often, staff are brought on as conductors first and then apply for engineer after some time at the agency.
Reimagining Regional Rail means redefining it for all users in the region - well beyond current riders. So reaching non-riders and learning what they need to become a rider is critical to our outreach effort. We are crafting our outreach process to intentionally reach non-riders. In October we spent time talking with people who were riding Regional Rail and those who were not to share information about this plan and, more importantly, hear from them about the barriers they face to seeing value from the Regional Rail system.
Yes. We are looking at past proposals for service expansion and also seeing if there are other opportunities. Cross-town connections, for example, are of great interest - we know that not all trips are destined to Center City. For these trips in particular the consideration of how the network connects to bus routes for trips that don’t follow rail lines will be critical.
The consideration of parking fits in with our consideration of stations. At some stations, access is by transfer from other transit, walking, and bicycling. Yet at other stations we know that the ability to park and ride is important. We are looking at first/last mile access to the stations. This kind of access will vary by factors such as surrounding land uses, density of the road network, and current mode of access to the station.